r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: November 2010

The Field of Tartan

(Written for my grandfather who walked across this field on the Somme: July 1916).



I walked for my life, across a field of tartan


The Scots went first. They had it worst.
The First, the Twenty-First.
Highlanders.
They sowed the seeds, the soft touch
Of fabric-woven earth, over which we walked.
They had been mown down to a man.


They made a field of tartan.


Before they went, they sang,
The songs were haunted.
We joked about their skirts; they took it in good part,
there was a sense of peace,
Resignation!
That touch of Spartan in each heart.


(He walks for his life, across a field of tartan)


No mud when the top was crossed,
When the iron wind blasted and counter-crossed,
Seeking the marrowbone, the head, the heart,


Taking us down into that field of tartan.


It was so strange, so savage.
Astonishing to find no earth, just fallen flesh
To briefly meet a dying gaze,
A last remembered highland day.
To walk over limbs clad in scarlet tartan.
And we slipped and slid upon the patterned cloth, but made the other line.
There was killing, then.
No charms, just arms, the sinking down, the frightened frown,
Flesh suddenly shaped into dirt, life dearth,
Blood silt,
Nothing to hearten us
Except our unwanted luck at walking over hand-weaved kilt.
Not sinking into earth.
Walking across a field of tartan.

Robert Holdstock, from Avilion