Sunday, 31 May 2015

Orkney, Time and Tide

The calm before the storm in Scapa Flow:
                            Sunlight on seal-stippled water,
At the south end of Stromness,
Where our wharf once saw Atlantic archipelago mariners
Fill their casks not with rum and beer, but fresh water,
That trickled down the hillsides above the ness,
And so to Login's Well, at the back of our cottage,
Where salty old ghosts gather together:
The south Atlantic crews of Captain Cook
From the Resolution and the Discovery,
As well as Hudson's Bay scrimshaw seamen
(With Stroudwater scarlet to trade with the Iroquois),
Hoar frosted spectres from the Terror and Erebus,
Standing by the side of Ishmael, Queequeg and Ahab,
Staring at the Kaiser's scuttled navy, and HMS Royal Oak,
Down there in Davy Jones' locker, full fathoms deep.

But fiddles and accordions play in the streets,
As the herring girls, spirited by time and tide,
Gather down by the quay for the harvest
Garnered by the nets of the wide, wild ocean.

Sand martins sweep the sandstone banks,
Eider glide across the bay, gannets gull the eels,
Skuas soar above the causewayed Brough of Birsay,
Lichen glow on Pict and Viking stone enclosures,
While puffins ride the heights of Marwick Head.

Beyond the headland's time and tide,
Lapwings and curlews cry laments
Across the lochs and fields
Around Skara Brae, Stenness standing stones,
Eynhallow Sound, the Broch of Gurness,
The Isle of Hoy, and the Ring of Brodgar.

Also, borne on the ancient wind,
The hammer and scrape, the hammer and scrape,
Of bone and stone on bone and stone.

The storm doesn't arrive.

It tips and trips its squalls instead,
With runic rainbow arcs of colour,
Beyond conventional measurements
Of clock, chronometer or barometer.

The sun sets over sea eagled Hoy, 
Then cloudshines
A path down Maes Howe's passageway,
To open the gate for Neolithic wanderers,
To join us on the silver waters across the strand,
Where sheens of light and cumulus clouds
Dance to the music of time.

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