r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: June 2015

postcard from Skye


Long time! We’ve been holed up in Baker Street for the last while and really needed a breath of fresh air. I thought we’d come up to the Scottish Highlands and pay a visit to the Old Man of Storr (speak for yourself John, I prefer the London city air (just shut up and breathe Sherlock))
- Postcards from John & Sherlock


- beginning with a couplet from Carmina Gadelica
and with grace notes from the same source.

I have a charm for the bruising
a charm for the blackening
a charm for cheats and impostors.

I summon from the cold clear air
from the bare branches of the trees
from worms coiling under the ground –

charm against cruel intent
charm for neglect
charm against wicked indifference:

may it lie on the white backs of the breakers of the sea
may it lie on the furthest reaches of the wind.

A salve for those who would grudge against the poor
a salve for those who would harry the innocent
a salve for those who would murder children:

may it lie in the stoniest stretches of the hills
may it lie in the darkest shelving along the shore.

A salve for those that would cram
whatever life they have with possession –
for the rage of owning without entitlement
for the desperate murderous possession of things:

may it lie on the cloud-banks that range across the sky
may it lie on the face of Rannoch Moor in its remoteness.

A charm against mystification by doctors
a charm against deception by the self-appointed
a charm against horrific insistence:

from the breeze that stirs the last of the yellowing leaves
from the slanting of the sun as it falls though the window.

A salve against grasping
a salve against preaching
a salve against promises exacted by threat.

Grace of form
grace of voice
grace of virtue
grace of sea
grace of land and air
grace of music
grace of dancing.

A salve against the uselessness of envy
a salve against denial of our own best nature
a salve against bitter enmity and silence

Grace for beauty
grace of spirit
grace of laughter
grace of the fullness of life itself.

A salve to bind us
a salve to strengthen heart and happiness:

may it lie in the star-blanket there to spread over us
may it lie in the first light at the waking of day.

Alexander Hutchison, commissioned by Alec Finlay for Carmichael's Book (an anthology of poems inspired by Carmina Gadelica.)

Winged Skye

When this body comes to die,
Set me on the headland high,
Where sun and rain go marching by,
Raven lord of wave and sky.

Eilean Mor Sgiathach

When I free my final breath,
Lay me down on gentle earth,
Where the dove shades holy garth,
And rivers run to meet the firth.

Eilean Mor Sgiathach

When my spirit passes over,
Float me on air's mountain floor,
Where the feathered ramparts soar,
And the eagles golden hover,

Eilean Mor Sgiathach

Donald Smith

The Way Down

The way down
no longer is the way down
the storm has sliced the dunes like cake
and clawed the sand away.
The drop is sheer, twenty feet or more.
I want to push my boots into the edge
and leaning back slither down onto the shore
and shout my anger at the waves for what they’ve done
but the sea is scouring in. I sense its hunger and I hold my tongue.

a ribbon of kelp
propelled by the wind
leaves its pale trace in the sand

Pauline Prior-Pitt

A Work for Poets

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

That not far from the stone
A well
Might open for wayfarers

Here is a work for poets –
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence.

George Mackay Brown

the kestrel paced round the sun

Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies
The Kestrel Paced Round the Sun

Peat Cutting

And we left our beds in the dark
And we drove a cart to the hill
And we buried the jar of ale in the bog
And our small blades glittered in the dayspring
And we tore dark squares, thick pages
From the Book of Fire
And we spread them wet on the heather
And horseflies, poisonous hooks,
Stuck in our arms
And we laid our coats
And our blades sank deep into water
And the lord of the bog, the kestrel
Paced round the sun
And at noon we leaned on our tuskars
- the cold unburied jar
Touched, like a girl, a circle of burning mouths
And the boy found a wild bees’ comb
And his mouth was a sudden brightness
And the kestrel fell
And a lark flashed a needle across the west
And we spread a thousand pears
Between one summer star
And the black chaos of fire at the earth’s centre.

George Mackay Brown, from Selected Poems 1954-1992

The Trial of James Kirkness

An exciting new piece of theatre, commissioned by the Festival, takes us back in time to the 19th century and the infamous case of illegal gin smuggling in Kirkwall and the trial of James Kirkness, grocer. The action takes place around Broad Street in Kirkwall, site of Kirkness's store, and flips between the 19th century and modern times to tell this extraordinary, but little-known tale.
A combination of music and theatre, this fast-paced play is written by Kirkwall's well-known writer and current wine merchant, Duncan McLean and directed by Marilyn Imrie.

- St Magnus International Festival 18 -25 June 2015

Hamnavoe Market

They drove to the Market with ringing pockets.

Folster found a girl
Who put wounds on his face and throat,
Small and diagonal, like red doves.

Johnston stood beside the barrel.
All day he stood there.
He woke in a ditch, his mouth full of ashes.

Grieve bought a balloon and a goldfish.
He swung through the air.
He fired shotguns, rolled pennies, ate sweet fog from a stick.

Heddle was at the Market also.
I know nothing of his activities.
He is and always was a quiet man.

Garson fought three rounds with a negro boxer,
And received thirty shillings,
Much applause, and an eye loaded with thunder.

Where did they find Flett?
They found him in a brazen circle,
All flame and blood, a new Salvationist.

A gypsy saw in the hand of Halcro
Great strolling herds, harvests, a proud woman.
He wintered in the poorhouse.

They drove home from the Market under the stars
Except for Johnston
Who lay in a ditch, his mouth full of dying fires.

George Mackay Brown, from The Year of the Whale

Sonnet: Hamnavoe Market

No school today! We drove in our gig to the town.
Grand-da bought us each a coloured balloon.
Mine was yellow, it hung high as the moon.
A cheapjack urged. Swingboats went up and down.

Coconuts, ice-cream, apples, ginger beer
Routed the five bright shillings in my pocket.
I won a bird-on-a-stick and a diamond locket.
The Blind Fiddler, the broken-nosed boxers were there.

The booths huddled like mushrooms along the pier.
I ogled a goldfish in its crystal cell.
Round every reeling corner came a drunk.

The sun whirled a golden hoof. It lingered. It fell
On a nest of flares. I yawned. Old Made our mare
Homed through a night black as a bottle of ink.

George Mackay Brown, from Selected Poems 1954-1992


My father passed with his penny letters
Through closes opening and shutting like legends
When barbarous with gulls
Hamnavoe's morning broke

On the salt and tar steps. Herring boats,
Puffing red sails, the tillers
Of cold horizons, leaned
Down the gull-gaunt tide

And threw dark nets on sudden silver harvests.
A stallion at the sweet fountain
Dredged water, and touched
Fire from steel-kissed cobbles.

Hard on noon four bearded merchants
Past the pipe-spitting pier-head strolled,
Holy with greed, chanting
Their slow grave jargon.

A tinker keen like a tartan gull
At cuithe-hung doors. A crofter lass
Trudged through the lavish dung
In a dream of corn-stalks and milk.

In the Arctic Whaler three blue elbows fell,
Regular as waves, from beards spumy with porter,
Till the amber day ebbed out
To its black dregs.

The boats drove furrows homeward, like ploughmen
In blizzards of gulls. Gaelic fisher-girls
Flashed knife and dirge
Over drifts of herring.

And boys with penny wands lured gleams
From tangled veins of the flood. Houses went blind
Up one steep close, for a
Grief by the shrouded nets.

The kirk, in a gale of psalms, went heaving through
A tumult of roofs, freighted for heaven. And lovers
Unblessed by steeples lay under
The buttered bannock of the moon.

He quenched his lantern, leaving the last door.
Because of his gay poverty that kept
my seapink innocence
From the worm and black wind;

And because, under equality's sun,
All things wear now to a common soiling,
In the fire of images
Gladly I put my hand
To save that day for him.

George Mackay Brown, from Collected Poems

Maeshowe Nipple

See – a green breast in a green field, aureola
sandy-rimmed, the nipple leaking a pale trail
to hidden chambers where, on dank dark walls,
the straight-branched runes of intrepid Vikings
recorded births and deaths, the passing of days;
inscribed their conquests; totted up the loot;
revealed, in this treeless place, a month's mind
for the forests and fjords of home; lamented
the abandonment of sweethearts and family
for so much squalling wildness where, when
the dragon boats moved on, their tongue
took root and sprouted from invaded soil
green words for Father, Daughter, Bread.

Dilys Rose, from Bodywork

Castle O Burrain

Puffins, windblown
come careering in
wings tilted
bright feet braced
to catch the ledge.
They gather in rows
on narrow balconies
tiny, gaudy, gossiping gods
paintbox beaks a-gabble
heads tweaking
to this side and that
as they spotlight
what comings? what goings?
among guillemot groundlings
For now
it’s all comedy, circus, spectacle
the waves’ drumthunder
an off-stage roll
the stormclouds
curtained back.
The great black-backed’s cloak
is folded:
it's murderous eyes

Yvonne Gray, from Swappan the Mallimacks

D Day

In memory of Sorley MacLean

Where the dead lie
In their boxed sets
In scenic graveyards
By the beach
I don't remember
A conquered speech
But an old preacher’s story
Of hungry, wary
Men down in the dumps
In barbed-wire camps
Across wintry, grey
Wartime Germany
After D Day,
When the prison guards banned
The dangerous sound
Of news from the front
And anyone shouting it
Was taken away,
But the prison padre
Singing high
And low
In Gaelic
To the HLI
So amused
And bemused the guards
That they did not take
Much notice of how
Some seemed to make
Something of his 'Buaidh-làrach! Buaidh-làrach!'
As the talk of the lost
Became in that place
The new speech
Of liberation.

Robert Crawford

'buaidh-làrach': victory


O sad for me Glen Aora,
Where I have friends no more,
For lowly lie the rafters,
And the lintels of the door.
The friends are all departed,
The hearth-stone's black and cold,
And sturdy grows the nettle
On the place beloved of old.

O! black might be that ruin
Where my fathers dwelt so long,
And nothing hide the shame of it,
The ugliness and wrong;
The cabar and the corner-stone
Might bleach in wind and rains,
But for the gentle nettle
That took such a courtier's pains.

Here's one who has no quarrel
With the nettle thick and tall,
That hides the cheerless hearthstone
And screens the humble wall,
That clusters on the footpath
Where the children used to play,
And guards a household's sepulchre
From all who come the way.

There's deer upon the mountain,
There's sheep along the glen,
The forests hum with feather,
But where are now the men?
Here's but my mother's garden
Where soft the footsteps fall,
My folk are quite forgotten,
But the nettle's over all.

Neil Munro, from The Poetry of Neil Munro

Rud a Thachair

B’ e madainn a bh’ ann mar mhadainn sam bith eile;
dh’èirich mi, chuir mi umam, rinn mi cupa cofaidh;
thug mi sùil air an t-sìde—latha tioram eile—agus chuir mi
air an rèidio.

Bha an tè às an Eilean Dubh, aig a bheil an cù, Dileas, a’
rud aotrom airson cridhe a chumail ruinn air madainn
còmhradh is plòigh, ’s dòcha òran no dhà, corra bhioradh

Bha na cèisean bho Morning Star ’nan laighe air an t-
Thog mi tè gun smaoineachadh, tè sam bith, a’ chiad tè
bhon chàrn
agus thòisich mi a’ leughadh About nothing in particular
le Thomas A. Clark.

B’ ann mu dheidhinn neoni a bha na dàin to make a short
out of nothing agus a-rithist the thistle and the gorse
the kiss, the blessing, the curse

are built on nothing, agus bha Mòrag à Uibhist ’s às an
Eilean Dubh
a’ bruidhinn ri boireannach à Tiriodh, agus b’ e Nonnie a
bh’ oirre
agus bha i ag ràdh a h-ainm mar gun canadh tu ‘neoni’

agus dh’fhairich mi gaoir beag a’ ruighinn mo spioraid,
no co-dhiù am pàirt ud a tha do-ruighinn. Agus airs bith an
e gòraich
no sàr-ghliocas gun ainm a bh’ ann

dh’fhairich mi gun robh e air leth neònach, Nonnie agus
a’ coinneachadh mar siud anns an fhalamhachd
agus ag èirigh gu chèile às an t-sruth do-sheachanta.

Maoilios Caimbeul, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair/The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Sampler (ed by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin)

As It Happens

As it happens,
it was just another day:
got up, got dressed, had a cup

of coffee; looked at the Ceefax
weather: just another day
of little rain. Switched on

the radio: that up-beat
woman from the Black Isle,
the one with the dog called Faithful, was in full flow:

conversation, humour,
easy listening. The mail from Morning Star
was on the chair,

and, not really thinking,
I picked up the first of the pile
and started to read:

it was something by Thomas A. Clark,
poems that spoke about
nothing ‘to make a short song

of nothing’ and then again
‘the thistle and the gorse,
the kiss,

the blessing and the curse, are built
on nothing’; and Morag, from Uist,
was meeting a woman called Nonnie,

who hailed from Tiree,
a woman who said her name like the word
neoni, the word

for nothing, so I felt a wavering cry
from somewhere in my soul, or if not that,
from somewhere in myself that felt

thinking it might be genius, or else
stupidity, hearing that name

and failing to find it strange: neoni,
Nonnie; something and nothing
meeting in a sound

and rising up
as one, to voice

(translated John Burnside)

Myles Campbell, from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair/The Weaver's Task: a Gaelic Sampler (ed by Christopher Whyte)