The Uists were mercurial Dali art,
all melting landscapes and buildings malleable.
Water screening from sky to sea, a land barely there,
water soaking into bog sponge, sheep hunkered expertly low to cope.
CalMac had muttered cancellations but we made it across from Barra,
all the car alarms wailing and the swell smacking the lower decks,
weird plaints of distress relieved only by the island earth of Eriskay.
A youth on the top deck wore a parka branded The Storm Will Pass,
which in the circumstance was a brazen claim, or maybe he,
like the sheep, was a native with knowing of the rhythms,
trusting that time would restore love-lilting.
It seems, when I visit wee islands, it is in the wake of sorrow.
It seems they will be islands of rock, peat and rain. And sheep.
This time, already planned,
came soon after her death, not planned,
but inevitable at ninety.
You have to make a commitment to achieve an island,
the getting there half of it, footfall at once loss and safety.
The rest: finding the gold lichen that signifies pure air,
being companioned by little birds,
being beyond reach of the ordinary,
contained in an other ordinary,
by an other ordinary sustained,
and once, from a lofty cliff-cutting on Lewis,
gazed at by a lone deer.
Balm in the moment
is balm in the memory
is balm in the moment.
The extremis of small islands leads to extremis,
its dual cul de sac death or meaning, but not both at once,
and only one a coming back from.
An island is an occasion of pure element,
perception of the bare things that make the tick:
reclaim or die, salve or excoriate,
hope or hang onto regret and the grief that seeps.
Islands make you make choices.
the gleam of pink gneiss seamed with quartz,
some of the oldest rock on earth, it meets your palm;
the hard won curve of scrappy sycamores,
deferential to salt-fraught winds.
These matter on an island, are message laden.
Reading is the work of the pilgrim.
Rock, peat, rain and sheep. And sky.
In the beginning was the wood.
Let there be rock.
Who made the sky, but I?
The eyes have it, what you see is what you see
and what you see will save you.
If you let it.
This poem was shortlisted for the Australian Catholic University Poetry Prize 2019.