'Flambeaux' was placed joint first in the Adult Poetry section of the Neil Gunn Writing Competition, 2011. It was written by Donald Mackay, Caithness.
The theme for 2011 was 'A wrong turning', taken from Neil Gunn's novel 'The Serpent': "Our river took a wrong turning somewhere! But we haven't forgotten the source."
The Neil Gunn Writing Competition is organised by library staff from the Highland Council Education, Culture & Sport Service in partnership with the Neil Gunn Trust. It was first established in 1988.
On the Selembao stalls, cloth wicked in palm oil
made a carnival of fire: planks, two oil drums
on them chikwangu, smokefish, tinned sardines
avocados, mangos, bananas,
bread which had been fresh that morning
whatever anyone could buy and sell, was fine
on such a night after a storm, in such a light.
People grew happy, for rain had relaxed the air
and a flicker of flames shone our skin like oil
making us all, in that most primitive of lights,
How? Total strangers would press my hands
as if we were all muisi-Kongo for tonight
and the thin high music from the boites de nuit
shook everybody's hips,
on every hand, 'Kiambote'. Not at all romantic,
only to me in the sharp lack of an electric light.
It was simply the way things are
when people, even with a mundele
in their middle, practically become themselves.
chikwangu - cassava puddings; muisi-Kongo - Bakongo;
boites de nuit - brothels; 'Kiambote' - ki-Kongo greeting;
mundele - European