‘Torbrex Tam’ is the name given to the oldest known inhabitant of Stirling. He lived about 4000 years ago, and was buried in Torbrex. His face has been reconstructed and an exhibition about Tam and his times is to be seen at the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum. But what was he like? In this poem, time-travel allows us to visit him.
John Coutts Poet in Residence. 21 November 2018
Dear Torbrex Tam,
If we were as clever as Dr Who,
We’d travel through time and land near you.
Fly when you like, for thought is free.
If you want to be friends, do call on me.
Stone, Bronze or Iron – what Age are you in?
My axe is made from copper and tin
Do you live in a cave?
Our house is warm.
Its walls are round and strong in a storm
The thatch is thick and the posts are strong
And the fire in the hearth burns all day long.
Do you dress in skins?
We shear our sheep.
In warmest wool our children sleep.
If bitter winter howls I wear
The tattered skin of an angry bear.
But when nights are warm and the moon is bright
Our dancing games are a long delight;
Children and grownups move and mingle
Beads and bracelets rattle and jingle.
Have you found a regular job?
Task after task as the seasons turn.
I hunt the deer, or I tend the farm,
Or search for herbs that can heal our harm,
Or watch for the bear, the wolf and the boar,
Or fish in the loch by the rocky shore.
At times I guard the ominous drum
That sounds the alarm if raiders come.
Do you worship God – or gods?
That the Powers will grant us the food we need,
And in times of sickness, famine, or fear
We pray to the dead – who are always near.
Why bury the dead beneath a mound
In a chest of stone?
It’s holy ground.
Wood is good for the place of birth,
But the dead are honoured in stone and earth.
But why the mound?
That’s quite enough.
Our days are short. Our lives are tough,
Our work is hard and our comforts few,
But we are human – just like you:
The same – yet somehow not the same –
And ‘Torbrex Tam’ is NOT my name.
Tell us your name. We’d love to know.
None of your business. Off you go.
Thank you, Tam, for being so kind…
Get lost! Before I change my mind.