Here is the 39th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
The turbulent, brooding sky
gun-metal grey-blue convulses,
contorting like a troubled mind
around a pearl: shining pebble
unearthly white, this beachsand
that makes the water sing over it
in shades of green which seem
to tell a story in itself
ancient and yet vital, constantly re-born
here, neglected, untended but kept
secret, by hands so vast their fingerprint
might be a ripple in sand, or a whole coastline
gone in a second or lasting a millennium
always here, within our sight
if only we could see it:
a problem of time, or time frame
The ruined broch watches over it:
us and this beach; warlike, comforting
echoing with cries in some other age
strange foreign tongues perhaps, and yet our own.
How can we live containing such things
imprints in our blood
that we cannot bring into the light to read?
Alive, we are always orphaned
haunted by the memories we cannot quite grasp
the glint of stones far beneath deep black water
and their price is our drowning.
No doubt this is why the druid stones are hidden
on every hilltop, why magical signs, talismans
have always been carved by us
and by those who came before; those strangers
who are yet still strangely closer than our own skins.
They were orphaned too.
At least here, where the wave sound
wipes my memory of the cacophony
of traffic and television, I see clearly
the theatre of our condition
the brutal rocks and ever-changing sky.
I understand the terms of our existence
a bargain brought to us by a tireless pedlar
incessant as the returning tides
whose patience knows
that while we cannot understand this gift
we must accept it.
This poem is the second part of a quartet called A Highland Coast Quartet (the first was last week). Also set in the Lochinver area. The bay in question had a remarkably intact ruined broch and even an iron-age dyke…. an extraordinary looking thing: a wall made out of large sharp flat stones laid end to end. The highlands of Scotland are remote enough to still harbour such treasures, which elsewhere in the UK would doubtless have been spray-painted and dismantled by football-neds decades ago.
The upshot of such isolation is the illusion, which may not be an illusion at all, that time has not passed there in the same way, indeed that time itself has a different quality. Our ancestors stepped on the same stones and sand…. It’s as if they’ve just popped out on an errand, left their fire bruning, and will be back any minute to fill you in on their knowledge of gods and astronomy. Except of course, we’re completely in the dark about who these people were and what they really thought like. And yet… and yet… stranger still…. we are them, if anyone is, and if you believe in ancestral memory at all then perhaps we hold the answers inside ourselves.