(Guardian Weekly 29.09.06): article by Ian Sample
Planted in pages, bound in a notebook buried in archives two hundred years thirty-two species in tiny packets Seeds will be scattered
the seeds of melons -wild melons from banks of the Orange river -and seeds from the tree with the crooked thorns
Among crates of tea and bales of silk embedded a leatherbound record book dark specks enclosed in dusty paper more than a thousand immigrant seeds
A chance discoverer chanced upon them
a find was found and the parcels opened -like seeds themselves -over water through fire and returned to earth where shrubs have bloomed and trees have sprung even the tree with the crooked thorns
Life is patient. Life can wait
when all are her agents
with space and time and the elements Seeds will be scattered
AUTUMN AT KINCRAIG
Yellow birch leaves fall like flakes on rooted rutted forest tracks
on plastic hoods among the woods.
Tawny oaks and bronzy bracken beech leaves thickly dark and molten as we walk
in single rank along the bank..
The living river far below
a dark brownish steady flow then shower of sun
gently catches golden larches.
ferny path above a glittering sea beneath volcanic crag where eagles nest
complete a rabbit’s entrails on our way stripped of flesh and fur and yet intact
pointing north as we are in our walk the stomach full of grass lies separate
what augury this means, what sudden death what eagles swoop above our rabbit lives
on all that we have painfully digested our little bag of membraned ‘this is me’
as dragoned eyes, beaks, talons feast on all that clothes essential inner life
we look up, out, beyond and round the crags a waterfall is plunging to the sea
and birches hold the soil as mosses make a tenderness for living and for dead
one butterfly dead in a curtain gauze
antennae like black threads and tortoiseshell wings
outspread where rickety window prevents escape to unkempt garden of waving grasses and rushes
another butterfly flutters on the sill weakly enough for me to set it free
a host of butterflies out on the moor
and in the woods, their wings a dusky brown
almost black with orange-spotted edge feed among bog-myrtle in the bracken
Scotch Argos, as if Jason learnt again the shadow side of chasing for the sun
Northern Brown Argos, paler, more delicate I’ll take you for my emblem of the spirit
the kind we need to weather Scottish islands to flutter in the light of so much sky
to value all that grows in wet and dark
and smells like woodsmoke tinged with honeysuckle
the one that dies, the one that lives that lets itself be captured and set free
SIGNS OF MARCH
This full moon shines indiscriminately on Glasgow tonight and Edinburgh
on Arabic and Persian poets, Albanian artist, Rwandan lady whose own radiant visage
competes with the moon, on interpreters translators, photographers and actors
and all who work to make things work together for good, for wine and vine-leaves filled with rice
couscous with herbs, oatcakes
and lemon cake, iced tea and water –
Our poetry addressed the moon as curved and carved a barque to sail the inward skies of vision
but tonight there is an eclipse of the moon, for Earth will come between and block the rays of sun
making the moon blaze like a blood orange in dark of night until the shadow passes –
Our poets and the translators have now dispersed but their words are travelling who knows whither
with old and young from diverse countries around our turning earth as they follow their destiny –
In full countenance or in passing shade
the radiance floats on and comes to harbour
SEA-SCENES FROM MY LIFE
the dogged sea
What did I see? A dog being drowned
black and dangly down by the harbour in Bombay. I was six and looked out of the window.
Not long after, a cargo ship in the docks exploded.
It had been carrying dynamite packed below bales of cotton. Everyone thought the Japs had attacked (1944).
All the rescuers rushed to the harbour
when a second explosion killed them.
Bodies were blown all over the city.
The floor-to-ceiling doors of the room I was in
fell crashing down;
servants came running, my mother came running,
I was unhurt.
My father hurried back from work expecting to find
his family dead. We were safe:
the doors and windows blown out and
gold bars from the Mint scattered over the city.
They were laying out the dead in the hospital corridors.
The day was announced we had waited for and we steamed away
in convoy heading for Britain, an unknown country to me. We wept goodbye to our servants in tears, to our little dachshunds
our ancient cat. Packed in cabins for women and children we contracted diseases; weak and fearful lest the torpedos attacked. At Port Said I watched as Italian prisoners dressed in grey, were marshalled into the hold.
I swung from the bunks and cut my lip; then fevered
with tonsilitis endured the rest of the long long trip.
The stunning cold North Sea was my new ordeal:
a shivering skinny child versus the dread rock pool. We’d run down duckboards and throw ourselves into that high tide over the concrete side
pitted with rain in the east wind.
Never again, I vowed, would I ever be made to swim in a Scottish sea,
though sometimes I paddled.
One such day our dogs were stolen:
our Border Terrier and my mother’s adored Jack Russell.
We never saw them again.
So dogs, so death, so the sea.
GLAS FHAIRGE/A GREY-GREEN SEA
The surrounding sea
Don’t build close to the shore lest hungry waves demand more
and seek whom they might devour on a wild spring tide;
in vain to buttress with walls, nothing like that forestalls
the surge that rises and falls, cutting deep and wide;
on a summer afternoon imagine the hurricane:
breakers crushing the town, flooding the countryside.
Birds and animals know by vibrations from below,
sense gales in a distant glow: they will move inland;
while we have to catch the ferry, get somewhere in a hurry, biting the salty spray that spatters on lip and hand;
father and forefather foretold changes in weather
by cloud or leaf or feather: they could understand.
The sea is faithful and grey, reliable day by day;
let the children play on the rough and tumble beach; white sails on the blue, cruise ships passing through, trawlers come and go, but lifeboats launch and search for submarine’s mayday call or tanker spilling oil
or lobster boat in trouble they must try to reach.
And all the while we toss our industrial trash
even our nuclear waste into the global ocean;
we pipe out our sewage, fish-farm spillage,
the rubbish from the village, without the least notion
that the sea has its balance, its own precise substance
and performs a perfect dance in ceaseless time and motion.