Hello, Stranger Poems

Dust by Neil Young

21 September 2021

Dumfries and Galloway’s Ulster links are not just ones of geographical proximity, From the 16th Century Scots from the south and west were transplanted to Ulster, taking their religion and their language with them. Neil Young hails from west Belfast (1964 batch) and now lives in north-east Scotland. He worked as a labourer, kitchen-porter and stage-hand before becoming a journalist, going on to report from New York post 9/11 to the Gaza Strip. He is Managing Editor of the magazine ‘Poets’ Republic’ and ‘Drunk Muse Press’ which has published in the course of the last few months collections by Harry Smart, George Gunn and Josie Neill. His own collection ‘After the Riot’ has just been published by Nine Pins Press.

Here he reads ‘Dust’, a moving poem about his family home in Belfast, the characters who made it, and him.


In time, they all stopped here:

those folk we called our family or made-up clan,

from half-a-half-cousins to uncles of aunts,

sailors and navvies with oversized yarns,

women in floral 60s skirts and head-scarves

who got their bags from the market stalls.

They wiped their feet on the front-door mat,

all their histories passed that spot

then filtered through to the living-room fire

and kitchen thick with tea and talk.

This was my mother’s refuge from Orangedom.

She carried her Dickens hardbacks from Yorkshire to Belfast

as if their touch might be her last thread to a civilised world.

My father – once the latchkey kid – stood on the landing

in dripping overalls when I was born halfway through his evening shift.

He ran three miles in a deluge, swerving cars and buses

from the gasworks to Ballyscillan’s new estate.

Granny Lizzie arrived with a cough that stuck

like knotted rope to her lungs from 1920s TB;

my grandad like a stray dog with his whiskey eyes;

his own father in final years, tramping brogues on twisted legs

that once had stepped loose-knee across the Somme.

These men who tripped from war to civil war and back -

they palmed their curses onto their daughters and sons.

Here as well the priest-afflicted neighbours sang at new year,

my mother slipped them cake and clothes in hushed insistence at the door,

my brothers larked with me in Liverpool shirts for our first Kodacolour snap.

And then, as fleet as shadows, they were gone

though they brought all this land’s fierce history to a single door:

half myth, half real, troublesome and warm,

too proud and fast to grievance, garrulous and thrawn,

god-drunk and heathen, tribal, intoxicating with their strange lyric tongue.

I hold them bitter-sweet as a song I did not even know I’d memorised

though half a century’s passed since anyone kicked the carpet dust

and I am all of that house that now is left.

Link to Neil’s new book here: Nine Pens

This Series is curated by Hugh McMillan, SPL Poetry Ambassador for 2020 and Editor of ‘Best Scottish Poems 2021’. Hugh’s website is here: Hugh McMillan | Scottish Writer & Poet (hughmcmillanwriter.co.uk)