r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: The Winter Coast

The Winter Coast

(for Kevin Williamson on Burns Night 2012)

Six weeks of gales have blown the tide
flat into the bay
a thin white line like shifting ice
separates the sand dunes from the sea
the wind has washed the last green essence
from the January parks
& thoughtful eyes look to the window
to search for blue sky to the West

now calm has collared the neck of the storm
& frost has petrified the fields to grey
the bay is full of sea-smoke
& Hoy is iced behind a cloud
hung & busy at forty five degrees
a thin ship of snow & sunlight
tacking East to Cantick Head

Hoy is an eyebrow hovering over a dream
the fulmars have returned briefly
each one an Atlantic watercolour
to reclaim the biting air
the nations settlement has changed
since late Summer when they left
it is as if millennia under ice
has forced the sedimentary rock
to bow its flagstone head
but now released from this glacial weight
Caithness rises up to meet the sunlight
& is rising still
free from the oppression of the tilting world
so unlike the determination of Nature
& as unending as her storms
arguments congregate on this Winter coast
like shipwrecked rats on emptied islands
they find house-room easily enough
but will not go

today I saw a squad of curlews
beaking their way across a field
where the Two Harolds fought
a rough battle of hacking broadswords
& severed limbs to settle
the blood feud of the Jarl

what can I do here
but look for imaginary lives
those in the past I see
rising up from a desk
after a day of labour
opening a door into another room
or ambling across some acres
to view a potato park progressing
beneath a Northern sky
a grey-blue Summer sky
these shades rise & fall
with the sea-clouds off Dunnet Head
my heart leaps

the countrys future is shaped by such
as these & many other
formless dreams which find their frame
upon the tongues of those who fish & croft
& refuse to weep
when both coast & Winter
conspire to wash flat
the markers of their lives

there are no longer any “fabulous raiders”
save for the Atlantic storms
who sweep their valkyrie of rain
down over Hoy onto our sandstone lap
no longboats other than tankers & trawlers
drive through this bi-polar fjord
Flotta burns its constitution of North Sea gas
these are the leavings of trades weather

an otter swims through the edges of the tide
on the sorn for sellags & partans
who works at poems like these
like that anymore
in the pay-as-you-go university
of getting on
& having done so
unlike the otter
are permanently gone

Winter peels the skin of Caithness
back to the flagstone bone
on Dunnet sands
the fossil roots of ancient pines
spread out & claw the ebbing tide
like upturned crabs
so close after the two miles deep
pelt of ice retreated
so resin rich & once young
they filled the air with Alpine scent
now they ring millennia
like a swans leg
all this information sinking
into the shell sand
did I swim once otter-like
through these vanished tree-glades?

All this life is woven solid
into the slate-shirt of the land
every footprint & handhold
is locked tight
beside the fossil-fish & the dog-wilks
in there is lodged writing
a worm trace across mud
in the bitumen inked paper of flag
captured in an epic of Devonian seabed

Time is calm but the age is rough
all is hurry panic rage
difference is made to manufacture fear
so the storm grows confident
& tries on the coat of permanence
likes the fit & feel of it
the palms of my hands grow cold

I walk the Winter coast
in search or runes & light
up in the dunes behind me
the marram grass bends back like eyelids
they blink a parabola of three miles
& by the faint light of these flickering runes
I see that nothing is carved
but the sand by the wind
that we are ruled by barbarians
that everything is mocked & denied
to those who cannot forget
by those who cannot remember

they say the Aurora will be out tonight
but we will not see it
not because we are not “North of Norway”
but because the Atlantic clouds sit
like the ghosts of ideas on weeping Morven
its late January & the green glimmer
of the Merry Dancers is inside us
beside Robert Burns & the aspirations
of an “independent people”
drilled out like a row of turnips
in a forgotten field
but Januarys book will close
& the Winter coast will thaw its cheek
in the sap-wind of the coming Spring
for the window is still there
& the eyes still look

look soon Bride will bring Imbolg
& through the dead month
the wolf-month of Faoilleach
she will wave her white wand
the bellies of ewes will swell
& ravens will build their nests
& the shivering cold will search for itself
skylarks will return to the rising house of their song
but enough
the ground is still hard
from the poverty of thought
no light will shine
or flame burn
without organisation
as there is beneath the sky
& beneath the sea
who will go to the door
& invoke the revolution of desire
who will build such a fire
who will test their finger against the cold
for poverty is cold
who will drink
who will eat
& who will capture youth
& is a nation young
when it is so obviously old
for here is the ground
& here the birch trees grow
& we will drink & eat
enough enough
there is never enough
they tell us
for everyone
I say
there is enough
more than enough
as I look across this land
this sea this sky
this coast where dreams fuse
into purpose & to love
& fly with the fulmars to their home
to build the daylight of the heart
& set our rights out
as being only what we give
& with everything to give
we should give it all
& think nothing think nothing think nothing
of the cost
there is no cost
only love

which is our purpose
take the road to light
to the pushing new grass of promise
I heard the fulmar say
as she flew from the Winter coast

George Gunn

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