The Glass Harvest

My third collection of poetry, inspired by a visit to Lindisfarne, looks at island living, isolation and the self experienced as being cut off from the mainland.  One of the poems, ‘Winifred’, was longlisted by Simon Armitage in this year’s Rialto Nature Poetry Competition.


(after ‘Gate to the Isles’ & ‘Candle, Eigg’, 1980 by Winifred Nicholson)

Each time I think of her (and I think of her
often) she is sitting in her mackintosh on a stool
before the open door of a tumbledown croft
hunkered beside the Atlantic. She is painting
a forget-me-not gate, swung half open
on a wee Hebridean garden: flowers, clouds, sea –
all movement – yet contained, somehow,
by her ushered in lilac mountains. She squints
at both the far things and near, a brush-end
in her teeth, whiskery splinters on her lips
as she mixes her own colours with tips
of weather-bit fingers; traces of soot, chalk
and pigment in her nails, the creases of her palms,

those trails I’d like to follow. She frowns, furrows,
sploshes away from her paint-wet landscape
not stopping at the island’s boggy pastures
or fertile hollows, but hiking toward the sgurr,
leaning wild-haired into the whip of the wind,
plucking berries by the wayside, twisting
brittle thistle-heads from their stalks.
Above the basalt cliffs, she pulls a prism
from her pocket to consult it for what it knows,
what she knows already, what Goethe knew
too about the life between colours unseen,
unnamed. She nods and smiles that kindling smile
from the other side of words which insists:

let the light find you; let the light lose you again,
there is colour in all dark. Later, warmed,
away from caves and the abandoned canvas,
she kneels like a supplicant before a candle
on a whitewashed upon whitewashed sill.
I can almost smell the just-lit match, hear it suck
at the wick and hiss, I can sense the draught,
the flicker. The paint sparks on her smock
recall your midnight Fair Isle jumper; the glossy
pebbles beside your books; the print of a candle
at a window above your desk – how its flame
stays in the mind’s eye a lifetime after guttering;
how each time I think of her, I think of you.


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