Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 137: Seilebost, Harris

Na Hearadh

in daylight, it is easy to see
how this island is made of bones, of air, of salt
of sand beaches and strands of someone else’s story
hidden between the oystercatchers
and the razorshell fragments
this calcium archipelago
where clocks move slowly
if at all
time is measured by the shadow of the heather
here, the air can be seen, touched, tasted
here, the clouds are not moved by the win
but travel their own paths
the grass will always win the machair
each inch and acre will fall to green stems
the time of year can be read in the
number of Yellow Rattles peering over the beach
of the whistle of the corncrakes
and how it echoes off the peat stacks
this is the island where footprints from any journey
can be washed away in a single evening tide
so that, in the morning, even you will not
remember if you were even outside at all
for the nights
you have cottage rooms, pots of tea and books
wardrobes you can hide
your mainland life inside
beside the lost mementoes
of the children who used to sleep
between the starched sheets
in these small bare rooms
when you sit up past midnight, reading
you will hear them, touching the wallpaper
with insubstantial fingers
smelling the dust in their skin
confused by the thought of morning sun
and you will no longer be reading about
the habitat of the Black Isle pipistrelle
but of the second, invented life of Iain
who was 6 and a half
when he found a new way to count stars
by lying on the beach
in the high dunes, where the grass
is just beginning
waiting for the clouds
to move out of the way
and though you haven’t been home in years
you will always find
Atlantic sand in your shoes
and the smell of fresh fish
will always take you back
to Ullapool and it’s stony harbour
and you will take care not to hide
the ocean swelling in your voice, but
you’ll never admit that
one night, you lay on the dunes
and waited for the clouds to move

Matt Macdonald

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