Here is the 48th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
A nation of seafarers and explorers
Inevitable from this of course
dreamers, imaginers of ideals, pioneers
inventors, founders of things that seemingly
only everyone else in the end gets to enjoy:
freedom, democracy, social justice.
Thought I’d seen them all
but today found one more island
of whitewashed houses and villages
clinging to the edge of the world
peeping out across the mirror Atlantic
like bared teeth in the gum
of green moor and bog and bracken.
Wild ponies chased each other
whinnying, twisting and turning
across the hills at sunset
like the changing course
of our thoughts and conversation.
We sat waiting on the porch
for the moon and stars
the distant wink of lighthouses
knowing, unknowing, worldly-wise
the mainland left behind like a discarded shirt
blowing in the dunes at the edge
of the perfect beach.
Stripping off we’ll always walk
God’s pathway of glittering light on water
across the sea to the ineffable west
but we’re trapped of course on islands just as,
perhaps more than, anywhere else.
Things need to end
as every happy playing child
discovers to his tearful consternation.
Last night I found a bird on its back
on a dusty street of my perfect white town
immaculate, unharmed it seemed,
still warm, inexplicably
bereft of movement.
Had it hit a car or a window -only stunned?
Lifting its tiny weight
stroking the speckled breast
I couldn’t find the heartbeat or the will to search,
scared perhaps of any answer.
Thus can I leave my island unfinished
balanced like a bird in flight
between life and death, day and night
my remembered youth brought alive
by sand and sea, my demise or old-age
not yet accepted, the ticket lost
the ferry never taken.
There are always more children
to come running to beaches and play
as if for the first time their distant voices
a familiar music.
Life an unfinished sentence
voyage west amid an endless chain of islands
where all the syllable rocks spell just one word:
Well, we’ve nearly reached the present day in this poetry sequence, since I see that my photographs of Islay (pronounced Isla, no ‘ae’ sound on the end) are dated August 2012. The one below is of Portnahaven, the ‘perfect white town’ referred to above. For accompanying art images I have gone for three paintings above by Winslow Homer… who seems to express the gaunt drama of the sea in a way few other artists have, except perhaps for the early work of Scotland’s own (late) John Bellany, who I ought to blog about soon. Islay is a peculiar mixture to my eye of west and east coast Scotland (reminding me of Fife at times) and as close to Ireland as Scotland gets, in every sense. Scotland is a remarkably diverse small country and its islands are endlessly surprising and rewarding if you have the patience and luck to catch them in good weather. George Orwell wrote ‘1984’ on its sister island Jura, and Bernard MacLaverty’s novel “Grace Notes” takes place partially on Islay –a contemporary masterpiece which everyone should read before they die.