Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Horse Loch

(After Child Ballad 233)

by Marion McCready

Prologue

I am moving beside the loch
     yet sitting still.
While rare powan breed; artic charr, trout
and salmon swim within. The continental drift
drifts beneath us all.

Loch Eck crackles in the morning sun... No –
Loch Eck straddles the morning sun.

Loch Eck is a woman with a corkscrew head.
Loch Eck is a double bed, covers pulled up to her neck.

Loch Eck is a couple embracing in a bath,
lichen skin thickening around them
     like blue crystals.

The late spring wind grows tough hands
on the back of the water.
The pale sky makes a girl cry,
makes another sparkle
in spite of herself.


1
Loch Eck

My hands are sleepy cats wakening into life.
Loch Eck, I peep at you between the trees.
You peep at me. Little gatherings of stones mark your shore.

Purple rhododendrons mark your shore.
I am so close to you I am sinking.
The jetty enters you the way he entered my mind unasked for.

One look, and Loch Eck, all seven miles of you
collate an image of me.
You preserve it on the bed of your drowned glen.

Today your lapping waves are a series of serene smiles.
The whitened tree branch, the glower of Beinn Mhor
welcomes me. Watching you is like watching the world’s

first motion picture – Le Prince’s Roundhay Garden Scene.
As you pass by with your jagged movements
I think of Sarah - Le Prince’s mother-in-law,

dancing in her garden, 1888.
Two seconds of her turning, a solitary waltz preserved on film.
Ten days later she was dead.


2
Fairy Queen

He entered my mind like a loch.
A few seconds of his movements (like Le Prince's mother-in-law)
plays on repeat.

The way he said hello then moved sharply past me.
The way his eyes mirrored me
in a million silver halide crystals held together

by electrical attraction.
In my dreams he is a cat I’m chasing in the dark
forever keeping one step ahead of me.

I dream also of the loch, fish floating to the surface.
Their white bellies glittering mica schist.
Across the loch, hills slope like the backs of whales.

I emerge in the morning, uncurling as from a snail shell.
A dead tree is a headless snake rising up next to me.
There is a fire burning inside of me,

small flames lick my wooden body into a blaze.
My hair is smoke entrails. Invisible sparks shoot off around me.
I have become a strange object to myself.

I bite my lip to know that it is mine.
Loch Eck, your body is the body of a muscular horse.
In the blue hour

I stand among jetty ruins and summon
the Fairy Queen steamer back to your shore.  


3
I, Tifty's Annie

I, Tifty's Annie, met him by fresh water.
My skin became as the leaves fluttering under the cool breeze
of his touch. Is this love?

No one can answer but every day now I see him
in stolen pieces of water between trees.
When he touched me, the loch moved inside of me.

My head is heavy, it floats on my body
the way the stone and tree crannog float on Loch Eck.
Police ribbon caught in the shallows speak of accidents.

Tonight the loch has turned purple.
My body is oil spilling, snaking into the water.
My arms move among the reeds. I make waves

where logs dream and rocks sing.
The darkness at the heart of Loch Eck is the black
pumping heart muscle of a strong horse.

The crannog is an island in the air, an unlit funeral pyre,
ink blot on the water. I look into the purple face
of a rhododendron. I see his face everywhere -

in the hanging valleys, the Paper Caves,
even in the slick body of a cormorant.
I come to the loch to summon his full lips, his soft hair.


4
Welcoming Spirits

I am a boulder on the shore of your narrow water.
I am visited by stones.
Black shadows make flat statues on the bottom of you.

I name him, I conjure him by the light of water on wet stone
and twisted tree. The mouths of the reeds draw in
deep breaths of lit air. My arms ache, he is not here.

I want to gather up the loch in my skirts,
let the fish encircle me. He has been sent away from me.
My father, Tifty, he beat me; my sisters scorn me.

my brother is coming for me.
I came to the loch to explore my scars.  
My bruises bloom in the shape of common birds.

The chill of the fresh water is in my bones.
Purple harebells ring in the hills...they ring for me.
The loch is unbreakable in the hard sunshine,

in the still air. I am not unbreakable.
My brother has broken me across your rocks.
Loch Eck, I have travelled the length of you.

My last sight of you is between the fragile branches of a birch.
I fold you up in my mind, a gift to myself,
and smile as the wind moves

across your quivering haunches.
I think of Le Princes's mother-in-law,
turning and turning forever on film.

Then I'm thinking of him, arriving before me
over and over. The hills are smoking, the morning mist
drifts towards me like welcoming spirits.