Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 324

Joan Eardley’s Catterline

Ah’am drawn tae the coastal cliffs
that Joan Eardley wis wedded tae
in her final days,
afore life wis cut short.

Though the sun shines
in the pale ultramarine sky
the wind whips at the waves
that begin way aff at the horizon
an keep comin till they’ve collided
wi the cliffs, sculptin them
into caves an rock formations.
As an efterthoucht it scours ma face.

There’s nae a soul aroon for miles
an ah can sense on a dreich day
as she looked oot fae the Watchie
the seagulls cawin
could become as oppressive

as the poverty o street urchins
in her Glesga slums.

Further on at the edge
o Fowlsheugh’s precipice
the air is thick wi new life.
There are kittiwakes an puffins
an ma favourites the guillemots.
They are perched on tiny ledges
facin inti the scarp,
like they hiv come tae worship,
at the wailin waa.

Ah lean ower tae tak a closer look
hooked in by the shimmer
o the black broon colour
made famous by Van Gogh,
fa Joan wis often likened tae.

Their burnt umber plumage
like oiled velvet
wi the fine white lines
runnin fae aboon their een
tae the tips o their beaks
as if they’ve been drawn on
by a wee quine
jist tae mak them even bonnier.

Like missiles they dive tae the sea
an mak haste their return, tae feed their young
for fear the fulmars will raid their nests,
like the vikings, fa came afore,
pepperin oor tongue wi pagan words
an namin these foul gulls
that fill the air wi stinky spit.

Beyond the urgent din o the birds
the cliffs themselves share
millions o years in the layers
o volcanic rock an reid sandsteen,
wi pitted boulders sandwiched in atween
covered wi emerald green moss
that turns a shade o cadmium
as it sclims up the face
an intae ither centuries

becomin theday, far the rise o the sea
lays mair an mair claim tae its’ history.

As ah mak ma wye back tae Catterline
ah find mysel cairryin a wee prayer
for the coastline
that pressed itsel tae Joan’s hert.

Lesley Benzie

Note: Joan Eardley (18 May 1921 – 16 August 1963) was one of the UK’s most popular 20th century artists. She has been recognised for her portraits of Glasgow street children and landscapes of Catterline, a fishing village on Scotland’s north-east coast. The Watchie was the name of her studio, an old cottage overlooking the sea.

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