Margot Henderson

Margot Henderson’s poems written during her artist in residence stay at Cromarty.

First Taste of Freedom

First of November 2007
I sign the contract that sets me free
I am now a ‘Writer in Residence for Cromarty

I receive part payment in advance
It’s time to let go the struggle and join the dance.
This is how to be well and truly ‘free lance’

I have lunch in the Royal to celebrate.
A glass of wine and the best
tattie and leek soup ever
steaming on my plate

In the hotel lounge there’s only me
and an elegant older lady
in a tweed skirt and pearls.
She sips a sherry beside the fire
a woman unto herself.
Maybe old age is a freedom
to which we all might aspire

A plaque of Hugh Miller
is hanging above the fire place.
Elvis big hair and sideburns
frame a strong and earnest face.
I guess he was a rock star of his days

Sitting here I can’t quite believe
I am being paid to write.
And look there’s Rabbie
hanging on the wall
striking a poet’s pose
gey handsome in his ruff and hose
as if about to thrill,
inspire and charm us all

The radio behind the bar
begins to play
the Beatles, ‘Paperback Writer’
This feels like my lucky day.
Well there you are!


This Bare Room

Freedom might just be this
bare simple room
Blue bed. White walls
Ink block. Blank paper

I breathe a breath
into this space
this moment
before I begin
to write myself
onto the page
to write my book of days

I feel suspended in this space
time out of time
space for reflection
a life inside a life
like a secret compartment

As I unpack
even these few familiar things
begin to make their mark
their imprint. They impinge
upon the zen ness of the room

Instead of putting books on the shelves
for research,
I could just sit
looking at the walls
white emptiness to see
the reflection of my self
the hidden me
or see the house’s history

There is a sense of being anonymous
in a home or in a cell
a sense of being confined
and yet this very anonymity
is a freedom in itself
freedom from being defined
another place
a breathing space


Freedom Cry

Its no jist Braveheart’s famous battle cry
wi the jawline boldly outlined in blue woad.
Its no jist Highland history or histrionics
a la Hollywood or Holyrood

It’s no jist the brewin o the barley an Bonnie Prince Charlie
So,whit is this Freedom that we’re on aboot?

Is it aw aboot devolution?
Is it mair aboot revolution?

Freedom Come All Ye , that’s whit it says
Lik we’ve come a lang way frae they slavery days

It’s a celebration of 200 years of Abolition

Now don’t get me wrang
cause I’m no sayin
there’s no just cause for celebration.
But have we really changed oor ways
Look at us these days
nation against nation
caught in the vice o globalisation

Numbing out and dumming down wi television
muggin an druggin and still social division

An we’re shoppin oorsels intae perdition
Made by folk working in inhumane conditions

They say there’s more slaves today than there ever were
Cheap goods are no that good cause they mean cheap labour

Then there’s aggro culture an Bush led vultures
commiting gross annihilation and vandalisation
in the very cradle of civilisation

Bomb them till they shop
Keep filling up the supermarket shelves
Bomb them till they shop
So we don’t have to stopand take a good long look at oorsels


Playing Out

I’m walking in the gloaming down by the harbour on Cromarty Bay.
Two men standing outside the Royal Hotel are passing the time of day. I stop in my tracks when I hear one of them say.
‘I used to go down under the harbour fishing with a pail
when I was wee.’

I smile to myself, thinking about what it means to be free when you’re only wee. I walk around the coast a little way. I see smoke rising through the dusk. A boy and a girl are playing with fire.
poking sticks into the flames till they’re burning red, watching the sparks fly round their heads.

I watch them for a wee while, keeping out of sight. I wish them safety and the magic play of darkness and of light. In the light of their fire my own childhood memories burn bright. Saturdays in Belhaven Woods when I was wee, going about with Laurie Byrne who was 5 years older than me, making fires, warm with the joy of seeing them burn.

I stay in the shadows so I don’t disturb them at their wonder play
Watching them take turns poking the embers while their magic secret fire burns as if it were the first fire of the ancestors. Watching the red fire flies whirl in the wind and rise.

I turn up the road and feel as if I have gone back in time. The old street lamps in Woodstock Drive on winter nights,
Whirling like a dervish till all I could see were ribbons of light. Playing with my pals beneath the stars until our mothers called us in.

I turn again, to walk the coast some more and smile to see two silhouettes poking and coughing between the skyline and the shore.

The Mistress and The Maid

Arabella, wife of Hugh Ross Rose
died suddenly, they said.
Struck down by a strange fever
while preparing medicines
for the poor of the Estate

Or so the papers said.
They did not speak
of the beautiful Quadroon
the Caribbean serving maid
whom the Laird had taken
then taken to his bed.

Nor did they make mention of the fact
that it was the stab wound
in the Lady’s back
that was the cause of death.

Nor that the knife itself was held
in the hand that had been bought to serve
The skillfull black hand
of the beautiful Quadroon
whom the Laird had taken
then taken to his bed.

Perhaps in this his fate was also laid
for she was no longer who she was
before she lost her liberty
and had to cross
the wide Sargasso Sea



You called him ‘Welcome’

What kind of Welcome
did you give him then?

A young boy taken
from his native home.

Taken from his people,
from his own.

Taken to a foreign place.
Taken by a stranger
who despised him
for his colour and his race.

You called him ‘Welcome’
How could you welcome him,
having stripped him of his country
his family, his language
and his skin?

You called him ‘Welcome’
but you did not ever take him in.
Instead you left him at the door
where home for him was neither
outside nor within

It was a cruel irony
that those who were free to come and go
were welcomed in by him.

You took his name
and made him ‘Welcome’
Did you know his name in his own tongue?

Did he tell it sometimes softly to himself
whenever he had time alone?
To help him to remember
he was someone once
before he was taken,
made ‘Welcome’
and turned into something else .


He called him Inverness
as if he was a place
a whole town
his master could be free
to walk about in

He called him Inverness
as if he were a place
where he, his master could take his leisure
take his pleasure
take his ease
take liberties
He called him Inverness
so he could make himself at home
be well connected
go places
feel spacious

He called him Inverness
perhaps he did it to amuse or to impress
a little joke to entertain the guests

Something worthy of a mention
to catch the attention
of the ladies over dinner
a gesture of largesse

He called him Inverness
Something to provoke
admiration, envy and respect


Calling A Spade A Spade

Its not something we like to talk about
We prefer to think of ourselves as the ‘good guys’
The ones that were hard done by
Scots exploited, exiled, cruelly dominated by the Southern foe
the cruel Sassenach.

Its not that we don’t like looking back, we do,
just as long as we have someone else to blame.
We would rather look back in anger than look back in shame

But when wetake a good look further back
we can see more clearly how it was
Even if it was not quite as we’d wish
That’s when we realise there’s a bit more dirt to dish
some shady secrets to unearth.

I remember when I lived in London.
One night I was drinking in the Three Crowns in Stoke Newington.
I got talking to 3 Rasta Guys.
The conversation really opened up my eyes.

Because when I told them I was Scots,
they appeared to be scandalised. When I asked why,
they told me their Scottish names
and how their ancestors were slaves
for Scots slave masters on Jamaican plantations.
I have to say, it was a bit of an education.

I felt it was important to reply.
I told them about the Clearances and forced migrations
about how the Lairds had done it to their own
before they did it to other nations .
Before they went on to ‘own’ the Colonies
they had a dress rehearsal in atrocities
I tried to argue that it was about class as much as race
Maybe I was just trying to save face.

So now lets call a spade a spade
We have a history that we can’t evade
The Empire was a game that Scotland also played
This was how a lot of local wealth got made

This is not about speaking ill of the dead
Its just about saying what has to be said
How some folk starving got other folk fed
How we’re all connected by a single thread


Heron Zen

Morning walking Cromarty
bright sun, November chill.
Clear blue sky.
The Firth is still

So is the Heron
in mid stream
a reminder to walk mindfully
along the path

I walk slowly
softly on the grass
so I won’t disturb his reverie

He is too sharp for me
rising in the air
as I come past

He settles
on another stone

This moment
This alone

I pause
To watch him
Being Zen


Brass Tacks

So lets get down to a few brass tacks
Its time to face the musak
Its time to face facts

The reason we can get our clobber on the cheap
from the likes of Primark and TKMax
is because some poor sods are working in sweat shops
and someones got a rod or a gun
to their backs

We call it a free market economy
we call it free but they can’t pee
or have a cup of tea
without armed soldiers for company
were talking gun run factories
we’re talking barbed wire fences
so you can’t get out the door
we’re talking child labour,
long hours, lousy wages
and sleeping on the factory floor

So that new frock is really awful nice
But we have to start to realise
We’re fast asleep if we think its cheap
because somebody somewhere is paying the price

While we get our fancy goods on the cheap
Somebody somewhere is losing out
Losing liberty and losing sleep
So while we’re raking the supermarket shelves
We need to stop and ask ourselves
Are we really doing anyone any favours
buying the rotten fruits of someone’s cheap labour

Lets face it fashion is beginning to eat itself
Clothes are falling off the shelves
Buying so much stuff when we have more than enough
is all about increasing the company’s wealth
and being shopaholics is bad for our health

Big business has got us over a barrel
We’re tying ourselves up in fashion slaves apparel
We’re all suffering from ‘affluenza’
the disease of the ill at ease big spenders


Wee Free Three

Saturday morning stepping out the door onto Bank Street,
there’s three wee ladies that I meet.
Even though its winter, they’re in T shirts
They’re playing at being wee hard men
so they swagger about and swear a bit
three wild ponies, champing at the bit.

I take a walk around the bay
Wondering ‘Just how wild?’
and what they might play.
Wondering what questions I
might ask them about freedom
And what they might say

Then I see three wee laddies up a tree
swinging and climbing, laughing and calling
dangling and wrangling
I smile to see, three wise wee monkeys
still know something about being free

I turn round the corner into Bank Street again
Who do I meet, but the three wee men
playing musak on their mp3
one jumps out in front of me and starts to dance
criss cross legs and quick quick steps

‘I like the fancy footwork’ I said

‘It’s the Ned dance,’ the dancer says.
The other two start joining in.

‘If folk want to fight us, we just do this
and then they run away’

says one wee laddie, pulling a face.

‘That’s just what the Maori do,’ I said
and the same with the Highland warriors in their day
All warriors had their way
of putting fear into their enemy.
Its another way of being brave.

The wee three men are looking quite chuffed
I’m wishing I didn’t have to walk away
to catch my bus or I’ll be late
Freedom will just have to wait.

Highland Culture: This Is Us

If you want to study the state of the nation,
you can forget the internet
the museums, libraries and galleries
Just take a trip to the local bus station

Highland culture this is us
The whole shebang
The whale clamjamfery
of contemporary Scottish society
is sitting on this bus alang wi us
a couple o scholarly political poetic folk
discussing freedom and culture
an here’s the joke.
While we’re exchanging scholarly quotations an Heaven knows
Mibbe we’re no quite seeing the length o oor nose

Highland culture its right here
Saturday morning and the youth are getting it down
going intae town
Kitted oot in a the right gear
tae shop, hang aboot, hae a spliff ,
text a few numbers, mibbe get a lumber
an hae a few bottles o beer

Highland culture its right here
A young mum with a child on her knee
Is busy plugging her in to her own mp3
(I’m thinking oh my god, she’s only wee)

The craic up the back is going on the attack
Here’s Highland culture after the fall
It’s a bit of a mess. Traffic jams in Inverness
We all tumble out at the shopping mall.


A Holy Word

There was a word, a holy word
that came to me
when I first heard you speak
and saw as much as felt
that Bardic fire in you begin to rise and leap
into and through your eyes to scry

To see us and in your seeing
bring us back into ourselves
into the heart of our own being
into the soul of our own seeing
so we could truly stand
upon and by the earth on which we stand

There was a word, a holy word
that came to me
when you breathed in the power of the stones
and you became a mountain of a man
speaking in the tongues of Lewissian Gneiss,
slate and granite, fire and ice

There was a word, a holy word
that came to me
as you began to talk
of St Andrew and St Joseph and of Blessed Bride.
Of sacred hospitality , of welcoming the other in
I felt a hope of healing for the souls of those who have gone
through the willing spirit of those who have now come
Those who have chosen to belong, the new Galgael
Immram, the future, a holy voyage
as the Birlin boats set sail

There were tears that came to me
as you spoke of the blessedness of fostering.
The Christ child Jesus, fostered by Joseph,
taken in to David’s fold (as I was once)
the measuring of blood and milk
and milk found to be a hundred fold

I felt a swaddling
the skein of skin reravelling
My birth story retold

There was a word



Number 26 Bus

I can’t believe
I’m sitting across
From Alastair McIntosh
On the 26 bus

He is quoting Tacitus to me
Who wrote of Calgacus, the Pictish King
Who at the battle’s end at Govan cross ,said

‘We are the last of the Free’
I look around the bus to see
Its so incongruous it fits

Between us, on the step
A young mother sits
with her toddler on her knee
and she’s plugging her in to her own mp3

‘They offer peace that is a desolation’
quotes Alastair to me
as all the young worshoppers
who are in thrall
to the Mammon of the shopping mall
get out at Inverness Bus station
to buy their very own piece of desolation.


The Spinning Sheds

They are houses now
these threefold redrock sandstone buildings
that cluster like a coral reef
as if grown out of the very earth beneath

As coral build its branches, tree like,
on the bones of its ancestors,
while cradling its young

so these stones reach out two arms
towards the sea
as if calling to their own

across the sea and further still
northwards to the highland hills
of Sutherland

These were once the hemp works
the spinning sheds
where once the highland women bent their heads
plied their trade and wound the threads
that kept them bound

After their own unravelling
from the land that they had known
the place they once called home
they wound their way across the waves
through spinthrift till they came to Cromarty
an unfamiliar ground.

Here they wove and here they spun
while my namesake, Duncan Henderson,
the master weaver called the tune.

Here they wove and here they spun
hemp rope twisting round their waists
two women turning
bound together
dancing a strange reel
inside the hempworks ceilidh house

Here they wove and here they spun
hemp rope wound around their waists
1000 yards of hemp a day
the same ropes that would bind plantation slaves

Here they wove and here they spun
rough strands of flax
Turning them into sturdy sacks
that plantation slaves
in Guyana, Demerera and Burbese
would fill with sugar cane
until they broke their backs

This was the trade these highland women plied
A strange trade where they themselves unknowingly
were bound and tied to those
who, like themselves were taken from their land.
Those who had no choice
for they were forced onto the boats
penned like cattle sold at the market
and these same ropes
would bind the slave unto his master
the same ropes with which a slave might hang himself
strung from a tree
the end of the rope his only way of breaking free

They are houses now…
They no longer run the length from end to end
Of hemp and flax spun into strands
The master weaver now no longer stands
The Highland women no longer spin
twisting and turning in their dance

I walk past the houses wondering
Who lives there now?
What brought them here? Where from and how?
What are the stories they now spin?
And do they ever hear the Highland women sing?



Did you think you could be free
By stealing others’ liberty

Did you think you could be free
By keeping men in chains

We are not bound by history
If we can learn the lessons
We are not bound by history
If we can count the blessings

Oh you know we are not free
While our brother is in chains
Oh you know we are not free
While our sister is in pain

Did we think we could be free
While others die in poverty

Did we think we could be free
While others cry in misery…


Cut Your Cloth Accordingly

Cut your cloth accordingly
My mother used to say
because that’s just how it was
in my mother’s day

If you wanted something
you saved up for it
you put your money away.

Cut your cloth accordingly
my mother used to say
meaning don’t be spending
what you haven’t got
she knew what she was talking about
because she never had a lot.

Now I’m older I’m starting to realise
that my mother wasn’t daft
in fact she was wise
maybe even wiser than she thought she was
because it seems to me we’re starting to see
that there only really is one cloth.

Just like when Christ was hanging on the cross
And the Roman centurians started drawing lots
over the robe that his mother Mary had sewn
It was priceless because it was seamless
It was all made in one piece…


Now that the world is unravelling around our ears
It is becoming ever more clear
That there only is one cloth, one robe
Our deepest fear contains our only hope
Everything unfolding calls on us to understand
how everything is connected, woven together
in intricate strands
and the future, the future, is in our hands.


Freedom Song

I’m standing at the station
in the pouring rain
looking at life
all the confusion and the pain
just when I get to thinking
I can never love again
I get an invitation to board the Freedom Train

Freedom train, freedom train
Everybody get on board the freedom train

Better get on board
cause things are changing fast
to face the future
you have to let go the past
got to live in the present
that’s all we have
Great God Almighty
We’re free at last

Freedom train, freedom train
Everybody get on board that freedom train

So Who Is Braveheart Anyway

I can mind my daughter Rowan
born and raised in London
when she first saw Braveheart she asked
‘This time when we go back to Scotland
I don’t just want to visit family
I want to see the land
and I want you to take me
To the Wallace memorial
I want to understand’

So sure enough
We went to Stirling and
we tottered up the castle hill
to see the statues
a wee stone man with a beard
Rowan just stared
After coming all that way I have to say
I think she was disappointed
because he didn’t look a bit like Mel

Mairi Mhor Nan Oran

That same shadow stalks our days
as once stalked the Battle of the Braes
O how we mourn your Gaelic grace

Mairi Mhor Nan Oran
Mairi Mhor Nan Oran

Now in the Townhouse Inverness
where you were placed under arrest
we stand for land and wilderness

Mairi Mhor Nan Oran
Mairi Mhor Nan Oran

O Big Mary of the Songs
Give us the strength to right the wrongs
To come back to earth where we belong

Mairi Mhor Nan Oran
Mairi Mhor Nan Oran

There’s treasure more than all their spoil
Than brightest gold or blackest oil
For our soul takes root within the soil

Mairi Mhor Nan Oran
Mairi Mhor Nan Oran


Enough Said : Fair Trade

There’s been a bit too much SDT if you ask me
especially for the MFNs and then again

Who gets a say in the AoAs anyway?

Some body corporate is playing tricks
and its making poorer nations sick
with all the TRIMS , TRQs and TRIPS
its time we really got to grips

It seems to me that the LDCs
are being crippled by NTBs

and there comes a point where we have to ask
who is really getting served by GATs

And as for NAMA its just more drama

It just goes to show
The WTO will have to go

Enough said : Fair Trade


SDT Special and Differential Treatment
MFN Most Favoured Nation
AoA Agreement on Agriculture
TRIMS Trade Related Investment Measures
TRQs Tarrif Related Quotas
TRIPS Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
LDCs Least Developed Countries
NTBs Non Tariff Barriers
GATs General Agreement on Trade in Services
NAMA Non Agricultural Market Access


Here and Now

In this moment
here and now

this chair
this table

this breath
in and out

tide to my body shore

In this moment
here and now

this room
this town

I bow in thanks
and wonder

for all that brought me here

all the causes
that configured to create

this now
this here

this intricate
perfect pattern

in this centre

here and now

a point
a pause

from which
a causal pattern
will arise

to unfold again?


The Bernera Goddess

Her last remains
sit in a glass case
in the museum in Inverness
where She still reigns

Through the hollow sockets
of her whalebone eyes
rest assured that she still scries
the hearts and souls of all the passers by

She who once was lost
and found and lost again
keeps her secrets to herself

Her lips are sealed

Her mouth is full of expression
just like the depths
where the whale once reigned

Now this is their domain.

The whalebone Goddess overseas
these magic tools
witch stones, spindle whorls,
sea beans, elf arrows
and heart charms

If She could
I feel She would
enfold me in her unseen arms

She is Divine. Benign.

Still resting in a perspex box
among the sands of time.




Whit D’ye Mean Free

D’ye nean its for nothin?

D’ye men it’ll no cost onythin?

Is that whit bein free is?

Feelin that ye’ve done a swiz

That ye can really be the bizz

Is that whit freedom is?

Having the chance tae shop till ye drop

Wall tae Wall Mall
An it’s a Free For All.
It disnae cost ye onythin at all.

Free credit. Wid ye credit that?

Free talk time on yer mobile phone.

Interest Free Loan on furniture
or a mortgage for a brand new home

Free .
Its something for nothing
Isn’t that whit it means

Like winnin the lottery
Like getting yer dreams.

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