Some say she looks like an old witch,
a dark caillich with a cat’s-tail of islands for hair.
Brine sluices the words from her cracked lips.
I say no. I say she’s as fresh as these flakes
of schist and quartzite I gathered yesterday.
Some say she’s barren: “Look how they scoured
her bairns from her womb with a dab of wool,” they say,
“and them scarce halfways down the road to birth.
The four airts buried them.
Their cries will circle the earth like little storms.”
I say no. I say she’s poor but whole and strong
and I’ve heard her children sing out in our half dark street,
barely a whisper before night.
Some say she’s bad news, a temptress, a whistler on ships,
that the man who sleeps with her will wake one morning
at dusk on a hillside under the brisk rain, his pockets weighted with sand.
I say no. I say, look at me: I’ve slept with her all the nights of my life
and still each morning when I wake I find her tongue in my mouth.
Listen to the song version of 'Alba', with music composed by Luci Holland.
And so they come back, those girls
who painted the watch dials luminous, and died.
They come back and their hands glow and their lips
and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like alien snow.
It was as if what shone in them once had broken free
and burned through the cotton of their lives.
And I want to know this: I want to know how they came
to believe that something so beautiful could ever have turned out right.
But though they open their mouths to answer me
all I can hear is light.
for Mary Stewart
Just before dawn, I was woken
by the soft hush of the dead about their work.
It was cold in her room; so cold
I could see the half-bright cloud of my life
hung out in the air between the darkness
and the moon. I can’t help but fall
for the dark each time it has to go.
It’s death, like any other death, leads on
from mystery towards brighter mystery.
All poems on this page are the copyright © of John Glenday