Four Poems

For the Shetlandic originals, please click here.


Head over Heels


From different vantage points, the island sharpens
from old man laid out dead upon the skyline
to three proud peaks upon the world's edge.


And seen at different times, headlands looming
closely after rain, distance themselves
through hazy veils. We lift our eyes


from weathered end-of-season sights. Autumn,
with fingers soft and lingering, lightens both
land and heart; bright glints of newness.


And all the pointless fights that come
from thinking we can only see one way, fade
into nothingness. A glow of light upon


the drabbest land, a glimpse of love around
embittered hearts, and everything turns
somersaults. We must un-self ourselves,


untangle all that wearies one another,
journey with our difference, and savor
all the common wonders of our world.


Chance of a Lifetime


From the airplane, streaks of light pick out
a little town, plumped down there by chance:
an accidence of streams and slopes,
heads and tails of nature's providence.


For us--no more, no less--the time,
and place and fortune of our birth
is happenchance; yours and mine,
my love, as random as the rest.


Had this fine braiding of our stream not come
--this blessèd odds--I would have pined long
for it. When you're around, your fun
and cheerfulness send every penny spinning
in the air, to land the right way up,
heads or tails, whichever one is called.


Star Sign


Vidlin, Shetland 21.10.1914


Nor heaven nor earth has been at peace tonight.
War's trenches barely cut, still lines on maps.
But life goes on: a little girl is born.


Birth's struggle done, the midwife sets off home
down Neegirt's fields, with lit peat held for light.
And in the firmament, a comet's flight records
the moment, outstrips a harvest moon that rides
the sky. The heavens themselves blaze forth nativity,
wrap a blessing round a little one whose first breath
reincarnates the dust of galaxies, obscures,
reveals: links death with life and love and power.


reference to excerpts from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2


O for the Wings


To the unnamed builder of Woowick dovecote, Orkney


Your dovecote stands, a chapel now;
no crooning coo, no flutter
of frightened wings, nor stink of doves.


Smooth, dark slabs; floor to roof boxed
with stone shelfs like doorless cupboards.
And every stone set so that every ledge
is to the wall and to the building
as every filament is to the feather
and to the dove; every bit a work of art.


Did you build it, in the mind, a library
for books of air, with winged servitors
to reach to topmost shelves; to house
the silence of a thousand vellum scrolls,
the latch raised only by a holy hand?


When at last you laid the final stone
you must have stepped back, upon the seventh day
and, with the searching eye of one who knows
the human heart, you must have seen that what
you'd made, this testament, was good.