Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 61: Tanera

Lichen
(Tanera Mor, Summer Isles)

It is the wind on Tanera that has defined us: we are aspen clinging to a rock face: rowan sheltering at the gable end of a ruin. They show us the quiddities of squall and gale. How to be, in one place. How to sleep. To wake.

The roof tiles snick and snap like fingers on a muted keyboard. The composer insane, though I have to admit, I find strange and comforting cadences here. The old school-house holds its past. I think of all the island’s children listening to that same sound. Their ghosts all around. Waiting for the dinner bell.

Rain on the window: across the water: rain on a mountains, which now, only exist as a matter of faith.

Below, in the water, circular cages filled with salmon: they know no rhythm as they search for an exit or fling themselves upwards to ingest the air.

I will not venture out until the storm abates. He predicted the onset of gales to a crowd in the dining room. And a guru has his followers. Though he says he never asked for them. He thinks he’s Columba.

I saw him at the top of a hill – naked and raging. Was he trying to stop the tempest – no. He was gathering it into himself like some invisible harvest. I saw him later – coming out of the bathroom – tired but not beaten.

A couple pass me - he in front - she behind. Of course I watch her – pale and woebegone – all she needs is a little gratitude. (Did no-one tell her you should never love an artist). He doesn’t know what he has and I cannot tell him.

Four scallops on a plate: pan seared, their orange horns and white meat, sweet on the palate. This morning they lay at the bottom of the bay until they rose to the surface, in a curtain of bubbles, in the neoprene hands of local scalpers. We all eat but the tree-witch sits among us refusing to partake. Is there an incantation to appease the shell gods? She won’t say.

Tanera I came to steal your beauty but such a thing is impossible. I can’t show you what is – only what it is like. So many paintings and prayer flags – enough to frighten the herons and the blubbering seals.

The rain has rolled on and I am, once more, at the pier. I keep returning to this place – day after day. As I have returned to other places like it – all my life. I paddle in the shallows in my green gumboots - disturbing the crabs and little fishes. Once more I am a child.

Take this bloom of lichen: ochre on red stone – can you see it – an affirmation of clean air – a comfort perhaps – when all the earth is being raped and sold. I wish I could stay and watch your empire swell.

Soon I will have to depart this cold and precious sanctum – to the urchins and anemone – to the dogfish and dulse. There is a gap in the weather fronts and we must return to our lovers and loved ones.

I shall leave nothing behind. I am in no sense grateful. I will never return, yet, I will remember you Tanera. On nights, and days, when the wind is strong. I will think of the lichen on that pier: spreading like a stain.

Knotbrook Taylor

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