‘Da Seevent Bairn’, by Christine De Luca

(The ‘exhibit’ that Joyce Gunn Cairns drew was the skeleton of Janet Hyslop, who died after the Caesarean birth of her seventh child: see ‘The stories of Janet and Caesar‘. Christine’s poem is written in the Shetland dialect.)


Christine De Luca

In response to a drawing by Joyce Gunn Cairns of an exhibit

at The Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh


Can you see da wye mi jaa is set, clenched,

dry as da empty wame?  Six grittit teeth:

een for ivery infant riven oot afore mi time.

Dey said I hed da pelvis o a bird, a sporrow,

dat I sudna come greetin der wye again.  Heth!

A craa skoitin for crangs widda taen mair peety.

Dey wir a murnin owre Egypt, I warn, whan

der firstboarn wis laid sindry.  Blöd ran

i da watter, dan a plaque o puddicks, mirds

o keds, flechs, locusts afore dey aa brook oot

in boils, afore da hailsteyns flatshed der coarn.

I widda taen seeven scourges ta save mi bairns.

See mi haand.  Hit micht be croppened, but

eence hit hüld a infant, mi only livin een,

mi seevent.  Dat haand fan mercy, I tell you,

at da last, as I strokit her peerie head,

pat her tae mi briest, nöned tae her.

I widda dön hit aa again for her.  I widda.


jaa: jaw;  wame: womb; sudna: should not;  greetin: crying;  Heth!: mild oath;

craa: crow;  skoitin: purposively looking;  crangs: carcases;  widda: would have;

 murnin: weeping;  warn: warrant;  sindry: asunder;  blöd: blood;  puddicks:

frogs;  mirds: swarms;  keds: ticks;  flechs: fleas;  flatshed: flattened;

croppened: shrunk and twisted;  hüld: held;  peerie: little;  nöned: hummed



Reproduced with Christine De Luca’s kind permission from The Hand that Sees, 2005, ed. Stewart Conn. RCSEd/Scottish Poetry Library