Northwords Now Issue 36

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Sumburgh, 1952

by Martin Malone



Good ones acquire the mettle for confinement
and the solitude of the wild shore. He will be
a handyman to a high standard and, through
study of the sea, he’ll come to grasp its power.

A man of parts with a knack for engines,
at stations with radar or radio beacons
he’ll have a flair for telecommunications.
A useful cook and good companion, he

won’t make a fortune but will be at peace
with himself and the world. Main chores
are long hours in the watches of the night.
Not for everyone, this keeping of the light.


The Inspectors

Drop by here once a year,
so, everything is polished
and everyone well-dressed.
Spick-and-span is normal
– no more than our duty –
and we’ve enough men
to keep things gleaming.
Come when you want,
inspect what you will
fuss over this and that,
your visit holds no fear
for the likes of us.


The Lightkeeper’s Daughter

We climb the stone wall
and edge down the slope
to watch puffins for hours,
snuggling into the cliff’s nook,
me in Dad’s coat out of the wind,
drinking tea from his thermos.

The way they flutter in to land,
like black and orange confetti,
is my door into summer.

Once, when we look down,
there’s a huge shark cruising
at the foot of the bluff.

I remember thinking to myself
it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever seen.
Daddy laughs and pulls me close.


The Lightkeeper’s Wife

There’s always a good breeze up here to dry the washing out
and stuff to do with the hens or the vegetable patch.

Both bairns were born up at the Head, so it is all they’ve known,
they love this posting, play round about the light and pet the goat.

And the local folk look up to Bob, like he was the minister,
doctor or a teacher. We’ll be sorry when the time comes.