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Owens, Elisabeth, R. (ed.) / Encore: more of parallel press poets
(2006)

Niles, John D.
The piper's triumph,   p. 45


Page 45

 
The Piper's Triumph 
When I play the flame of wrath 
there is no tuft of grass from Islay to Ardnamurchan 
that is not left smoking. 
If there are twins in the womb 
they are at one another's throat. 
When I play the notes of joy 
every spider perched in the rafters 
claps its small hands in delight. 
Even the witch of Ulva 
hums a tune as she stalks about. 
When I play the notes of noy 
Christ hides his face, 
angels in heaven howl. 
Dogs snap at their own tails 
and old scars spout new blood. 
When I play the good old gabber reel 
water leaps up from the bucket, 
stars jump down from the sky. 
Mice dance on the kitchen table 
and crabs pirouette in the sea. 
Now shall I begin? 
John D. Niles 
Poet's Statement 
The great highland pipes are more than a musical instrument. They are a force
of 
nature harnessed to human ends. Depending on the circumstances, the piper
can 
set the pace for a stately march or can bring a crowd of celebrants to break
out into 
a highland fling. The piper can also attack a mortal enemy in a kind of shamanistic
warfare. The pipes can also be contemplative. If you have ever been in a
small 
room where a master piper is playing a piobaireachd (pibroch)-a leisurely
tune not 
unlike an Indian raga, often in the form of a lament-it can do more than
raise the 
hair on the back of your neck. It can lift the skin off, too. So the pipes
have this 
tremendous range of function and feeling, as I've tried to suggest in this
poem. 
     This is from an unpublished set of poems on Scottish themes. Since my
wife 
is from Scotland, we go there when we can, and I've spent a lot of time recording
traditional singers, storytellers, and musicians. 
45 


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