Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 49: Tentsmuir

A Tentsmuir Flora

“Existing floras exhibit only one moment in the history of the earth’s vegetation.”
Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer: ‘Plant Distribution’, Encyclopaedia Britannica

A moment that you might fathom, you’d think,
reciting names like adderstongue and moonwort,
coralroot and yellow birdsnest,
listed in Tentsmuir’s resonant flora.
But then an owl at Morton Lochs disgorges
a pellet packed with fieldmouse fur
and tiny bones from a neighbouring parish,
and seeds that will grow into another moment.

And there are days when haar drifts in from the sea
and settles like drops of mercury on rhubarb leaves,
when you step out into the garden,
into the moment before; digging, you unearth
bits of clay pipe, the bowl inscribed with
Masonic symbols: a pair of compasses
like a Pictish V-rod; in shifting light
your fossil-heap a shellfish-midden.

Moments washed by Forth and Tay; Fife
a mesopotamia of silts and erosions;
a kingdom stretched between its firths
like a hide from the scriptorium at Balmyrnie,
barley-fields the colour of vellum.
Earth you may as well be fathomed in, you think,
instinctively at home, peninsular,
putting down roots almost by accident.

You heard a story about a plant that sprang up
when a ship from Tierra del Fuego sank
at the mouth of the Tay; how Patagonian fleeces
hung for weeks on Tentsmuir’s barbed-wire.
Wind was combing the wool with weavers’ fingers,
as you remembered the Huguenots who fled
here in an earlier wave; loosened seeds
of Norwegian Lamb’s Lettuce taking root.


Anna Crowe
from Punk with Dulcimer (Peterloo Poets, 2007)

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