Northwords Now Issue 40

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Til Gjogv

by Robert Alan Jamieson

1

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.


2

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
commemorate
plots once worked,
rotated, I don’t doubt,
much as ours were:
those hame-rigs –
ancient grounds
intimately known

*

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.