by Robert Alan Jamieson
Hair-pinning round and up – precipitous,
round and up, and round – hire-car precarious,
round, that roadside parlous
becomes a mountain pass.
From here the distant steep is quite symmetrical –
layers of branch upon a conifer, trunk in floods,
shaped by singular, sculptural purpose.
Was this a giant building up of layers,
or a wearing down over thousands of years,
revealing different strata – or both?
So we descend, a long gentle valley,
erratic moor – one passing place, a single passer –
to hived turf roofs, hugging shallow earth,
their walls bright-painted, white, red, black and green,
where washed-out earth meets deepest blue.
The Gjáarfólk who live here,
they seem to call home ‘Jeff’,
this Gjogv. We call it ‘gjo’,
this cleft, a familiar geo-feature,
though here the need for shelter
requires some engineering,
to draw the craft, or cargo, up:
Faroe’s only railway.
But there’s more to Gjogv than
than a station for an ocean –
across the greengrey hillside,
fallen, mossy dykes
separate old fields
from common land
up on the mountain.
Below, overgrown ditches
plots once worked,
rotated, I don’t doubt,
much as ours were:
those hame-rigs –
Every little hollow, every
rock of substance, every pool
in the river stream, named
and full of story – myth;
every path kept trim
by hooves and feet;
those stones arranged
to make a ford where
no one crosses now.
Once, earth was turned,
the precious seed sown –
once, a meagre crop grew,
sheltered by immensity.
Each ear was maet,
each scything sway
a measured, careful step.
Each turn of the millwheel,
another winter morsel.
Each armful of hay,
most welcome in the byre.
I miss those fields, the folk who worked them, poor
and set upon by fate, bent and broken by sheer effort,
who smiled and took you in, a stranger to their fire,
who filled your plate with all they had to offer,
food wrested from salt water, nursed from earth –
Who asked you, eagerly, what news?
They were here, too, I know, those old ones.
I see their trace upon the hillside still.
The world beyond their valley, they knew little,
no more than stories sailors brought
but this land rutted by their forebears,
crossed by their paths,
it mapped a legend local.