Walking, I think of that story of the painter Max Ernst as a child, how he’d gone hunting the source of telegraph wires near his house, setting out alone, no more aware of his parent’s loss than of the names of the flowers he passed between. I wonder how far he got before the taut black lines hid themselves in the earth, leaving the boy lost.
Everyone is spread out, parting the grass, paying more attention to the ground than they have in their whole lives. This tough scrub, persistent as a scar, sprouting where nothing else but pessimism grows. Overhead, helicopters consider all possibilities: flat out it’d be five-foot-nine; curled up, legs buckled under itself, this black mass mistaken for a rain darkened stone.
. . . nothing. The ground reveals only foot-prints from the people days before, but what would I be doing now but reading? Sat at home, combing through the pages of one text or another; unsure of everything but the arbitrariness of my searching; at least here there’s the marsh, the shore-line, the desolate hills; though they have given us no sign or proof.
Nearby an old man navigates the lochs, walking the water line, wondering how his white hair still looks white in the black water. It’s getting late. I can see a woman break off from our line, searching alone; she still hopes to come across it whole, passed out, or silenced by pain. But it was only in the first few days that we shouted the name aloud.
Hitching Lifts from Islanders
A few turns in and conversation was strained.
We talked in fits about the boat crossing,
if only because it was one thing we shared,
as if some lost, great-aunt. Then sport, then nothing.
Though there was that hour past Kilfinnan
we spent unspooling images of home:
the views from our parents’ houses; the flares,
“their lit hearts”, falling over Uist at New Years.
But one of us remembered too quickly
our home-taught reticence; regretted
having said too much, or too openly.
The next forty miles were the radios.
Then we passed Buachaille Etive Mor,
its bracken and firs sprouting off the rock,
he offered “that’s one fucker of a fucker, eh?”
“Aye, man, you took the words right out of my mouth.”
[Niall Campbell, 26, from the Western Isles of Scotland, graduated from the MLitt in Creative Writing at St Andrew University with distinction in 2009. He has had several poems published, most notably in the magazines The Literateur and The Red Wheelbarrow. He is currently working towards his début pamphlet.]
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