Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 108: The Whaligoe Steps, Caithness


Men tied these cords round bundles
of themselves, round gear and harvest,
bare possession, stuff. Hitched rawness
to the skin, bound tracks of rope and line
into the flesh, knots holding purpose,
sacrifices of their sex. Their being
burnt like tar about its ends.

With every climb, each gathering
to the hearth, a deeper cut, one firmer
in the hand, within the muscle of the arm.
Each pace the line held, each the cord
brought goods and chance discovery,
the step still firm. Hemp and sisal,
twisted straw: a guarantee, a bet.

Brian Johnstone

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