I thought I’d post the other poems I mentioned in Rachel’s blog comment. They may not be my ‘best’ poems technically, but they’re the ones that have come closest to saying what I meant to say when I started them.
We travelled north, father and son, to climb Suilven.
I thought my forties memories might match his nineties visions.
The Assynt hills, in just being, transcended both.
It still shocked me when,
from the suddenly clearing mists,
an improbable verticality loomed behind Lochinver;
naked grey rock rising from soupy green hummocks.
The hills remain, eroded tusks of sandstone,
washed down from Greenland highlands before the ocean opened.
They lie like upturned ice-breakers,
as if Scotland planned to force the Northwest Passage,
but held back, for aeons, upon a favourable augury.
Later, looking over Loch Maree to Slioch
I remember a pine marten stopping on the road.
It paused in the grassy mid-line
and stared at our Austin Seven
with our little post-war family.
My father drove on past traffic jams of sheep,
leaving a relict wonder
which has lasted over forty years.
Every father should leave his children mountains –
have Suilven, son, I still have mine.
This one was first published in Northwords (1994), and reprinted in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Highlands, and more (Diehard, 1996, O.P.)
Advice to a novice
Touch the pebble with closed eyes;
the stone will speak through your fingers.
When walking through woods
enlighten each waterfall.
No choosing, but in action decide;
in fear, go forward at once.
Your room contains whatever it needs to contain,
from the dust of memory to the sparks of novelty.
Your chair is a rock on the top of a mountain;
your pillow the surf of the evening.
When reading words, hear wordless music;
when painting flowers, shout furious poetry.
Do not fear cemeteries;
their gates imprison only the dead.
She will fall into your hand like a sweet leaf
and you will kiss the leaf.
There are many things to live for,
and none worth not living.
When rulers eulogise the recent dead,
keep an eye on what they’re signing.
Run fast from redemption
and kick sand in the face of forgiveness.
Do not shelter from storms under trees;
their drips are heavier than rain.
Share your lunch with your friends;
I am your friend.
This one was published in Mementoliths (Calder Wood Press, 2005, O.P.)
(In memoriam William (Bill) Will)
You could tell
he was a miniaturist –
he worked with the tiniest of tools.
He’d twist the back off a watch
like shucking a golden clam,
then slip the monocular magnifier
over his glasses – the right eye.
Inside, he’d spot the broken hairspring,
or jammed escapement.
He’d replace the part, if he could,
or make a new one. I’ve seen him
sawing individual gear-teeth
in a brass wheel
smaller than a shirt button.
He was happy doing this –
it was his apprenticed trade.
Tongue out in concentration
he’d work away
to the Home Service radio,
kicking the power off
when a customer called,
failing to notice
the fall-off in calls
with the passing years,
as batteries replaced
the winding up of time.
This poem won a prize in 2003, and was published in Broadside, reprinted in Sushi & Chips (Diehard, 2006). My father and I had been estranged for some years before he died, but I was thinking about him one Hogmanay (always a special night for him), and the poem arrived.
All poems Copyright © Colin Will, with acknowledgements to the original publishers.