‘Go and hear the water in the wood as it splays downhill cold as Greenland.’
Extracts taken from West
By Kenneth Steven
Published by Wild Goose Publications
MY SISTER HELEN
She was Scotland to me:
bedtime stories that woke me
to the history of Wallace and Bruce,
would have had me up in a saddle,
galloping back in time
for the bits of the border we’d lost.
She lived down endless long windings of bumps,
in cottages with attics and owls –
the hope of conkers in the morning.
She drove me one August night
when the skies were orange and bruised,
till the storm was flickering booms
and we came home in silvering rain.
She was drives at high speed
down roads that should have closed long ago,
in cars that were held together
by the hope of a better tomorrow.
She could conjure a whole ceilidh
out of a candle and an old bothy;
she was songs and tin whistles
in the middle of the worst of blizzards.
She was a beach where you could always swim,
and a place you’d not known before;
she was a fire that would set you alight –
an adventure that was yet to be planned.
Leave Craignure and the woods around Duart Castle
and hug the shore before you climb the lion-coloured hills:
Glen Gorm, from which the people once were burned.
Up higher and still higher, until the lochs lie far below
and if you’re lucky, the whole bald head of Ben More
has broken out of cloud and stares west, a weathered sphinx.
A telephone box, a single house, and miles of salt marsh
for the constant hope of otters. Then on, to Pennyghael,
and the thin single road that winds like a piece of thread
over to the cliffs of Carsaig. But keep on heading west,
until Bunessan and the harbour and the clustered houses.
You’re almost there. An inland loch, impossibly blue,
and now the breeze blows every way at once –
the land lies low, left with a few wind-twisted trees,
and see, ahead, there, on the edge of the sky,
the island still at anchor; the abbey nestled by the sea –
guarding, keeping, waiting.
Even now, so long after the motorway and the wire
have torn tranquillity, it is worth coming here
to listen. But if you really want to understand this language,
you must throw away the rules
forget all you thought you knew –
begin again. Open the book of the moorland
read what is written there in the morning by the mist,
trace with your finger the runes of the birds.
Go and hear the water in the wood as it splays downhill
cold as Greenland. Wait by your window
as the larks on the edge of summer rise and rise,
singing. This land is not for sale –
this language takes a life to learn.
West by Kenneth Steven is published by Wild Goose Publications, priced £6.99