Here is the 41st poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
NEXT BAY NORTH
I am haunted by my memories of this coast
of myself and my brothers
three awkward adolescents marching north
through intermittent rain and dismal skies
looking for a beach we never quite got to.
Somewhere there’s a photograph
the last headland before we gave up
a distinctive Scots Pine gesturing above rocks
and today thirty years later
I bask on the other side of that
on an exquisite sunlit beach
with the woman I love and other blessings.
I recognise the scene in reverse, that headland
but that tree is dead now, somehow symbolic.
We were nearly there, only will and hope failed us.
It’s like being dead, this looking back thing
parallel, external to, one’s own existence.
I’d like to postulate a next bay north
of course. I’ve checked the map but found
the tides too high the rocks too sharp
to let me penetrate its secrets.
Let us believe that its views are better
its sunlight yet stronger to burnish
these frail bodies into gold.
But that dead tree troubles me
Its writhing bone-white branches
a warning that something will be lost.
My brothers and I can’t look each other in the eye
these days, the wretches time has made us.
The trick in looking forward is to see more deeply
the past the future all too quickly will become
and reach that tree before it dies and taste its fruit
the present waiting to be won.
-(Camusdarach, Morar, June 1st 2012).
This poem is the fourth and final part of a quartet called A Highland Coast Quartet (see first here, second here, and third here ). This one relates to a quite famously beautiful beach near to Morar and Arisaig. We stayed there for just about the only sunny week in a summer of dreadful rain (a degree of luck I don’t normally enjoy!). It was early summer, the sea still cold to such an extent that the unusual form of mirage known as ‘Fata Morgana’ occurred: while looking out to see the islands of Rhum and Eigg actually began to change shape, with whole sections of land appearing to hover above the water. Has to be seen to be believed that sort of thing, caused by warm air meeting cold water and refracting light. Other people on the beach didn’t even seem to notice.
From looking through light, to looking through time. My poem records something which I suspect many of us must have our own equivalents of: rediscovering a place decades later and gaining some brief feeling of vertigo, not just concerning how that place has aged, but how you too have transformed gradually into a different person, or maybe several.
There’s no use in just looking back and feeling regretful though, the poem’s point is to try to devise a strategy for oneself regarding how to live now, in the moment, with true regard and foresight as to what our every action means as our lives accumulate experience through time. Opportunities surround us in every second…. all we have to do is remember exactly what the hell we set out trying to achieve in this life and go for it… but remembering is not so easy as it sounds of course. To live and be human, is to forget. Perhaps this is a self-protection mechanism because life is so important and stimulating that we need to be slightly immunised against its impacts a lot of the time or we go mad with nerves. But the pure moment of creative brilliance, rare as it is, is when we awaken from this deadened state and truly grasp who we are, how short a time we are here for, and what an exhilarating privilege each breath is. And then if we’re lucky, we speak out, and other people hear us. Even if they are distant in time.
For paintings, let’s conclude our trip through the works of the Canadian Group Of Seven, with three images: ‘Twisted Pine’ by Franklin Carmichael, Lake Simcoe by Lawren S Harris, and ‘Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay’ by Fredrick Varley.