Not Striving

By waiting, not striving, I found the room I wanted.
It was a gift, like life: not bought but rented
from friends made at a stranger’s party.
The landlord helped build the long low shelves,
it was cheerful labour. The carpet came from my aunt,
the bay window from a dead architect,
and frames a chestnut tree planted by a neighbour.

But I fear cheerless labour lies behind every gift.
It is sore getting babies out.
Who builds this room were badly paid.
Even gifted carpets had a weaver.

By waiting, not striving, I met the woman I wanted.
She stayed a while like air when breathing is easy.
Worst strife was to keep those who liked me least
and keep strife only. My tight grip hurted
them and myself and we parted badly.
This woman moved on like the air,
she unhurt and I undaunted.

But I fear hard breathing is part of every climb,
that the easy grip is cool. the sore grip warm,
that bad partings mean more than kind leavings,
and love cannot last without doing and suffering harm.

from Old Negatives: Four Verse Sequences (Cape, 1989), © Alasdair Gray 1989, used by permission of the author

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