Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 97: Gauldry

Gibbet

Barefoot penitent to the whispered shrine,
The crumbling reliquary
Of long-passed sisters-of-the-cure,
I climb the Gallows Hill.
Birds swim in trembling air;
Spiders swing from branch to branch
On filaments of mist
And the forest is full of music.

Shivering at the luminous edge
Of day, a blackbird makes
His lime-green song
From a filigree of leaves.
Warbler and nightingale
With falling golden thrill,
And swaggering serenade
Hold the woodland stage,
With melodies of pearl.

Beyond the firth, full
Of the sound of rising winds
The hills sleep like seals;
An empty farm-house, roof caved in,
Stands at the edge of the wood,
Marks the primrose road,
Pillowed with softest moss,
Which leads me to the hidden place.
Fern and bracken line secret paths
And forest ways;
They bow, make reverence,
Brush my skirts with fronded hands,
Call me Queen and Majesty,
Then turn away, smile secretly.
Borage, bees and campion,
My waiting-maids, bend low, speak low,
Of ancient loves and broken hearts,
While purple digitalis, healer of the same,
Stands, row on row,
Sentinel at morning’s gate.

Caught in the tail of my eye
Those who walked
This blood-dark way before
Move among the trees,
Their ruined voices dancing in my ear.
Their death was no quiet moment,
No eyes closed by a grieving hand,
No sweet bouquets, no funeral hymns,
No stone, no tended sanctuary.

The shadow of a gibbet-tree
Falls across the western sky.
I bow, draw close, lay my coronet of bay
And the ancestral palimpsest,
Murmur my charm to undo the noose.
A hare, mystic, as still as Dürer,
Watches and waits at the gallows-foot.
She rises, lingers, brushes my hand,
Then zigs and slowly zags away.

 

Susan Haigh

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