Dying light

Our touring, our junketing stalled at Orkney.
We shed waterproofs,
fogged the windscreen, nodded along with McCartney,
waiting for the sun.
Our guide described horizons flecked with haloes,
sea hissing through harr,
fires that stuttered on jutting tallow-smeared stones
planted in peat and,
alongside bones (or charred fragmented clay),
a brown skull gathering rain.

Its brow lay low like the island, cropped by cords,
lengthened by labour,
fussed over by predatory birds, engorged
by excarnation.
This is where the weight lifts off, where blood mists white
sea eagle feathers,
where bones roost in their stacks, men mingling with fish
and slaughtered calves.

She faltered in the kitchen, rocking back
on her ballet flats,
seized with vertigo – knowing what it meant
to switch off the light,
to take the last turn to the village hall
to see her husband.
Adults were rearranging names, counting chairs,
rehearsing speeches,
recounting marathons (the time the farm dog
gave chase, almost won
Replaying memories from old camcorders
winding back cassettes:
champagne-click-card-games-whirr-road-trips, cheered
by soft narration.
I used to swing from that tree… This was country…
They filled in the lakes…
The girls kept house… Boys clambered on the rocks…
Lifetimes ago now…

We scavenged for joy – finding that pebbles moan
on combed beaches,
hollering our adoration of seals,
whooping in Waulkmill Bay,
hanging on tall tales (stockinged legs sticking out
a bush) recalling
hauling Glad Tidings over the barrier
in the dying light.

He’s gone racing, flying to the afterlife
the minister said
thumbing a small bible with fingerless gloves.
He folded the verse
and, extempore, a murmuration burst
over treeless fields.
You offered a thought: the coffin was a boat
afloat on floral seas
a vessel for one, a lone pioneer
destined for greatness.

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