If horses – as per the title of Alice Walker’s poetry collection – make a landscape look more beautiful, then perhaps islands do the same for seascapes. Or mountains do. Or islands with mountains. You get the idea, I hope.
Sifting and resifting through the photographs I took back in May when visiting RSPB Campfield Marsh and the Solway Estuary, I’m struck by two things.
The first is how many of the images are looking outwards from the land towards the estuary, with its rivers emptying out into the Irish Sea. And so – inevitably – across to the coast of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. And how few were taken facing back towards the land. Because the tide is out, the sea itself, its water, is largely absent, invisible, but nonetheless I find myself looking for it.
This is reflected in my memories of the day. I remember spending far more of it gazing out at and thinking about the sea. I’d travelled for almost two hours across land to get to the coast, so maybe it’s inevitable to focus on what you’ve been heading towards, rather than what you’ve passed through. It makes me wonder whether the experience of arriving somewhere over water leads the traveller to turn their back instinctively on that which has been crossed, and instead focus landwards? (I will make a mental note next time I arrive at the sea to check back and look behind me more carefully).
The second thing to strike me is the effect that the horizon can have on the watcher looking out to sea. Looming faintly on the skyline in most of the images is Criffel; neither the tallest by any means, nor the shapeliest of Scotland’s mountains, it still draws the eye.
This is not to suggest at all that without the mountain there, there’s be no point looking out to sea. But it does make me realise how easy it can be to observe something without adequately considering the frame, the context, the accompaniment that completes the image. And how sometimes we can – even when we think we’re paying attention – need a second look to fully appreciate what is going on.
Last view of the island
The ferry banks, only five minutes out
beyond the stone corral of harbour wall
and into the channel, the broad crescent
of its wake painting plumes across the
glass of the ocean, engines humming a
rhythmless vibrato. Smoke funnels skywards.
Cars hunch like crated eggs on the lower deck.
Over the tannoy, our cheery captain announces
a bottlenose pod, surfing in the bow-waves.
My eyes lock over the stern, watching as
those grey mountains begin to melt on
the horizon, taking a lifetime to disappear.
first published in Red River Review, 2018
When things were good and I still believed in us,
even the mundane obligations sang like whales,
and taking the wiry road down the hamstrings
of the island to its full-stop, on those bastard mornings,
a single cassette on the stereo to numb the losses,
always made unquestioned sense. Sometimes in
light hushed with pearls, sometimes with the blade
of the wind knifing clear to the marrow, I’d time each
arrival against the tide, sifting it for treasure, perform
the errands, light the fires. Then return to you, the road
now huddled into a spool of knees and elbows, the
mountain a tight wedge tripping over its own steps before
falling like a tantrum into the kettle-grey ocean below.
first published in San Pedro River Review, Spring 2017
I’m delighted to have two of my poems – “C” and “Last view of the island” – included in the February 2018 issue of Red River Review. You can read both these poems and a fine collection of others by clicking here, and following the link from the homepage.
My thanks to editors Bob McCranie and Michelle Hartman.
Illustration used by kind permission of Jade They
Rusted plough at Guirdil, Isle of Rum
Once it would’ve arrived here, painted and new,
either landed from a friendly sea by boat,
or else shouldered over those rocky tracks by ponies,
and assembled from its pieces into a monster.
It must’ve seemed like the work of both
the Devil and the Lord in cahoots, the way it
knifed through the spongy turves, turning green into black,
burying centuries of broken backs in an afternoon.
Now it lies ridiculous, against the emptied house,
below the cliffs chopped roughly into silent hillsides.
Only goats feed here now, chewing, box-eyed,
on kelp stranded up and down the shoreline.
first published in Firewords Quarterly, Issue 6, 2016