Friday, November 27, 2009
Looking at Mull in December
Night swallows a last
Silhouette, rigged with web
and running for home.
I sit in the rain:
my coat is two hundred miles away
but my mind's eye is rolling along the ocean
like a pinball,
lighting jackpot after jackpot after jackpot.
I should have been on my annual pilgrimage to Mull this weekend but circumstances have intervened. It’s a priority to make a visit there at least once a year so some thought will have to be given to a last minute breenge in December, against the elements. Mull is the spiritual home, you see, a place of power. Of course you have to ignore the fact that it’s full of folk from Kent, and that the main town Tobermory has airs and graces but there is such staggering beauty in the place, such scope for dreaming. We left my mother there, and there she still is, of course.
Branches cup their shreds of leaves,
there's a wall translated into moss
and two glens, one chipped into the stone
blue sky and sloping east to a dwam of light
like water, the other eery, unbroken
on the loch, though in the wind
the mountains shudder down to my shoes.
In such times it is difficult to see
the start and end of things, which is as well.
This morning I am leaving her on Mull,
as I have done before, only this time
she is scattering through the trees
and the soil and the somersaulting water,
so from now on, no matter the weather,
the island will speak in only one gentle voice.
It reeks of history, of course. The stone circles, the castles, Loch Scridain where the MacLeans anchored their war galleys.
But the main thing to me is the connections, and maybe because of them, strange things have happened to me here over the years. Landslides, love affairs, pitched battles….. and there are lost poems, of course.
I have come back to Mull
for the poems that were lost here;
overboard from the Lochinvar,
buried in landslips,
left in telephone boxes,
torn to pieces and
somersaulting in the wind.
I am in sore need of them now,
for they were born of bright agonies
before they slipped away:
death, love, betrayal.
All these years
they have been dancing on the shore
perfect as little fawns.
I will set foot in Mull tonight
and they will be waiting for me
by the tree-line at twilight,
wearing the faces I had,
dark, fine and hard.
Near Fionnphort Mary of the Songs is buried. Mary MacDonald wrote "Leanabh an Aigh", the Christmas Hymn 'Child in a Manger', to an old Gaelic tune which she called 'Bunessan'. Poetry, then as now, brought no living so she made an income by making illicit whisky and smuggling it to Rathlin Island off the coast of Ireland.
We were going to the Keel Row in Fionnphort, maybe to do a surprise poetry reading, the type that worked so well last year at the Oban Inn, and failed to work well at the Mishnish,or maybe just to drink and listen to the sea.
Never mind, I'll get there. How could I not? It's like going home.
I'm juddering through arteries of rock.
Going home is more than geography:
It's tracing the outline of a well loved face
with the fingers, again, of a child.
Water threads the scalp of hills
and soon we'll tip down to Oban
where the boats are set like buttons
on the belly of the bay
and every pavement used to lead to jam
or little fists of shingle where you could skim
a stone all the way, it seemed, to Kerrera
and where the Columba came
bringing back the half drowned
with their sodden duffle coats
and scarves like pennants home to the warm,
butting in that lst mile through the Sound
while clouds closed like eyelids over stars
and a piper faint as a gull in the roar of the night
played us home, over all the muscles of the sea.