Philip Rush

SKYEBERNATION
Philip Rush
 
 
 
In Love with Skye
 
I cannot stop thinking
about my one-inch-
to-one-mile OS map
of the Isle of Skye.
When I lie at night
between bedtime and sleep
I fantasise about
Sheet Twenty-four, ‘North Skye’,
fully revised in
nineteen fifty-five.
I imagine going out
with it.  I imagine
ringing it one evening
to share its sultry tones, 
the special suntanned brown
of its three B-roads
and the sky-blue eye-blue
blue of its gridlocked sea.
I imagine smoothing
its contour lines and then
releasing them back 
into mountains and fells.
I imagine drinking
from its tiny rivulets
until the ink runs dry.
I imagine its brochs,
its cliffs and its ancient
chapels (remains of).
I imagine meeting
at a romantic spot
by a church and the sea.
The grid reference
is at my fingertips.
And when I wake up
in the city morning
the thing I think about
once I’ve started to think
is the Ordnance Survey
one-inch map of North Skye.
I see it dressed in beige,
red and black.  I watch it
unfold.  I am drawn
to the small fidgety
tides of the Little Minch.
I watch them rise and fall.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Aurora
 
You have to get used to the dark.
After all, this is why you have arrived,
the roads growing narrower by the hour
for many hours,
sufficient provisions in the car for a fortnight,
waterproofs and boots
and feathery coats cosy as duvets.
It does no good to be impatient.
Stand here 
in the lumpy lawn
of a crofter’s legacy
and feel the darkness stroke awake your eyes.
Cold, still air
pickpockets you in a crowd of stars
and silence fills your ears.
Gradually
in the manner of some ingeniously orchestrated symphony
darkness is made visible
bit by bit
a crescendo almost excruciatingly slow
until you are ready
and the stars burn.
They are neon.
The Plough proclaims itself
a fast–food restaurant
pointing north
which –
you bittern up your neck –
seems directly overhead.
The Pole Star.
Out to sea
is an indistinct and faltering display.
A long exposure
a wide aperture
and a superhuman ISO
darkroom the low sky.
To port
the red hum of lighthouses –
on the coast, out on the skerries –
to starboard
a bigger, fainter splash
of green
scored by thin black cloud
but definite and real.
It is no transfiguration.
No. No–one suggests you should knock up a tent
in the name of Elijah.
No–one expects a miracle.
Though this is what we have come to see,
this extra–terrestrial dark
this underground spark
at the end of the tunnel,
this silence
made sacred
by the faint recitation of a lazy sea
a recitation at once
distant
and close with intimacy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Purple Sandpipers
 
Down by the shore yesterday
two small birds were feeding.
They jabbed their long beaks
into the kelps and the stuff
that had been washed ashore.
Maybe for flies or small crabs.
 
A pair, they were never more
than a foot or so apart.
When the sea washed towards them,
the tide flowing and the wind
strengthening, they gave together
a little skip on tiny legs.
 
We laughed to see ourselves.
Above, huge buzzards
sauntered across the sky –
beyond, cormorants
in black suits and glossy
dived into the dark waters.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Even Ravens, Even Ravens Have Never Seen The Wind
 
Julian proposes a toast to Yoko.
Of course, I can’t hear him at first. The gale –
all fifty-five-miles-an-hour of it – blows
his voice away, turns it into a gull
 
and tosses it aside. Typical Skye.
The bay of Duntulm is far below.
Spume, spray and the road sags as a bus goes by.
From the abandoned hotel, ravens throw
 
themselves into the storm. They are demons.
They draw roller-coasters in the cold air.
They croak rustily above the headland.
They wall-of-death the wind, swoop and swagger.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Windy Day
 
The Minch has cancelled the ferries.
This morning
one huge ship crawled north-northwest.
A colossal metal carrot,
it sat on the waves
the way a mattress settles across a burn.
It was swallowed by the headland.
Since then, nothing.
The wind is gusting a ton.
Huge helpings of sea are flung
over the housetops.
The heather thatch is faring badly
under the onslaught.
It is either saying its prayers
or reciting Rabbie Burns.
In the morning the crofters
will retrieve from the roof
a miraculous haul of fish.
On the Uists, on Harris and Lewis,
the lorry drivers, 
the travelling missionaries
and the vets have turned to cards, 
small bets and a bottle.
The girlfriend who broke things off in tears
and who stood
with her 1960s suitcase
beside the bus shelter
one hour and forty-five minutes
before the ferry was scheduled to sail
has had to return
with an expression on her face
which reminds him of her mother.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Friday 27th January
 
Today has begun very calm.  The sea is an even blue and the wind has stopped battering the house in such an argumentative and adolescent way.  It is hard to draw one’s eyes away from the window right now because the colours of dawn are interesting and changeable and because one so rarely has the opportunity to attend to them as a priority.
 
I am sitting with my back to the window in any case, chiefly because to sit on the other side of this large and probably oak table is to mildly obstruct the part of the room used as a kind of passageway to the stairs, and I don’t want to do that.
 
Yesterday we went for a long walk on the Quiraing which is not so much a mountain as a huge fell with abrupt and sheer sides, not so much a mountain as a landslip.  ‘Quiraing’ is spelled in a number of different ways on different maps, and each time with incontestable authority.  It is a kind of transliteration into English of a Gaelic name which begins with a ‘c’ and which was engraved tidily on a modern standing stone near the car-park.  I cannot remember the name in Gaelic although using my less than rudimentary knowledge of the Gaelic alphabet I got my lips round it, the name engraved on the modern standing stone by the car-park, and I found that what came out approximated to, ‘Quiraing’.
 
The little cottage I’d had my eye on at the edge of Hungladder has been sold, alas, without reference to me.  ‘Hungladder’ is, I think, another English transliteration of Gaelic.  Or maybe Norse.  
 
What I chiefly remember about yesterday’s long walk is a shade of green.  It wasn’t a long walk in terms of length.  Caroline measured it on a pedometer built into her phone at just over four miles.  Maybe four and a half miles.  Not a long walk.  But it went up and down a lot like a forgotten episode from Goldilocks.  Sometimes it was rocky and rocky and too hard, sometimes it was boggy and boggy and far too wet and far too soft, and I fell into a bog-hole half-way up my calf which covered my elegant and cutting-edge walking boot with a kind of bog-
 
 
hole mud which looked like shit and didn’t smell different enough to be reassuring, and very occasionally there was a short stretch of springy turf and there was Goldilocks in black leggings and a black top and her long black hair held up stiffly with a black hair-band so that she looked like a dark carrot with a huge smile and she said in a Catalonian accent you could cut with a knife that we were very lucky.
 
She meant with the weather.  The light was pellucid, I think the word is, anyway we could see for miles.  I think you could see for thirty miles or more in basically every direction including the direction of Wester Ross and a line of mountains for which we did not have a single name and in the direction of Harrisandlewis.  So, using πr2, we could overview about three thousand square miles of Scottish land and sea.
 
 
The green I remember was the green of the Quiraing itself.  It was a wintry green.  A winter coat would look great in a green like this.  There is a silver I think involved.  Perhaps a frosty silver?  Perhaps a silver ground had been used by the painter who did yesterday’s Quiraing.  We met a photographer with a posh camera equipped with sophisticated filters and with perhaps rather too much to say for himself about what he’d achieved which did seem rather impressive in a well-trodden-path sort of way.  My envy was tempered by a sense of ambitious superiority.
 
I have seen this wintry green before, of course, and not just on wintry greens like kale.  I think ‘kale’ may be the perfect word for this kind of green, not because kale is the exact same colour as the Quiraing on a clear, cold, windy day in January, but because the word, ‘kale’, seems to include the word ‘pale’ and hint at ‘cold’.  It is a cold, pale green which would not only be perfect for a wintry coat but is perfect on the Quiraing.  With a silver lining.
 
It was a long walk because of the terrain but also because we stopped to admire the views, to celebrate how lucky we were with the weather, and because we had to try and take photographs to match the photographs of the man with the posh camera and the monologue, who was carrying a tripod I should have said and who was dressed uniformly in battleship grey.  And because occasionally one or other of us had to dress up in a superhero costume for artistic reasons and have his picture taken on pinnacles and ridges so that he could impress not only all those within sixty miles who had trained their binoculars or telescopes on the distant Quiraing but also those in the next few days or so who were going to tune in to his Facebook page.
 
It was also a long walk because we walked rather slowly.  My natural gait is to walk somewhat more briskly and when for whatever reason one has to walk at other than one’s natural gait one tires more quickly than might mathematically be expected.
 
I think the truth is I walk too quickly in all aspects of my life both literally and metaphorically.  I get back to the car before everyone else and I don’t have the key and I get very cold especially across my back where there is a significant patch of sweat the size of the Sahara desert on a wall-map of the world and I fidget a bit and when eventually everyone else arrives it transpires that everyone else has seen a golden eagle at very close quarters and they have been spiritually uplifted.  I squeeze off my boots and as I tie up the laces on my fashionable sensible shoes I tie myself into a routine this whole business was meant to be a break from.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ferry Inn Blues
 
Yesterday’s wind has died.
There are misticoats
now over the mountains
and the air is slow.
 
Sometimes the note
in the wind is music
enough.  I have been
in love with the wind.
 
Sometimes the wind
harasses the house
with invective.  Sometimes
the wind stands
 
for a guilty conscience –
it will not let up
for more than a moment
and then it’s back
 
with a cartoon grin
and a mallet of air.
The sky, people say,
is a temple of winds.
 
And, yes, sometimes
the wind becomes
monastic.  Sometimes
the wind brings tears.
 
Curlews.  They out-perform
the keenest of laments
but what do they know
of grief or of sorrow?
 
The wind walks hand
in hand with solitude.
Already the Loch Garry
birches have painted
 
themselves beautiful. 
Sometimes the wind
brings tears to the eyes
which it cannot dry.