North Ronaldsay, Orkney
The island is a great floating meadow
a meadow with sheens of lapwings and flickering skylarks
daisies spilling pearls on grass
and in the grass curlews with scythes for beaks
marsh marigolds and dandelions coining the fields with gold
and gold dust lichen on the Old Kirk roof
the wind puts its mouth to the stone dyke and cries
and crying an oystercatcher lifts in alarm.
They needed a shelter from that great weight of sky
a sky so heavy they paved the roofs to keep it out
slack water and a good moon and they’d be away
away over to Sanday for a dance
“Don’t come back too soon” knowing the racing tide
the race that could dance them away for ever
so many lost in the war, the island merely a memory
yet the memorial clutches only one name to its heart
others left lightly, work unfinished, “just slipping out for a minute”
and minutes became hours and years and exile
leaving things that might come in useful in sheds
sheddings of old stuff – batteries, wheels, an engine’s bones.
The Atlantic unpicks its seams, fraying foam against rocks
sandstone rocks slabbed up like bales of cloth
black rocks on white sand are seals
seals moaning as women moan for the dead
a spirit opens the door to the wind
and the wind draws the curtain for the last time.
From The Art of Gardening (Flambard 2010)
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