SCORRYBRECK POEMS

A 15th BIRTHDAY BALLAD FOR ROSS

Ross Henriksen clamb up the hill
While ferlies danced abune his head
“I’m off to seek oot ancient myths
An’ see if they be true,”he said.

He took his sketch-book in his hand
Aiblins tae jot doon what he’d see
And wand’ring in his mystic land
He left behind the rowan-tree.

A grim shaft slit the cliff on high,
McCoitir’s cave in ancient lore,
A passage said to lead through Skye
Right through the hills to Uamh an Oir.

Warnings had been to no avail.
His mind was fixed on glamourie.
He entered – vanished – searches failed
Lost to the realm of faerie.

Ross Henriksen was seen no more.
Deep, deep his family’s grief and woe.
If he appears at Uamh an Oir
What ferlies will his sketch-book show?

13/3/84

 

 

WESTERN ISLAND

When the wild geese fly for the winter
I think of my Western island;
when the snowclouds smother the rainbow
and the sea’s a welter of foam;
when the west wind sobs in the chimney
and flattens the moorland grasses
and the fuschia tassels stepdance
in the hedges around my home.

When the stormclouds batter the hillsides
I think of my Western Island
where the breakers boom in the caverns
and thunder and hiss on the shore;
when the spindrift whirls on the surface
of the wind-whipped, cowering water
and the smoke blows back to the fireside
and the rain creeps under the door.

When the swans are arrowing southwards
I think of a winter island
for the summer there is fragile
with a beauty as soft as rain.
And I’ll go down to the ferry
where the road slides under the water
then wanders around my island
and stops at my home again.

 

UPON THE MOUNTAIN

Upon the mountain called ME
the way is full of hidden dips,
ravines and boulder screes.
A convex slope.
Just one slow summit, then another
On and on.
My feet drag, plod
and sometimes stumble.
Stones shift and slip.
My pack drags at my shoulders.
Sweat saturates my brow,
my back, my oxters and my thighs.

Some days I wade
breast-high through honeyed heather.
Some days I sink,
bogged down in peat and sphagnum.

On, slogging on, day after day
the long slopes of the foothills.
I’ve left the past too far behind
for looking back.
The way is on and up.
And when I reach the top
I hope to find a plateau
not a pinnacle.

 

THE GREENER GRASS

I don’t know who you were.
I watched you sail away
tacking to windward
heading out the bay.
I watched your little sail
knife through the blue.
I stood here on the hill
and oh! I envied you!

A single man,
you single-handed sailed away
free as the gulls
to go your own sweet way
while I am captive
in a family
living a half-life
starved of liberty.

My dreams fly after you.
I long to be
sailing the western seas
lonely and free.
I turn back to the house
the fire, the wife
my pipe, my book
my comfortable life.

But something tells me
that I’ll find some day
the greener grass
that lies beyond the bay.
Oh! Something tells me
that I’ll find some day
the greener grass
that lies beyond the bay.

 

THE BRIGHT FIELD

The field on the hill is alight again.
On the greyest of days it glows
with buttercup sunshine.
For a week or three it will beckon me,
lifting my heart.
But July passes
like a cloud-shadow over the hill
and I must accept
another year gone
as the bright field fades
and butterseed sets
towards another summer’s radiance.

 

SGOR 1

Last year at Sgor
The bees sang loud in the sycamore tree.
The sun cast shade on the grey walls.
Blossom dripped like honey.
Tonight the leaves are curled and blasted.
The dubious bees hum in few flowers.

I have heard that Sgor
Was a teeming colony of thrifty folk,
Strong when the tree was young.
The houseplace is dead now.
A skull rots on the threshold.
The bitter winds have carried all away.

 

SGOR 2

There was no poem at Sgor today.
The sycamore stood stripped by the broken wall.
Dead leaves rattled on the wind
And the skull had gone from the doorway.
Nothing remained to share my desolation.
Only black scarts akimbo on the rock
And hoodies tumbling in the wintry sky.
There was no poem at Sgor today.

 

SEVENTEEN STONES

Turn the boat and head for shore.
We’ve got Mairi Mhor on board.
Turn the boat and head for shore.

We were hauling up the anchor
Heading home upon the tide
Worried that a storm was rising
When Big Mary hitched a ride.

Seventeen stones of Mairi Mhor.
I’m afraid she’ll sink the boat.
Seventeen stones of Mairi Mhor.

Pull your hardest, boys, together.
Pray that we can stay afloat.
If we don’t get better weather.
Mairi’s weight will sink the boat.

Seventeen stones of Mairi Mhor.
I’m afraid she’ll sink the boat.
Seventeen stones of Mairi Mhor.

Struggling up the Sound of Raasay,
Backs against a south-east gale,
Mairi’s sitting like a lady.
Her umbrella’s like a sail.

Turn the boat and head for shore.
We’ve got Mairi Mhor on board.
Turn the boat and head for shore.

Tune: Failte dhuit is slainte leat

 

SEASONS

I went for a walk
without you today
There were cormorants in the spindrift
and autumn leaves
in the bladder-wrack
along the wind-hammered sea.
But the gorse was having a second spring,
Its buds a fat reminder
that kissing is still in fashion.
The winter in the wind
took my breath away
so I gave it the cold shoulder
and hurried home
with you like summer
at the forefront of my mind.

 

STRANDED

You know how on a summer’s day
the headland’s bright
with sunshine
and the sound beyond is blue.
You want to sail out to the island
over there.

You know you have the knowledge
and the skills,
the boat, the engine
then
white fog rolls inland from the sea
and dims the edges,
wraps it about in cottonwool,
obscures the landfalls,
blocks the way
with stuff you cannot get a grip on.

You are powerless.
Stuck.
You have the wish,
the urge,
the knowledge and desire
and yet you cannot reach your island.

That’s what it’s like
to have M.E.
Fog banks roll in,
obliterate your mind
and leave you at a standstill.

 

IDYLL ON THE BEAL

A day on the hillside
I let it all pass,
Dreaming the sun down,
Lost in the grass.

Frills of white surge
On the cobalt blue sea,
Skylarks above me,
Lonely and free.

Pencil and paper,
Apples to eat,
Sun on my skin
And no shoes on my feet.

Then in the evening
Wandering down
Happy and rested,
Back to the town.

 

A WALK WITH A FRIEND

Sgeir Sgoir and Camas Gairbh,
the old names
for a dead settlement
hidden in ancient maps.

Black basalt pillars
bristle with scarts
and storm-stones piled
on rotting seaweed
yield to our boots.

I find a flake of sandstone
lacy with piddock-holes.
I put it to my eye
like Coinneach Odhar
and see your laughing face
caught for a frozen moment,
a visual haiku.

You find its marrow-stone,
a mirror-image
and fit the two together,
complementary.
We place them in our rucksacks,
each with our half
of the day’s memory.