Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 45: Egilsay

An Egilsay Calendar

All January the black cattle tread straw
in byre pens. Jim’s squeegee rattles slats.
‘As the days lengthen, so the cowld strengthens.’

Wild February storms batter at homesteads:
‘I don’t like the look of it at aal, at aal.’
Pauline takes tottering lambs in her arms.

Maeness. Welland. Whitelett. Sound.

Snow blankets all in mid-March to the tide-line.
Axle-deep Jim’s tractor brings sheep-nuts and hay.
Eclipsed are the swans on the lochans.

After Easter prayer in the round-towered kirk
poor Lifolf split the skull of great Magnus.
A bloodied earth-patch sprang into greensward.

Thorfinn. Rognvald. Magnus. Hakon.

Skylarks in May spiral upwards in song.
The grass and barley sway bright green.
Corncrakes rasp against curlews’ bubbling lilt.

It’s June. The shopkeeper’s gone to his boat:
‘Take what you need. Leave money in this box.’
Hear the snipe drumming in the midnight sky.

Onziebust. Orchin. Horsequoy. Howan.

Visitors trudge the shore in July, pass
fulmar cliffs, silver sands, rocky voes,
by Horsequoy’s reef skirt the Simmental bull.

August. Jim sweats at his silage and hay,
sets lambs to frisk on a new-mown meadow.
Sighted off Maeness—a pod of basking-sharks.

North Toft. Whistlebane. South Toft. Warsett.

Two combines in September fight wet oats.
The historian turns aside from the kirk’s
walled graveyard, to return to the city.

Will October bring a peedie summer?
Wigeon, goldeneye and wintering mallard
bob with the swans on the Loch of the Graand.

Manse Loch. The Graand. Loch Watten. The Hubbet.

Five children comb Skaill beach in November
for a bonfire, to burn at North Toft.
High flames, to signal to Rousay’s and Wyre’s.

The Egilsay school’s Nativity Scene —
there’s an inn, a crib, an ox and an ass.
Insula ecclesia. Omphalos.

Eri Clett. Point of Steedie. Skaill Taing. Roe Ness.

Peter Jarvis

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