|Scotia Review - Poets|
The sea between held me, taking the land
out of my reach like stacks in a book-shop.
I longed for islands. They drew foot and hand.
At the Badentarbat shore I was stopped
sharply as if my foot had missed a plank,
the step long gone. Over these Bering Straits
habitation there still stared blankly back
to this side from an isolated state
of imagination. The day we crossed
was thick rain that made solid green
shadows in the houses. Where a roof was lost
great nettles grew like thickets of small trees
on untrodden floors, as if we slashed forest
around the lost shores of Tenochtitlan.
I know now that I was a latecomer
catching the last minutes of the picture
I came in as Gaelic went electric,
and the lights went on for Christendom
the Empire and our last hardy remnants
of native peasantry. Mt first year here was
when fields still filled up with neat stooks, to stand
like pooks in African hair, and shearing
gathered together a thousand sheep
and the talk in Gaelic from older men
just over my age then, still in their strength.
Now they and their speech have entered death’s sleep
and their land has become indifferent,
fading as pictures fade after the end.
House upon empty house, the sky was notched
with options. We made one of them our lair
alongside those who were no longer there,
entering silence through a door unlatched
always, into a walled garden of thought
readily grave and open to the dead.
They, we knew, were in corners and would wait
like uneasy tenants while we three played.
They waited in the lum. We often looked
through its dark funnel, for the sky up there
was unearthly. You knelt with an eye cocked
up that telescope, as if you could stare
from here to the blue earth seen from the moon,
as if space had moved over, made us room.
The road would waken you in the morning
with a left turn, a sharp move to the West.
I still know this inner road, the inner warning
of a boy of seven on holiday who lusts
for the road’s ending, counting through the lochs,
the mountains, remembering under the wheels
the exact contours of small bony hills
bouncing the road there like a long black cloth,
until the final count – Badentarbat,
Badenscallie, the turn down to Culnacraig
and you were there. I have been told since that
things have changed. Though the way-back I could take
passed the road-end, back to sleep and parted
the clouds high over Coigach like a flag.
(for Annie Mackay, died 1997)
Theat house, steady as a clock’s decorum,
With the clock’s round echoing on the round
Of every quarter hour, for me still sounds
Out sound order, steadiness: the front room’s
Baffled sun sinking westward over books
As the hearth fire rose, and tiled kitchen,
Its tins in tiers. they kept place, books and tins,
For years or grew gently, stratified rocks.
Time in that house was by time defeated
Denied disorder by a steady pulse,
So that my sins were remitted by the house.
Its gilded haze rubbed off, I repeated
Like a child in heaven’s endless palace
Undated hours, its habit’s beaten trace.