Ancient Lights


Along the Way


I fill my glass with fiery night 
knead my bread from cold mud; 
distant light protects the one
who drinks the darkness of this world.

Sándor Weöres 
1913 – 1989

Translated from Hungarian by Maria Schiller and Hilary Kassman



Luck Cat

I have a luck cat in my embrace, 
which spins threads of luck.
Luck cat, luck cat,
get me three things:
get me a golden ring, 
to tell me I am lucky;
get me a looking glass,
to tell me I am lovely;
get me a fan,
to whisk away my weary thoughts.
Luck cat, luck cat,
spin me something else around my future.
Edith Södergran
1892 – 1923
Translated from Swedish by Jim King




The Whiskey Bottle

It was my uncle’s job, after the blitz in Belfast, to inspect damaged houses. The Easter attack had been fierce; Belfast, the least defended city in Britain, had taken a hammering. The Luftwaffe had gone for the docks and the factories. Three thousand were killed. People fled the city in droves, a sad snake of humanity, wriggling into the countryside, with prams and carts full of their rescued possessions and children perched on top. There was such a housing shortage that people slept out on the Black Mountain, one of the high hills that circled the city, causing one local politician to complain that it was disgusting that Protestant and Catholic families had to huddle together on wet hillsides.

He told me about the night he came to drink the whiskey; a night full of moonlight and crunching glass. He’d come to the last house in the street with his workmate. It was getting dark. He said it was scary going into the damaged houses – some had great cracks that ran the length of them, as though their spines were broken. He marvelled at how the possessions, blasted apart, settled again in odd juxtapositions. The last house seemed strangely untouched and they stretched out their legs on the sofa in the parlour. They were exhausted; both their houses had been damaged and they, like so many of their neighbours were sleeping anywhere they could find, in their case, in the church hall.

My uncle looked up and saw a bottle of whiskey winking at him from the top of the dresser. He says it sang to him as well, so he hopped up and got it down, saying tohis mate ‘Sure, we’re worn out with all the hard work. Sure aren’t our nerves ruined with the grief the auld Germans are dishing out? We deserve a wee drink after all that.’ They fetched two glasses, pulled out the cork and got stuck in, and soon the fear and pain and all the nervous tension were gone. It wasn’t long till they began to sing After the ball was over and they’d just started on the White Cliffs of Dover when an apparition of an old lady in dusty black appeared before them.

They were terrified till she spoke, saying ‘In the name of God tell me that you’re not drinking that whiskey that was on the dresser?’

My uncle jumped up and said ‘I’m sorry Missis; sure we’ll buy you another bottle. Weere nerves were bad, after all that banging and destroying, sure we thought the house was empty and everyone fled…’

The old woman interrupted ‘That is the whiskey I use to wash my husband’s leg ulcers with. It cleans out the puss lovely. I pour it back in the bottle afterwards. Please tell me the pair of yous hasn’t been drinking it. You’ll be poisoned if you have.’

My uncle never ever touched whiskey again.

Alison Marr

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