Wave Study No 2 Joan Eardley
Down there you’ve a rendezvous:
a love letter to paint, your easel
anchored, your feet braced.
The wind whips. The sea rages.
The chill’s bone-deep.
You’re sick but you’re in heaven
answering the siren call.
You mutter sweet nothings
that the wind takes. Arms
and fingers stroking, poking
the thick goo of lemon, umber,
flake white, till those dark houses
float in it, drifting, and it comes.
You’re wet with it, soaked but joyful.
Lil will be reading. In your head
a kettle’s boiling on the hob.
Could the chameleon’s horny skin camouflage
the colours with which we reveal ourselves;
in the pink
green with envy
a yellow streak, a mile wide
our dark side
white with rage?
Flushing across our thin skin,
Our seven deadly sins.
They could, so they did
Nature. We need it more than anything else in this world. It gives us fresh air to breathe, something to be amazed about. While hanging up her new wallpaper art, Michelle cannot help but smile. Her room transformed itself into a rainforest in all its glory, apart from the humid weather and of course, the animals. Sitting down on her floor, she takes a moment to close her eyes and send all her energy into imagining what it would be like living outside under the open sky. Being surrounded by the wonders of the world. Hearing the trees move in the wind, feeling the ground beneath her, steady and yet, fragile. Listening to the various sounds of the animals, both calming and threatening. Her thoughts slow down as she becomes one with her imagination.
The disruptive sounds of excavators and SUV’s tear her out of her daydream. Slowly rising from the ground, she wants to avoid looking out of the window. Michelle already knows what sight awaits her: habitat destruction. Her family used to live in the middle of a forest. They were happy. They only used what nature was willing to give them and nothing else. If they took too much, they had to deal with the consequences. That was before the government came with its machines, deciding that the forest has much more to give and they could and should take it. Even if that was not the case.
Now all that is left is ashes and rotten ground. The human consumption has taken over. Michelle leaves her window and moves to the light switch and turns it on. Reflecting on her window are not the horrors of mankind, but her wallpaper. The rainforest. The perfect replication of something that used to be but is no longer. Mankind betrayed Nature. They betrayed themselves.
As the day draws in, I look to the setting sun just too late. I see nothing but fading light on the horizon. My friends are on the lower hedgerow, some are smiling, blooming as they do for the whole year. I stand alone, atop bushes and thorns, gazing West in the plummeting temperature. They wave in the breeze, many happy with their fingers covered all year round. Some suffer like me, stiffness keeping digits exposed and vulnerable. A few of them hide between each other to stave off the worst of the seasons’ breath. Nothing guards me from the oncoming frost but the lichen at my feet. I wish for company at this end of the field. I am tall, I can see far into the distance, although the coming dark consumes this view as much as the remaining light. The far hedgerow is now just silhouette, a dark line on a darkening horizon. A patch of day is just still visible, but all colour is gone, sucked out of the world by the monster that is a winter evening in the wild. My fingers, home to so many things in warmer days, are beginning to freeze. I long for the spring where I can blossom and celebrate new life with the ospreys that will call me home. I yearn for the summer in which I can bask in the heat and enjoy the longer days. The fields either side of me are now just grey and barren. I miss the autumn when those crops are lifted, and such an aroma fills the air. I miss the winter days where the light shines low in the sky and brings beautiful wildlife out for food. Except squirrels, as grey as the landscape before me, they make me itch.
Inspired by ‘Winter Twilight’ by Donald Shannon
in the simmering steel-grey sea.
Strands of white foam
lash against its base
reaching to scale the rock.
Salt spray plumes
billow from its shaft
like the spewing of ash from Katla.
The sky hangs
thick with a palette of grey mists
and like confetti in a storm
white flecks whip.
Inspired by a series of paintings by Kirstie Cohen.
The Garefowl Witch
In 1840 three brave men
climbed up Stac an Armin,
to hunt the last Great Auk of St. Kilda.
This pack of ruthless men
harried, trapped and bound
the flightless bird.
For three days and nights
its beak was tied to stifle its cry,
while over the sea stack raged a tempest,
as if conjured by some witchery
that the dark garefowl possessed.
To quell the storm the three brave men
took up their three blunt sticks
and beat the bird to death.
The Great Auk, now extinct, was also known as the garefowl.
Glenn David Paisley
Twenty-eighth of February, 2020: you died, murdered by a Banchory street. A twenty foot drop down a manhole robbed society of a disability equality champion. Just outside a supported housing development, it could’ve been anyone. Our Patron Saint of Protection and Travel lost the toss to Fate, your treacherous white cane tapping you on the shoulder. Your journey of sixty-two years, eight months, ten days and twenty-two hours, had terminated.
You would’ve remonstrated with Saint Peter, it’s too soon! This wasn’t meant to happen! Don’t they realise you have plans? That letter of complaint to the council, which you composed in your head while lying hurt and bruised and awaiting help will never be lodged. A 2018 B/A Hons in Media Studies, and for what? A cavern yawns where once you provided peer research and networking.
“Freak tragedy,” people will say. Third of October 2019, Christopher McCarrol was lucky to survive being crushed by a Glasgow subway train. By 11.53am he’d purchased only lifechanging injuries, two years anticipated recovery, and a one-way ticket from his top-ﬂoor ﬂat. Guide dog Inca escaped unscathed. But personal troubles aren’t public issues, right? Nothing to fear, non-disabled citizens, “Inner/outer circle now running again. Thank you for your patience.”
I’ve survived two trafﬁc accidents, seems like Stirling drivers only see ﬂorescent yellow harnesses after 9am. We’ve the 2010 Equality Act though. Society shrugs and demands, what more could we possibly want? Inclusion and empowerment are prescribed like Valium to dull the dregs of individual doubts. Shouldn’t I be grateful for my equality? After all, I’ve the free Scotland Disabled Persons Travel pass with a companion +1. Isn’t society’s fault then, if tomorrow St. Christopher declines to journey with me?
He’s dead, fossil-lined in his end
flew his last deft-bend. He - who
Spear-shot waters - sand mashed.
Beak jammed agape
he’s gargled his last song.
Oily eye, melted back
to its socket. Body part sunk
by the sodden clot of silt.
Feathers jut from the ashes
a lousy sprout
like a head that’s been tonsured.
His belly’s swelled and burst
Brim-full of salt and trashes.
The mountains shift in short stretches like strokes, brushed up into the hills where colour is mistaken for blue. Icy puffs of frosted breath obscure the scene in a slow staccato, shards shifting in on every intake. Crests swell, one behind another behind another, and the undertow tugs at your feet planted on the brick of the platform. Wait.
A hush of breath, of stillness, and then you jump. Short hops across the steel of the tracks to the scree on the other side, the sparse line before trees give way to steepening sides. Nobody follows. The other faces turn back at the sharp whistle and board again. You don’t stay to hear the last whistle. You want to be up, high and away, to watch the train leave the valley.
Woman of the North Sea
Woman of the North Sea has a fish on her head – sculpted from triangles of blue, grey, and red. Harbour cat with abstruse face meekly waits for the fish to flip-flop down to his solemn mouth. Long-nosed cat does not know that Woman of the North Sea has a penchant for balancing flip-flopping fish. Her sea-shell eyes focus, dim but clear, on a point in the near distance. She holds a pose of the yoga tree beneath the cut across her ample breasts. Hold steady, Woman of the North Sea, or the pea-eyed fish may delve down and bury itself in the crevice of your warm chest.
On the backdrop, floats her margin of the Atlantic – royal merges with regal in an obscure billow at the nape of her neck. She is hiding a beast behind the quiet curve of her patterned headscarf – striped red, black, brown. Its sprawling legs plunge into oily depths. Crude platforms drilling through liquid, for liquid. Malformed nature rises, floats, scabs over Woman of the North Sea’s gentle shores.
Fringe tailed fish’s brothers and sisters surface, coated in black, barren. Woman of the North Sea loses her balance: topples into white horses, adrift with flotsam. Harbour cat gazes from shore at her floundering watercolours staining tumbling waves. Coke cans, blue string, and bottle tops cluster at her navel. A green plastic bag smothers her face; sucking synthetic between strawberry lips, twisting down her gullet, weaving knots into fleshy layers. Woman of the North Sea is dying; her shades of yellow, red, peach, disintegrate into soured sea brine. Crescent-gilled fish drifts, scum-eyed, to join his brothers and sisters; corpses rising and falling on the turning tides.
Inspired by ‘Woman of the North Sea’ by John Bellany.
You wouldn’t know it
but the northern gannets
have eyes like compact disks:
a cold, high-gloss grey.
Their beaks are streaked.
Wing tips are dipped in black.
All we can see from here
is that they’re crowding,
feathers on feathers,
until the cliff’s edge
is all adod with white.
I do not suppose
the blue-black water
crashing on the crags
frightens them at all.
Inspired by ‘Seabird Cities’ by Kieran Dodds.
Evacuating St Kilda, 1930
Amber rays flood Village Bay as the ship appears on the horizon. Darkness still looms heavy behind, and wispy grey clouds spin themselves around the tallest peaks of the lonely islands. Thirty-six souls stand waiting on the shoreline, illuminated by the first light of that rich August day.
As the ship carries them further out, the fulmars sing louder in triumph. Children play hide-and-seek on deck, trying to ignore the absence of dogs at their heels. Their howls haunt the bay now, drowned there some days earlier.
One boy passes the row of waving women, static at the stern. He makes a space between them and sees St Kilda in the distance. How small would he look if he was back on the island now? He squints, searching for his house.
‘Ready or not!’ a girl screeches over the moaning of the engines, so he keeps running.
A woman in a red-patterned headdress clutches the ship’s rail with one hand and waves at her abandoned homeland with the other, the home of her parents, her grandparents, their parents too. She dares not blink; no tears come but she mustn’t miss the last sighting. Like a family portrait, she thinks - that’s what the cluster of summits look like, huddled in a curve around Hirta’s hearth. The pointed rocks, like sealed cathedrals.
The eldest man in the party watches the disappearing bay and sees an open grave. Hirta’s face is not dislike his own, set with wrinkles, but ever-shorn like the summer hides of their sheep, already grazing the sweeter grass of their new homeland, waiting for them.
I spoke with a mouse
In a cleit
Prowling on puffins -
We were waiting on seals
And climb that rock
As they have always done.
May I be the rock
Of this place
That I too
Despite the weather.
Tá ait i mo chroí,