north light

Month: May 2013

The long grass is soaking between the graves at Cille Bharra. A late spring, only the yellow of primroses on the slopes above the cemetery and dotted gaily round the stones. We move slowly, reading dates and names.

In the centre of the graveyard: three tiny chapels. Bending low into the doorway, a single light illuminates the rough hewn walls. Rain squalls outside, a battery of wind – the distant sound of chanted prayer, and still the touch of water, pooled in the curve of a stone.

Blinking back into the light, we find his grave. I had thought it would be more: some lines about his work, or the stories, a plaque perhaps to that Whisky Galore! but after all it’s only this – a name, and dates: the beginning, and the end.

raindrops
on a wild primrose
– this stranger’s grave

blowing over
the rasping of a corncrake
after the rain

Note:
The writer Sir Compton Mackenzie, author of many books including Whisky Galore (the inspiration for the much loved film of the same name) is buried in Barra, the island that he took as his home for many years. His gravestone is in the ancient churchyard at Cille Bharra, near Eoligarry, in the north end of the island, one of the few places in the UK where you can still hear a corncrake.

It comes suddenly in my memory, rolling off the North Sea and catching us unawares. Although it has been known to move slowly and settle, blanketing the whole of a day, it moves fast at the shore till we’re running and shrieking not just with cold but laughter at the need to leave the sea so suddenly.

The haar already thick and white with cold, I see my mother standing by the dunes, her arms outstretched with towels that will scratch our skin with sand.

at the water’s edge
a shroud of haar
the seagulls cry

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