A lost world, encircled
by red cliffs plunging into Atlantic depths –
St Kilda, west of Benbecula,
remote, adrift, alone –
where seabirds cry from tall stacs
or swoop low on Scottish waters
from cliff tops’ dizzying perches,
north of Conachair.
Behind the swathes of no man’s land,
steep plains of open ground are spread,
all rushed by winds, relentless.
Dwellings, ancient homes, are thrown
like dice in a crescent;
their stones remain,
by the sea air’s salty bite.
The cleitean shelters, rocky food stores
scattering scrubby humps like giant worm casts,
are spilled upon the grassland now.
Ravaged of spoils, their mouths gape
to speak of lives lived raw, the blistered hands
which gripped the plough with back bent low
under rolling skies, the silent folk
who worked and dug and tilled harsh earth,
milked the land for what they could,
its grudging gift, its hollow prize.
Yet seabirds were a bounty:
fulmars, puffins, gannets plenty,
eggs, flesh, feathers, grease – no waste.
On Lover’s Stone the boys have practiced:
balanced on the wind, leaning
with hair whipped, streaming
over tears clouding vision’s blurred thrill
to prove their worth,
then downhill, laughing,
home for a kiss.
Now, two hundred metres up,
high above the crash of surf,
they play a different game and reach
to take the eggs from snatching beaks.
Ignoring feathers’ thunderous beats
and the birds’ indignant screech,
they fill their baskets, hundreds deep,
and saunter back, filling shelters to the brim,
these boys turned into men.
But now all victory hardens; all memory
lies in steepled vaults of Hebridean stone
as if calcified, abandoned,
and only silent pictures remain.
Untouched by heartless winds, untainted
by raging tides, in sepia tints
the cliffs look almost picturesque now.
The lonely seabirds can’t be heard,
and faded Gaelic faces look on, unperturbed.
Anne Bradshaw is a mature student in her final year studying for an English Literature degree. Her previous incarnations include being a wife (still occasionally active in this role), mother (job for life), nurse (tough but rewarding), bookseller (very expensive, as work was always coming home with her), and animal rescuer (ditto!). Writing poetry is something she does in between everything else. Her work often has a strong emphasis on the natural world. Currently published in several magazines online, you can find more of her work at:
http://shrewdbanana.wordpress.com/ or find her on Twitter here: