Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North


i.m. Hughie Fox and Reay Clarke

by Satyapada Campbell

What were we looking for,
we townies, travelling up so far
to the wild north coast?

We’d never seen how,
on a moonless cloudy winter night
a hand at arm’s length’s lost to sight.

We heard how years ago
they’d cross the trackless hill by lantern light
heading for dancing in a shepherd’s house

They’d shear the sheep by hand
or scythe the grass lawn smooth
the way a spider spins, or so it seemed:

we hadn’t seen the million steps
they’d walked to here: an ankle broken in the war
and now the stiffening limbs.

Out on the hill we saw the low remains of walls –
we knew the history of that land
from books

‘They’re singing Malloch nan Tura’
Hughie said, of a ceilidh in Durness,
‘and the duchess will be there.’

A hole in the hillside led
to a souterrain – dead sheep were dumped there –
and on the back road down to Lairg the Dornaigil broch.

The sea in May, smooth and blue
softly billowing in the swell.
Beside the road we drove the ewes and lambs along
a white lily opened in a peat dark pool.

Why that dream that came so long after?
The zombie hogs with stinking pus streaked heads
dancing along so lightly with the rest?

I looked at Hughie: “Head fly” he said
and drew his knife to cut their throats
(it is the usual business of a farm –
a severed head nailed to the doorpost in the byre
was no surprise)

The knife could not undo the flesh
and drew across the shoulder blade of one man sitting there
opening a congealed pool, dark red.

There is no going back as I was then.
Just as the sea swell, different from the tide,
floods the boulders
then it’s gone.
It’s there, and then it’s gone.