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James Aitchison 

Their Names


Even then those six women’s names

couldn’t have matched their faces

or their sitting, standing, walking body-shapes.


He spent so little time with each of them

he never found out who they really were,

and yet he remembers their names.


In reverse order, from first to last, they are

Ellyse Ancund, Anjano Pwello, Njeta Hessdil,

Luija Denord, Nussa Tewleth, Sabilela Mandaso.


He heard from a friend of a friend when he still had friends

that one of the women was dead.


And the others?

The edges and curves of their faces might already be blurred

and boneless beneath their withered frost-bitten skin.

They’ll have purple half-moons beneath their eyes,

little vertical lines on their upper lips,

double chins, dewlaps?



He’s just found two of the women on Google Chrome:

Ellyse Ancund and Anjano Pwello.

No bags or folds or shrinkages,

but he doesn’t know when the photographs were taken:

the older the photograph the younger the face.


The women’s names don’t match their photographs.

James Aitchison was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and educated Glasgow University (MA 1960) and Strathclyde University (Ph D 1973). In the 1960s he was a publicity copywriter at The Scotsman, and later held minor posts in Scottish colleges and universities. He reviewed poetry for The Scotsman from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s and for The Herald (formerly The Glasgow Herald) from 1986 to 1992. His poetry collections are: The Gates of Light (Mica Press, 2016), Foraging: New and Selected Poems (Worple Press 2009), Brain Scans (Scottish Cultural Press 1998), Second Nature (Aberdeen University Press 1990), Spheres (Chatto & Windus 1975), Sounds Before Sleep (Chatto & Windus 1971). Criticism: New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi Editions, Amsterdam, 2013), The Golden Harvester: the Vision of Edwin Muir (Aberdeen University Press 1988). Poems have appeared in Acumen, Best Poems of 2016 (The Scottish Poetry Library on line anthology), Brittle Star, The Dark Horse, The Frogmore Papers, The Herald, London Grip, New Writing Scotland, Painted, spoken, Poetry Salzburg, Reach Poetry, The Reader, Scottish Left Review, The Scottish Review.

Poor Doors
Sheriff Stars

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle
bedroom tax
Disrupt and Upset
bedroom tax
Sheriff Stars

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle
Disrupt and Upset

Militant Thistles

prickling the politics of "permanent austerity"

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