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Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

St. DAVID’S DAY

sunlight drifts lazy, slow, over hillsides
like the thoughts of man
and sleepy gods.
hunched low, these wild Cambrians
hide their own
merciless uplands with steep green:
ascending oaks and the downward rushing
waters that name the valleys.

there is there.
a studded look of clouded rock horizon,
a descant of filtered light.

turn round, though,
and you will see
the high, dark wavered line of the Epynt,
shrouded, begrudging light.
a mystery of mysteries in smoke-wet valleys.

and here now,
the ravens flying from one to the other,
from glowering dark to shining light,
swimming across sheep-sprinkled valleys
all green even now at the end of winter.
the farms all gathered for lambing
and the cherry plum awakening
with the snowdrops and daffodils
and all.

St. David’s Day it is.
he who is a saint of the edges,
a decentralised saint,
a saint of hills and horizons
and sweet, cold waters
and the birth of Spring.

look here: a bright benign unfolding.
look there: a towering roar of grey-blue cloud,
toothed and grating the hidden darkened slopes.

a march between contrasts
a choice of choices
that become nothing
but a roll of change as it changes with the wind,
cold then wet, a speaking of days,
a laughter of uncaring bliss
and an end to certain righteousness.

so this cold wind has March on its edge,
a kiss of rain and mist and a hope of sunlit moments.
this world is a landscape
made of whispers.

the proud man is his own fool
who cannot see.
the humble know they breathe
the breath of others,
the echoing chambers, the sighs and footsteps.

this world, hung upon the cross as our deliverer,
and we, hung upon the cross of its directions.
one given to the other, mutually mixing,
a melting of forms and of thought,
A landscape made only
of whisperings.

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But ‘we’ is not circled.
We have no edge ( though we think otherwise)
(though we think we think).
We think beginnings and endings,
we think words, breath, silence, breath,
intake the other, exhale the other.
cannot remember any moment beyond
a circumscribed horizon, cannot, even, the dreams,
nor the memories, for sure (was it, was, was it so, was it not?)

There are, of course, clues.
Vagrants, with a certain mildewed smell,
mutter slewed directions, their demon-bright eyes.
(but those we shun, as shadows,
as churchyards at night, as the insisting amoral voices in the mist,
peripheral, shuffled, ambiguous).

The long halls, the rooms, the chambers.
My dear Giordano, such equations, such equators.
So few and tired are the moronic habitual paths,
so broad the primrose paths
to Hell untrod, unstudied.
A rumour of damnation, like a roll of distant thunder,
a storm coming. Well, certainly, there is a storm coming.
From the edges to the centre, from the centre to the edges..
An ending ( of sorts).
And then it echoes around another’s skull.
Seed syllables.
The end of worlds.
The beginning of worlds.

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moss cave

11

The tasting of edges

Here is how it is,
How it was:
From the vastness of sleep
A coagulation, a gravitation
Towards the poignant edge.
The bliss of voiceless silence
Shaped and constrained:
Electrical motion, remembering, defining
The surge of emotion, the
Tumble of language, the assertion
Of primacy, constraint, neural nets
To catch and take hold, own,
Possess, reject, disown, demean.

The walls of this house,
Our house,
Sure against the gale,
Black and warmed.

Here’s the truth of it:
This language is not my own,
Not my words, not my syntax,
Not my thoughts, nothing new.
History: the reiteration
Of the forgotten blood
Still roaring changeless
Down the rivers of the years.

Here we are:
Rooted, belonging,
Our right,
A place to return to,
Warm in the soot-blackened darkness
(The winds screaming, battering, squeezing
Sound from tumbling dust).

A silver flash on the black waters,
Leaping fish way beyond the heron’s gaze.
The tawny glen, its tawny sides
Closing in as day’s end darkens.
Where are the fires?
Where are the voices?
The footsteps of those returning home,
The yawns of babes
Turning in belly-filled sleep?

The roaring tide has left.
Its sound diminishes.
The white, wheeling gulls
Are silent specks, the dark horizon.

We are left at a peace
We do not want,
Wordless sorrow for the misplaced.

I’ll tell you of the purest emotion,
Feeling that is free of judging,
Free of qualification.
It is the only language of the heart.
Music, the language without definition,
The summoning of tears and smiles,
Our greatest blessing to the universe.
A song, wordless and unequivocal,
A language universal, sublime,
Fearful, shaking the roots of things,
A net for the Almighty’s scatterings.

(I would barely trust one
Who could not find a tune
With nimble fingers,
Who could not speak verse
As if it were his own heart talking,
Whose words stay cowled behind
Heavy drapes of seemly logic,
Whilst inward, seethes and rails
Against opinion not his own.)

It is not here
In the dream of standing alone.
It is not here
In the upright light of independence.
Uprooted, it is not possible to find a place,
Poor and worthless, it is not possible
To find gold or glory.
It is the same voice
As it ever was:
The clever words well-weighted,
Reasonable.

The rain on the roof,
The wind at the door.
We huddle
Holding the weaving of stories,
The paths telling how we got here,
The choices, the turns, the betrayals.
Cold draughts sweep abandoned corners.

The water does not fight the rock,
It tunes its song and flows around.
It is neither this nor that.
The stepping stones in the flood –
Not the only way to cross.

This house of trees –
It is a house of despair,
A house of howling winds.

This house of trees –
It is a bounty of bright life,
A re-population of delight.

This house of trees –
It is a signal to all
The tyranny of the past has fled.

This house of trees –
It is a plight of bitterness,
An empty, starved gesture of despair.

Delight and despair –
Sunlight and shadows on the hills.
Holding firm is not the way of life.
Freedom and independence, not
A way to understand life.
The making of edges
Is the sound and silence of the tune,
A convolution of anticipation.

Each edge, though,
Neither this, neither that.
We define too closely,
Barter truth for surety
Miss the paradox,
Hold too tightly.

The bright edge is a sword
That severs as the sunlight is a sword
That blinds the sight.

Coming over the hill –
The sharp curtain of the Cuillins,
The still waters of Ord.

Belonging or not belonging:
I borrow my breath
From the exhalation of sparrows
I borrow my sight
From the sparkle of waterfalls
I borrow my heart
From the song of dust and worm
I borrow my words
From the whispers of the dead,
From MacLeod under the sky,
From the white bones, the bleached bones.

I am nothing
But a continuance
Nothing but a path
Made by those gone on before
A house of trees
A house of birdsong
A house of utterance
A forever
Dreaming of a walled instant
Of peace.

BlackCuillins Ord

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CillChroisd

So, since our trip to Skye in late October I have been alert for fragments of a long piece called “The House of Trees”. It is an archaeological process: I have seen the overview, the aerial photographs of anomalous markings. I suspect the subject matter, what lurks below the undisturbed ¬†grass, intimations of structure, an outline, a definite definition. Season by season, I return to gaze from different angles ( the low light or high light revealing something or nothing), tentatively trowel away a little soil ( gold being such a flighty treasure, turning to tin can or brass if not approached with delicacy). Gradually an accumulation of relics, lines, phrases, rivers, posies is piling up. So I have decided to display some current finds, unreconstructed, scrubbed, labeled.

The sections so far can be defined thus:

The pivotal images are a small derelict burial chapel beside a moorland road. Initially I was drawn to it by a large twining ivy plant, white and bone-dead, crawling up the roofless walls. But also a small group of yew trees under which a relatively new gravestone had been placed, so that they acted as a living green monument, evergreen in a windswept, wan landscape.

On the other side of the island, on the main road to and from Portree, we passed several times a deserted croft, again roofless, but this one filled with a copse of young trees. It was not in the middle of nowhere, but on the edge of a small village, newer houses just a stone’s throw away.

Both images of time, of mortality, of people living and passing on. The history of Scotland is depressing: bleak repetition of small conflicts, betrayals, squabbles, misunderstandings, bigotry, famines, disasters, displacement, loss, exploitation of the poor by the rich. As such it is not so different from any other nation’s histories. Perhaps Scotland’s historians were less persuaded by a ruling elite to gloss and gild the facts. The small population, the difficult terrain, has meant that lost villages, deserted houses have not been swept away by succeeding generations. The bitter, unthinking inhumanities that so stain a country’s historical development still remain, accusing, daring the passer-by to forget at their peril.

And the rigid, bombastic stupidity of councils, governments and landowners often encourage a wistful nostalgia for something that never was – a free and unified nation.

The romantic, Isle of Skye, (and by God, it is romantic), for example was parcelled up between bellicose clans, each taking possession of one of the peninsulas. MacDonalds, MacLeods, MacGregors and more, all continuing the Celtic Iron Age ( British) tradition of cattle raiding their neighbours, taking hostages, not trusting each other.

And parallel to this, the mythic grandeur of the Highland imagination ( again, a relict from pre-Christian cosmologies). The Second Sight, the Secret Commonwealth of the Fairy Nations, the spirit haunted wilds, the thin veils between Other worlds that pervade the folk history, the music and the sense of place. It is this that first fuels the project. Sitting in silence one evening I had a sense of being watched by the curious non-human eyes of the island’s Good People, and the memorable fancy that they began weaving, implanting, encouraging images, words, ideas. With that came the contrast and similarity between these mythic entities and the nation’s yearning for Independence, Freedom, Self Rule that re-emerges every generation or so ( and to a lesser extent every Saturday night when “Flower of Scotland” gets slurily echoed down the cobbled streets, especially after the traditional thrashing by England of the nearly always lamentable national football team.).

Time is different in mountain country. Each valley, each glen runs at its own speed, collecting its own data, developing its own reasons, its own story. The horizons are small, the world is a house with walls of green and brown slopes. Legend piles up, each place named for the event it remembers. Memory inhabits and flavours.

The city has its own time too, but it is a time shared by all other cities. Its urgencies are not local, it is fed by roads from elsewhere, it feeds also on its inhabitants, who are within its complex alimentary canal, slowly dissolving. Few cities exist within the landscape. They squat upon it, learning to disregard the geography as the years progress. Cities are not self sustaining. They are parasitical, drawing on the goodness from beyond their walls. Without the constant inflow of raw materials and nourishment, cities will quickly collapse in on themselves, self digesting in panic and confusion.

Anyway, here is the first part, as it is at present. (I will post a few other completed sections in the next few days – so far about ten parts).

THE HOUSE OF TREES

Part 1: A Harbouring of Voices

Come tumbling

Like birds for crumbs:

These lines

Bidden and unbidden,

Broken and insistent

Like gulls.

Small as sparrows,

Bright as chaffinches,

Cautious, sidelong, black watchfulness

As of crows.

Woven, twisted, rooted-

A faint echo from the hill.

For here is not the silence of the far North

Nor its diamond thinness of light.

In the dark the bones gather together,

Get up and dance,

Mutter and gesture seeking meaning,

Seeking purpose.

Plaintive, scolding

Finding tongue.

Whose voice

Is the possessor of truth?

It rises and sinks back hidden,

Forming and unforming,

Like a cormorant on slow black waters:

It will be where it was not,

Leaving no ripples of history or intent.

Ripples LochBay

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