‘The wind-lap outlines of lagoons are pollen-concurred/ and the light rising out of them stretches in figments and wings/...I go into the earth near the feed shed for thousands of years.’ Les Murray, Thinking about Aboriginal Land Rights; I Visit the Farm I Will Not Inherit

‘….living things – including ourselves – and the planet that has produced them form a continuous system and act as such. Life, then, has not been just a casual passenger of the earth’s development. It has always been and remains a crucial agent in determining its course…we are still amazingly ready to think of our species as a mere chance visitor on this planet, as something too grand to have developed here. Of course it is true that we are a somewhat special kind of primate, one that is particularly adaptable through culture and gifted with singular talents. But those gifts and talents still come to us from the earth out of which we grow and to which we shall return. The top of our tree still grows from that root as much as the lower branches. We cannot live elsewhere.’ Mary Midgley, Science and Poetry, Routeledge, 2003

‘The Gaels never die! They either ‘change’ or ‘travel’.’ Hugh MacDiarmid, The Wreck of the Swan

Moving to the Highlands

I am infected by the people who were here -

who are here;

whose bodies left because they had no choice,

leaving more of themselves

because it could not be transplanted;

rooted in the black soil,

soldered to the endless theatre of light,

exposed stone bones of the land,

scoured mountain skulls.

They are claiming me -

the heat of me,

eyes of me;


          viral hitch-hiking of blood

to fresh heart vehicle,

skin package -

to see and walk the terrible glens again,

startle thudding stags to tremble Earth,

drink whisky-water from peat burns -

amber blood of the furious crags

where primitive winds shriek all day,

squabble savagely over grass rags -

then broken stone,

tooth by tooth,

over centuries;

molecule by cold molecule.

They are entering my pores -

sinuous -

weaseling into black holes,

like worms into earth,

from all around -

when I visit the graves of their houses,

they fill my shape, glove my hands -

          touching their own walls again;

wearing me like a mask

to feel that bracken-crackled,

crystal-atomed air – see

the holy blue-eyed stare of the loch.

I am not the land’s first child -

these are her old children;

she is their home -

but I am the close relative,

my genome fits

like a string of matching pearls;

I am family enough for fostering,

as all in small Scotland are still family -

born only a breath further south

with the Gaelic cut from my tongue.

Inherited centuries settle

like silt in my blood -

plugged to me,

umbilical tears heal -

burstings of flung tears

dry on my skin; make heavy,

stoic sheep handkerchiefs -

and I welcome their haunting,

understand -

willingly bring the eagle in my eye,

taste of ottered sea,

this darkly passionate weather of home,

as they welcome me.

We live here now -

there is the sound of our voices;

warmth and beat of us 

among reptile stones -

they are why it feels like coming home,

love at first sight -

why my child smiles all day -

begins to shine, cleaned of cars;

hair always ruffled, cosseted

by adoring dead uncles and aunties,

orphaned from their own children

that could not be;

why he is never lonely on the hill -

here even the pussy willow drops

tiny grey mice into his lap for toys.

They are why I have been

where my feet have never been -

they know my heart is already lost

to this land:

the new molecules of me

are being made

from this soil and air and light.

The word home

The word ‘Home’ is written in blood;

red letters pumping, bright, evolving -

sometimes blazing; or long overprinted

until blurred - but shining still, legible -

with a greater blue halo around: Earth,

home where all belong, are still related.

"The story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice into my veins which will boil along there until the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest." Robert Burns, 1759-1796

‘I love this country passionately, expanding/ to its wild immensity as a flower opens in the sunshine.’ Hugh MacDiarmid, The Wreck of the Swan

Genetically Scottish

Now we understand –

Why every Scot feels the melancholy,

musical clutch of Gaelic in the heart -

almost understands; a language stolen,

ripped shamefully from living tongues,

like blinding an artist, amputing musicians’

fingers - such a wanton cultural vandalism,

bombing of an historic and vibrant cathedral;

smashing the coloured windows. Destruction

of the mystical - guttural, visceral history;

cultural magic of how music and language

became entwined to make singing words;

everyday words with the nature of poetry,

sculptured to mean so absolutely this sudden

bluebell rash, the luminous colour of heaven,

September’s tough heather-bells ringing, robing

imperious savage mountains in cloths of purple -

(as austere, elegant and historic Edinburgh is briefly

transformed by sudden eruptions of chaotic festivals);

to describe completely these dry weeping rivers

of suicidal scree - black waters of skulled lochs,

ringed by snow like a white eye staring down winter;

always unexplored, even their blinding blue summer

lenses unseen, blinking at the dragonflies in rare sun -

shattered by amorous bonsai rainbows of leaping trout.

Words that translate the exposed bones of the mountain;

naked, elderly - already grey when the world was young,

or the poem of red stag rutting in mist, thundering glens,

growing supplicant branches on his statue head at sunset.

The language stolen from children who were us,

from parents who were us; their parents, parents,

parents’ parents, back and back until the salmon

blood of Highland and Island light flowers, and

rough tongues slither water to sky-pink white sand,

onto reluctant earth - endless summers and winters;

the eagle describes the feeling of sky - elemental

seam, consummate teacher, barely moving wings;

the otter has had all the time in the world to play,

so does it perfectly, original twinkle in his eyes -

seals grow dark women’s eyes among green seas,

where cormorants shatter colonies of white birds.

Muted words sleep in dreaming genes,

hearing, needing to mean, speak again;

my mouth mumbles a guttural silence -

where the right, better words should be,

stumbling on the very poetry it knows -

Gaelic, earthly poetry of the everyday,

but royal in nature, mystery and religion;

fitting for the land and people - speakers

who rose out of the land; bone to bone

with the land - silver Hebridean dust -

iron and black heart of dour Glen Coe;

a restless white soul of unstained light

always wild in gigantic skies, looming

over seas - soothed into smiling pinks

by evening’s etheric summer charms;

beaten gold on the shields of autumn.

The Gaelic. Old poetry of the land and people;

we cannot hear one word, but sense some loss -

so recent to the genes who were there at the start

of the world; who commanded, moulded tongues.

All these centuries weaving word, light, language,

blood and heart - in patterns rooted to this earth -

where the bodies formed. They are weeping still,

searching air, sound – tongue, for a stolen means

of expression; an organic instrument, megaphone.

I have heard a Gaelic poem and understood

sorrow, love, wired to the vehicle of words

with no dictionary understanding - listening

genes still partially translating, as far as they

can go without forgotten knowledge; meaning

a tantalising ghost present in a beautified room.

The Gaels who weren’t allowed to speak

in their own tongue, speak inside us still;

we are on ships, we remember - we turn -

watch our mountains, black glens, sprinkle

of stone homes, hearts silted with memory.

Now we understand why we feel them still,

for they are still us; in touching these bones

of broken homes, picked cottage carcasses -

we know how it was, to leave. Watch purple

mountains blue in shimmering silver distance,

the hundred shades of grey, white, blue abused

by wind and slashing light; delicate pink blood

of summer turning the sky into emptied mussel.

Now we understand - why we feel the centuries

of Scotland in our blood like dark and beautiful

music; raucous and melancholy – curlew, violin.

We know some crimes can never be made right,

no matter the love of adopted mothers; perceive

our Diaspora will always be lost people thrown

off the land for sheep, greed; eternally uprooted.

Don’t fall for this nice interpretation of history -

newly-brewed crap that says migration was better

for these poor Highlanders in their smokey hovels,

how they left of their own accord. Listen - there is

no choice when there is no choice; and this forcible

eviction of the people from the land for more profit

is a sin against the Highlanders - never made right -

can never be put right. Even the Diaspora still feel

in their ancient genes, blood, such sorrow and rage;

love that survives all geography, time - and accents.

The poetry of light reads all day in the Highland sky -

the smell of earth is the smell of your own washed skin;

your blood sparkles with the salt water of primaeval sea.

Everywhere, the old junior gods and godesses of Nature -

nearly extinct in a ruined world, but dancing, slumbering,

walking among woods, glens, savage rocks - watching you

from trees, flower-eyes, wet green nooks of dry stane dykes.

I stood by the mumbling burn at Inniemore,

in the black corpse of a Highland village -

mummified by isolation; cottage carcasses

picked by wind, their fallen stone skeletons

cupped in a curious theatre of rock bowl -

pine-curtained mountain, a green necklace

of trees - some slipping onto broken knees.

A great silence opened where the eagle whose eyrie

straggles the White Glen cries halfway up to heaven,

given by God his job of mourning these lost people -

silence created by the missing sounds of children -

only my own child guddling tiddly feet in the burn

like a warm ghost, summer hay-and-sunlight smile

shimmering about him like a halo, haunting the place;

which couldn’t help but smile back in twinkling dust -

even from sorrow printed in the roots of heather, stone.

I touched the stones of somebody’s house,

always spick and span - felt the home still

in it like seed, needing the family’s return;

shout, beat and presence of them - their hands

on the door jamb, more than their thistledown

touch sighing at my blood, soft white fingers -

I swear the village oven warmed beneath my palms,

like sun warming lizard-skin; my breath made green

shoots stir in the kailyard – a Rip Van Winkle village

prepared like Pharoah for the afterworld, waiting

for her people to return - children of earth, black

peat; blood of the burn to run red in human veins.

I want to pile stones - remaking walls; show some respect

for these are the loose cairn graves of our people’s homes,

such graves everywhere, where patient sheep chew stupidly,

poor mild creatures with devilish eyes - the farmer told me

he found two dozen huddled together, suffocated in snow -

how pitiful the sight, how sad he felt for the dead creatures,

who suffer on the hills, are not as dumb as townies think;

who worship on the mountain in every weather - endure.

The Highlands are described as a wilderness, but it was not;

a great wide home with curtains of light - and blue, heaven-

coloured dome; silver seas and rivers. Huge home with people

grown at this mighty hearth for endless centuries but surgically

removed from its wild mother-heart, amputated from source;

some wounds still leak, uncauterised by time – unforgotten -

reverberating down the years, generations; sung, recited, felt.

Down among genes and molecules, it will never be forgotten.

Now we understand why this will not let us go - calcify

to story, soften to legend; rot, dissolve into myth, sword

so far distant it cannot cut - rust and blood become one -  

from the lowest Lowlander to America’s tartan children,

it cannot let us go, for they are us - cannot be forgotten,

because they are us, so will always live; and the sorrow

will always live. Now we understand why it cannot die,

as it cannot die among the stones, emptied hills, houses.

And it was right to laugh, too - play in the whisky burn

where they had wanted to stay, carry on, exist always -

look, here is play and children and singing; this poetry

which has always eased the melancholic Scottish heart.

Now we understand why our history will never let us go -

because the spores of our history are in our blood; we are

there when our shortbread Prince re-embarks in Scotland;

he is breathing out of his tin - his blond north hair glitters

in clearest Highland light – bonnie, with French manners.

We are there when the Highlanders gather, die; we suffer

those genetic deaths, disaster, just not in a present person.

Our language is banned - and worse - as the years passed,

made to feel inferior - children unable to speak at school -

music banned, the kilt. Cultural repression and destruction

as bad as anywhere in the world; our way of life crushed

as the Native American, also wedded to the genetic land;

Aborigine, Maori - rainforest tribes driven today to brink

of extinction after so many dawns, harmony among leaves.

Our sympathy is global - through all times, such injustices.

Here at my incomparable window, ten miles of shore -

Jacobites to a man - boats and houses, barns and boats,

primaeval oak and hazel forest all burned as retribution;

old woodland spirits, gods and goddesses, fleeing too,

to small surviving patches like our own – a temperate

rainforest where ferns grow, centuries create particular

air and light; a Cathedral of Nature where all manner

of creatures - some not in the same type of existence,

exist; watching, singing, going about their mysterious

business. We greet them as you should - introducing

ourselves, walking with some proper species humility

among the world’s ten rarest mosses; lush, primaeval.

Why did the story of Scotland get so sad - so blessed

a small country with embarrassing amounts of beauty

and brains - so many centuries of admiring education,

decency, culture, care for others, social responsibility.

Where wanting to care for those weak and vulnerable

is nothing to feel ashamed about, to want stamped out

by culturing unpleasant human traits like self interest -

competitive trampling of higher instincts, guides, goals.

So many centuries of learning, attainment, artistry;

mathematical improbability of numbers of artists -

poets, writers, academics, doctors, scientists, singers;

inventors, musicians, lawyers - teachers, aid workers.

Why is our history so sad; why are we so demoralised -

looking outside for every sort of validation; why grown

so faltering, so ready to be told what to do - feel inferior,

apathetic, let ourselves be overrun by our own mediocre

citizens, in league with those who would lord it over us -

seeing how ready we are to score own goals, so bizarrely,

spectacularly, lacking in confidence - asking to be kicked;

just waiting to be made to feel inferior - when pride flares,

as if from a pilot light constantly dowsed with water - just

stuttering back into life, from a blue seed of ancient light -

until the thistle is a new symbol of rising purple flame,

symbolic torch lit, to guide our way back to ourselves,

the people we were, still are in the genes - should be -

could be again with vision re-wired, our badly adjusted

signals, interpretations, reconnected; invigorated, loved.

Up here, people were cleared from this very house;

speaking ruins all around tell their story endlessly -

to be Scottish is to feel sad; for the history of our people,

our country’s fate - is sad. And, even if this whole world

rightly becomes one village in the global sense of peace,

these stories will never die - as long as genes are passed

in one drop of Scottish blood; one song, poem, tear -

one memory that has transmuted into the biological.

People wonder why we cry into our whisky and sing

sad songs, because it all happened to us so long ago -

now we understand the strength of that genetic chain -

clearly being ghosts of the present; ghosts of the future

already in us. What happened then can never die,

as long as one of us lives anywhere; even diluted,

diluted to homeopathic amounts - carrying memories,

genetic messages; feeling that same sorrow preserved.

To be Scottish is to feel that you belong to the family

of a small country that has survived - now welcoming

new children, sharing a new sense of such nationhood;

is that what antagonises our English cousins, this sense

of nation, belonging - of identity, shining like a trophy.

That oppression, union, disparagement - being treated

like oiks, teutchars, peasants, haggis-hunting numpties,

as if socially inferior, has never even left a dent - never 

tarnished this prize of sheer identity; a union of people,

shared social vision? When that Thatcher government

was in power, the Scots only elected nine Tory MPs

across the whole country - not even enough to staff

the Scottish Office charged with running Scotland!

And this was called Democracy! Nobody bothered

in England then about this state of affairs that should

have been a matter for the UN, such injustice; so silent

Englishmen then, for 18 years - now bleating on about

Scottish MPs voting on English affairs - oh, the outrage

of it, injustice, blah, blah. Where were voices then when

an undemocratically elected Scottish Office was in power

here, bending our country away from its own values, core

principles; diametrically opposed to the belief and will of

the country, the people. Where were they with these cries

of injustice when we were being ruled unfairly, dominated

undemocratically, and everything we held most dear; social

justice, care for the weak, sick, elderly; education, education,

education, and by God, education - that had always been our

way here, was being eroded, destroyed; such a state of affairs

in a Western democracy would never have been tolerated any

where else; a clear cut case of dictatorship, loss of democracy.

To be Scottish, to know Scotland; to truly understand Scotland

and England, is to know that Scotland already is independent -

Scotland already is a separate entity – ‘a country’. Such joining

as exists is the gluing of two countries; to say otherwise is shite,

or a triumph of semantic interpretation over reality, nationhood.

To be Scottish is to love the land; not like a postcard of out there,

but feeling that genetic connection. We are the land, it is our skin;

earth, our body, rivers and seas our blood, that particular blue air,

the high crystal sparkle of it, exists nowhere but here - and beauty

of landcape drawing welcome visitors is our pride; it is our beauty

preserved - in a devastated culture, the land survived, stag and eagle

survive - otter, pine martin, salmon; expressing the spirit of the land.

Landseer’s cliched stag is beautiful, noble, and furry squeaky eagles

on sale in the tourist shop, the Loch Ness monster in a tartan bunnet,

plastic child pipers stamped ‘Hong Kong’ - ‘Hey Jimmy’ ginger-hair

hats, do not rob the enduring spirit of place. Mass-produced on cheap

foreign textiles, the red-clawed lion still roars; the simple white cross

still appears in that same blue sky, on this teatowel, or over green sea.

The spirit of the land has survived - in us and around us - as one.

We breathe and inherit - appreciate the noble nature of our land -

yet the conundrum still exists; to be Scottish is to be made to feel

inferior when you know absolutely you are not; seeming something

like a downtrodden wife of England, who, treated so long as inferior

starts to believe it’s true; can no longer muster ego, gumption, oomph.

Centuries of trodden ego cannot be undone overnight - we need therapy; we have become a country that often self-abuses too, shooting ourselves in the foot, anywhere else we can posibly find - bringing ourselves down. It’s a habit - unhealthy, obsessive, and who shall be the counsellor if time itself cannot find the cure. Who will say, rise, and we will, beyond spine-shuddering mass renditions of Flower of Scotland - see how it held Bono spellbound to the spot by his Irish cousin-blood; that eerie feel of a chant, communal incantation of pride, recovery, sorrow acknowledged: but hope.

Yes, under the wounded ego, almost fatally compromised ego,

pride does survive - not that horrible Union Jack stuff stinking

of Empire, superiority, dominance - (let’s see the continuance

of the reclamation of the cross of St George from bad history);

national pride and dangerous nationalism are a million miles apart.

Let the people of England feel pride in their own country - so stop

taking the piss out of Scotland, of ‘jocks’; being so utterly ignorant

of the country just up the road – once, I was asked at a big London

meeting if we had faxes in Scotland; and just this week, an English

delivery company asked what Edinburgh was; village – town, city?

As the Americans never asked, Why do they not like us? - English

people, in general, do not learn enough about history to understand

what it’s about, this prickling antipathy, mostly expressed in jocular

ways; supporting McBrazil for a laugh, ha, ha!. About the injustices

that have wrecked the confidence, damaged the DNA of our country;

have inherited instead this much more recent attitude of superiority -

that rightfully antagonises Scots, for it is based on nothing; phantasm,

deformed goblin conjured out of nothing - when the idea was to keep

Scotland down, tamed, calmed, under control; stemming from old fear

when England was running scared, when Kings and Queens were Scots, proud and powerful; clamp-down just in case anyone should remember the correct line of inheritance to the throne - how close was the victory.

And saddest of all is the indistinct nature of Scottish understanding

of our own history - though processing its lasting power, resonance.

For through the batoned passage of the genes, we can feel injustice,

when our own knowledge of our past is sketchy and quite confused;

because we are not taught our own history in the school curriculum -

even educated, interested, still learning more about the American War

of Independence than the history of our own people and country; why

is that? Why is our history stolen still - everywhere but in our blood -

and what can we do when we are treated like an inferior, a less civilised

race? Keep mentioning our invention of telephone, television, penicillin;

going on and on about the shining nature of our culture and achievement?

It’s much easier to just get drunk - mutter ‘English bastards - Sassenachs’

when some English git asks if you ever eat vegetables - haw, haw - some

English twit thinks Edinburgh is a village the size of Plockton –( darlings,

we’ve got Harvey Nichols!) When he thinks William Wallace was invented

by Mel Gibson, by Hollywood - that we all eat deep-fried Mars bar – pizza,

for dinner; speak so cutely or crudely - comically, they can’t help but imitate

every second word; and bloody cheek, are stealing even the particular Scottish word ‘wee’. Go on, ask our Irish and Welsh Celtic cousins if all this stuff here about English attitudes is true – it is not ‘the English’ or ‘England’ we dislike - all of us having English friends, relatives, lovers; or husbands, wives, children,but being treated as a bunch of inferior oiks by people who have no reason on earth to feel superior - in fact, much more reason to feel admiring, collectively apologetic; interested in the history of the most neighbourly country next door.

This is what survives in the mass blood; like genetic embers in the heart, ready to kindle into fiery anger, damp down into simmering despondency - will never turn to ashes until attitudes change; the history taught properly to our people – new generations, as all oppressed peoples desire around the world; recognition, wrongs recognised, injustices exposed, examined - wounds to the ancient heart of a nation which never heal if passed down raw, bleeding - with old sores still festering; which must be addressed before any union of nations could be called harmonious, be re-cast as democratic - for when did the people vote to join with England; give up the Parliament, sovereignty? Was not Scotland’s pride flogged, betrayed by greedy sycophants, as Burns said:‘bought and sold for English Gold’,

whose genetic spirit lives on now, in those toadying, sycophantic and self-serving Anglophiles, who keep selling out Scotland for personal advance; who won’t rock the coracle for fear of losing favour - profit, self gain. Their genomes are infected. 

So enshrined is the Scottish Genome, that if a man, woman or child

can read the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, without his spine, scalp,

gut, eyes, blood, heart, reacting, I will show you a person who is not

a Scot; even a Frenchman will weep on strength of the Auld Alliance.

Only when we’re stoating drunk do we have the resurrected confidence

to truly reclaim our Saltire from the Union Jack - this cannot be healthy.

‘It was possibly the inculcation of these doctrines that moved the Celtic warriors to hurl their bodies against cold steel - a characteristic the world is only too familiar with in the conduct of our highland regiments. They can still listen to the battle-songs of a thousand ages, with a susceptible mood nowise estranged amid the crumbling foundations of a former sovereignty.  A German military authority...said that the Highlander is the only soldier in Europe who, without training, can unflinchingly face the bayonet.’ Hugh MacDiarmid, The Wreck of the Swan

‘To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.’ Robert Frost

‘Keats was a more likeable character than Newton and his shade was one of the imaginary referees looking over my shoulder.’ Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow, Penguin, 1998

Calling on dead poets for comfort and courage

If everybody wouldn’t think I was crazy -

I’d say: ‘Hey - d’y’know I pray sometimes

for a line to the dead poets, those clustering 

somewhere in Heaven - all comforted now;

especially the tragic ones – Sylvia, Johnny K,

Dylan, Robbie, Frosty, they’re extra dazzling -

some kind of compensation, I suppose; asking

if they can come, be present somehow, help me.

As if God could call them, ‘Chook, chook’

and they’d come like kind concerned hens,

broody, clucky; or urgent pigeons to bread.

As flocking angels - fluttering paper leaves,

wild white autumn blizzard around them;

because they still remember how it felt -

even hearts squeezed of last cares, hurt,

retaining memories like a printed page.

Help me not with words to write, nor

will - not automatic writing, purpose,

skill. No plagiarism of their souls, or

intellect, their mouth, brains or hand;

for every poet knows that they are born

in such a state, not made. Just have to -

just practise as best they can with their

original take, timeslot. But confidence.

To go on - courage, strength; being manufactured, 

produced quite so porous - susceptible to anything

of the emotional sort; because what poet could write

poetry if not open as a daisy - flypaper, sitting target

for the downsides of the world; heart pathetically

unarmed, in danger - byproduct of its very recipe;

concocted to feel the root of things, remove veils,

barriers - imagine behind the eyes of another man.

And what d’ye know, on a good black night,

especially with a Gothic atmosphere, hurrah;

storms, portents, all that sort of grrrreat stuff,

I actually believe they come - my favourites!

WB, Ted, Shelley, Willie, Rabbie, Chrissie -

Lizzie, Sam…and the aforementioned above; 

and they don’t say anything, these presences -

it’s not a movie, Christmas Carol, the X-Files,

I do all the speaking, weeping, grinding of teeth,

gnashing, writhing, torment, spectacular anghst –

but you can ask Gerard about humility, in particular,

Johnny about things undone - Sylvia about despair -

Dylan about drinking too much, and so on and on;

(actually, loads of them come, but some you ain’t

even heard of ever at all, which tells you something

too; a whispering army like blowing grass, moaning

about lack of success, recognition, derision, spite, envy,

gossiping as if almost alive; actually, as if I’m not even

there, but anyway, at least they come. And none of them

really say anything, up there beyond words, passed, dead;

beyond physical words - clumsiness they strove

to overcome, making poems, power and beauty,

‘Which equals truth!’- chips in JK; well, sort of,

as I say, without actual words or physical face -

but comfort; a warm, creeping spiritual duvet,

hope autographed by some fine receptive soul;

some kindling fire of compassionate past heart,

recondite energy, soul adrenalin shot - old love.

And I try not to ask for help too much, too often -

in case they find themselves too much in demand

to find the time, even in eternity, to visit troubled

here by the folded grey map - particular sparkling

co-ordinates of my living, word-wired skull -

giving this special prayer for the happy souls

of poets, and receiving such complex peace as

they leave; elaborate gifts I cannot see, but feel,

like medicine in my blood; a tonic wine - some

species of coagulated light drunk down, silvery

backbone under my skin, at my shoulderblades;

a kiss that lingers on the forehead like a child’s.

Though the woven, spidery black stuff of words

is gone, vanished with this world, they compose

still, at the heart of things; pens still trembling in

their hands - shining, symbolic like a lyre, wings.

Staring sheep - late evening, Morvern, Highlands, Scotland

For a whole three minutes a sheep looked at me - stared. I caught her looking when I glanced up as I was writing a poem about genetics. She stared as if I was as unexpected and interesting as an angel; a spaceman. Kept looking, even as I bent back down to write... What was it about – those lamb chops last night? Baleful, accusatory… Not really: just staring. The rest of the sheep on the hillside just kept on with their relentless eating - walking a little, eating again; in that stolid way that makes it seem everything in the Universe must have a more exciting life than a sheep. Or maybe it’s just that all their lifetime’s joy is truncated into being a lamb - all the sheep energy used at once, burned up by that bouncing, wriggly, squiggly, white expression of the spirit of spring.

So we keep looking - woman and sheep. Mother sheep: mother human. The fire downstairs is breathing blue spirals into the chill. She’s becoming luminous the way sheep do at the slow blue blush of early evening; that weird light – some fungi too, white flowers, washing ghosts on the line. The sea had been whipped raw green from a sapping grey; now it, too, turning dimly luminescent. It’s not big white horses you can see frothing on this shore, but a low dancing line of iridescent creatures so indistinct from this distance that they might either be small sea fairies in diaphanous skirts trying to land, or a glittering invasion of rank after rank of tiny salty water animals, singing a crystal-throated, rushing, shimmery song before disappearing, becoming invisible but for a silvery wet trace on the sand. (That’s the sort of thing you start to imagine away up here, somewhere so utterly remote.) Or just the envious white sand tugging at the sparkling hem of the sea’s garment.

The sheep looks weighed down by her huge grubby ragged jumper with so many pulled threads; how miserable in this insistent, complaining sea wind that bends the spines of trees arthritically, almost to the horizontal, to their knees - subjugates, ultimately cripples them. Was she possessed somehow, mother of so many generations, eating the tough fruits of the ancient hill, grown from untouched earth - something of the soul of the people swept away from this hill for sheep, driven from this very house, this little cottage clutching the bare mountain like a determined white limpet – displaced for her kind.

And still she looked; now her eyes as two small yellow lights, warm organic flames in the cruel exposed twilight. Then it came to me…could she be somewhere warm for the diver’s soul? The diver who had drowned in the treacherous grey day and was still not found; was she sheltering him snug under her white wool until his human body could be found? Until things could be done properly, from the human perspective? This seemed possible as she stood looking at the only human for God knows how many miles. This seemed the type of kindness these patient, enduring creatures might quietly provide.

Eventually, as she stared on, I peeled my blue eyes from her yellow ones – and it hurt. I clunked woodily down the stairs, poured a brimming glass of smiling fizzy wine, came back, and still she stood; in the same spot, just at the crest of a wee green knoll, while the sea blackened and muttered behind her; the cursed rocks spat and sputtered, and rain began to cry abandonedly into her heavy hankerchief wool. But the unfound diver, as night was coming, would be sheltered by her - as steel-fingered night was getting a grip. Here in the most beautiful of places, among the whole planet blessed, he had gone for a good day out - we saw them on the skinny, slithering road, where Nature jousts through all seasons with the tarmac, wanting it back; this single thin strip where she is squashed, defeated here on the surface - sending out spores, seed bombs beneath, shooting green weapons; even dead leaf detritus trying to break down the harsh granules, make some new kind of earth…Then he found himself dead under the cleanest waters, his life slipping though this unexpected keyhole, into the beauty, and not found yet - but this mother sheep cradling him, warm and kind, caring for him temporarily. What did she want from me? Was I the nearest sample of his kind - would I know what to do with him, how to comfort him in this grey time of his existence?

She turned her bony head, showing me the glossy black sea behind; she knew that was where, where he had come from - that dark shining, where his death had happened – and how could he be left all night there alone, lost. Not here where once everyone had helped everyone. Here, where today the beauty is wounded by the wrong kind of death. As night tightens and he is still not found, the usual milky blue blood of evening is black, with the shine of a funereal plumed horse - though the beauty must heal here, as one of Nature’s last imperial bastions. She will happily shelter him in her genetic grid, her wollen arms; creature-kin, genetic sister-animal. God Bless you, simple, gentle sheep - and the lost diver who has died today; the beauty of the sky and water here will be your permanent memorial. Each fine day you will be remembered with moments of joy, whether the opening of a rare spotted orchid or the uncrooking of a primaeval fern. Each darkness will sigh a moment in memoriam; each melancholy sheep-bleat at the end of the day, each keening Golden Eagle smelting at sunset over the sea, will be as a natural hymn or prayer as befits the landscape; as already happens for the indigenous lost people.

I returned to my work, leaving the mother sheep to stare – yes, I will remember him, the lost diver, when I walk on the shore as the searchers have walked today until darkness. And for now, this one night, she will nurse his soul until the family come, until his proper human body, his vessel now unused, is found. Though the beauty of the place now struggles in recovery; these abandoned tears seem as if they will never stop.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    The Human Genome Project
    – Public versus private
    Gene Patenting
    Blood Poems
        Genomic Co-operation
    Holy-Moley-More God!

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