Missing the point
Cooing through the ether in your nursery-rhyme voice,
you describe the view from the upstairs window of
your new apartment; tell them how on certain days
when the pollution levels allow, you can make out
– across the water – strange, impossible mountains
smeared with snow, so distant-looking to you that the
slow parabola of the Earth ought to prevent it somehow.
But not every day. What it means is that, as usual, you
won’t be noticing what’s at your feet, tripping you up.
That the knives and forks of sea air are guzzling on
the fatted steel of your car, turning it to useless pumice.
Your front door will need painting. You haven’t managed
to ignore away the flat, crushing ache in your lower back.
And you miss them. And they wish you would come home.
first published in Verdad Magazine, 2017
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