This is the first prose-poem I ever wrote. I remember quite clearly sitting on my bed in a small attic room in Paris in the late 1980s feeling thoroughly fed up that my poetry seemed to be going nowhere. I was a postgraduate student at the time and couldn't afford a fridge in my room and ended up using my window ledge as a substitute. So this, plus reading gallons of Rimbaud, MacDiarmid and Walt Whitman are the immediate context for this prose. It's the first in a sequence of poems during the course of which the Scots word 'Dustie-fute' turns into a gay man who has died from AIDS.
When I opened my window and reached for the yoghurt colling on the outside ledge, it had gone. All that remained was a single Scottish word bewildered by the Paris winter frost and the lights of its riverbank motorways. What can dustie-fute have to say to a night like this? How can it dangle on its hyphen down into the rue Geoffro L’Ansier where Danton stayed on the eve of revolution? How can it tame this strangeness for me or change me into the cupolas and flagstones I so desire yet still notice every time I walk among them? Does the ‘auld alliance’ of words and things stand a chance among the traffic and pimps in the Publicis Saint-Germain? For its not as if dustie-fute were my familiar. I could easily confuse dustie-fute with elfmill which is the sound made by a worm in the timber of a house, supposed by the vulgar to be preternatural. These words are as foreign as the city they have parachuted into, dead words slipping on the sill of a living metropolis. They are extremes that touch like dangerous wires and the only hope for them, for us, is the space they inhabit, a room veering between dilettantism and dynamite. Old Scots words, big French city and in between absymal me: ane merchand or creamer, quha hes no certain dwelling place, quhair the dust may be dicht fra hes feete or schone. Dustie-fute, a stranger, equivalent to fairandman, at a loss in the empty of soul of his ancestors’ beautiful langage and in the soulless city of his compeers living the 21st century now and scoffinf at his medieval wares. Yet here, precisely here, is their rendez-vous and triumphantly, stuffed down his sock, an oblique sense, the dustie-fute of ‘revelry’, the acrobat, the juggler who accompanies the toe-belled jongleur with his merchant’s comic fairground face. He reaches deep into his base latinity, into his pede-pulverosi and French descendants pull our their own pieds poudreux. Dustie-fute remembers previous lives amid the plate glass of Les Halles. They magnify his motley, his midi-oranges, his hawker lyrics and for a second Beaubourg words graze Scottish glass then glance apart. In this revelry differences copulate, become more visible and bearable and, stranger than the words or the city I inhabit, I reach for my yoghurt and find it there.
from Paris-Forfar (Polygon, 1994), © David Kinloch 1994, used by permission of the author