Year: 2013

sunlight on water
the slow turn
of a lotus flower

Even in the hills, the pure stickiness of this afternoon: a trickle of sweat, so many clouds of flies, the pool at the centre of the garden the splashing of a blackbird.

Samye Ling, August 2013

Nothing More, or the Sound of Enough

I want to write a poem about the world with nothing fancy,
nothing more than the hum of bees,
dashing past, declaring summer,
nothing more than the rushing of the river,
the occasional plop! as water hits stone,
or a fish leaps for flies,
nothing more than the rustle of the wind,
moving through the full leaf oak
like a wave
nothing more than the percussion of familiar –
a chainsaw in the distance,
the cry of sheep,
the rumble of a tractor on the hill,
nothing more than the silent dance of
two white butterflies
turning and dancing and
caught in the music of this moment
no, nothing more than this,
the unromantic cheep of birds I do not know,
while butterflies dance to the glug of fish in water,
the hum of bees and tree crescendo
as the tractor rumbles distant on the hill.


The piece was prompted by the first line of a poem by Mary Oliver, This World, in Why I Wake Early. (We share the first line.)

Silently Singing

sorrowful you walked
the Flaggy Shore
silent of words
bereft of poetry
sorrowful you walked
even as you lay
on the warm limestone pavement
crying love at the sea thrifts pinkly

even as you walked
cold in November rain
over and over,
cheeks wet with the cold of your tears
even as you stumbled the autumn seaweed
fell once again to lie closely with the stones
even as the skies caught fire above the swans at Loch Maree
and you cried a song of
thank you thank you
as you walked in darkness home

sorrowful it was you walked
wordless without poems
not knowing that this too was a song of worship

even as you prayed hard for the words of the poem to come
silent you stayed,
even as you lay,
flat on the still warm earth
day after day
watching sea thrifts dancing madly
lost in prayer
this quiet
act of



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.

on a wild primrose
– this stranger’s grave

blowing over
the rasping of a corncrake
after the rain

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

There’s an hour before the sun goes down. A cloudy evening but from the shore at Tarskavaig I know the light will fade against the backdrop of the Cuillins, with Rum stretching out on the horizon. It’s a fifteen minute drive, the narrow road up over the moor, no other traffic tonight, pausing only in a passing place to watch the way the light moves shades of brown on the lochan, the dot of lambs on winter-brown grass, a touch of snow on the peaks.

A small crossroads at the township, and a red phone box marks the way to the car park. Beyond the deer-gate, a path leads up over the moor, ten minutes to the bay. Swallows swoop overhead.

picking my way –
a sheep’s track
so many primroses

dusk falling…
the sound of the water
pulls on shingle

to the west
a makeshift bench…
Atlantic driftwood

barely a ripple
across the bay
a cuckoo calls

fading light –
lichen on the black rocks
a splash of sea thrift

The stillness of this soft Skye air – already the midges! Almost dark now, I make my way back up the hill, the images still playing: the blue of the sea melding into blue of the sky, only the deepest blue of Rum, its peaks a jagged echo of the Cuillins, marking the horizon.

Even in the fading light, it’s an easy path back, the red breast of a robin marking the deer fence at the end of the open moor. I pause at the door of the car. The song of a blackbird fills the evening air, perched in an oak tree that’s been bent almost double with the wind.

The road hugs the coast before the steep climb back to Kilbeg. Ahead of the final turn, the wideness of the bay at Achnachloiche and I pull over for a minute to watch the last of the evening light, fading fast now behind the dark mass of the Cuillins.

twilight on water
a line of oystercatchers
suddenly rising

Painted Sky

If your heart was sore, heart weary,

if your eyes were filling with the tears of the day,

with the shadows of grief still flitting around you:

I would paint you a sky.

I would dip my brush in a palette of reds:

just a hint, just a tint, just a streak on the horizon,

a brightening, a sun stroke,

a sliver of burnished gold.

I would place the buzzard waiting,

the perfect silhouette of strong, courageous heart,

outlined, unmissable, against this red painted sky.

I would set the skies rolling in clouds tinged with purple,

moving soft across this most beautiful garden of Galloway,

I would let the oystercatcher fly on the last stretch home

the final turn of the road,

the last breath of your heart,

so you’d know it was sent

straight from me.

If your heart was sore, love:

I’d paint you the sky.

Affirmation (Why Photography Matters)

Photography is an affirmation.

An affirmation of light.

An affirmation of the significance of the moment (this being all we have).

An affirmation of the shared planet we walk on, and run on.

An affirmation of our shared humanity.

Sometimes, often, I wonder why photography matters.

Why I do it, and why so many others are gripped by this obsession.

There of course a thousand reasons why, but one of them is this:

That when we’re lost for words, when we’re reminded of darkness, when the news is full of toxicity, we have a choice towards silence, or continuing to share however humble it might be.

To offer up a painting, a poem, a story, a photograph –

prayer flags blowing in the wind.

Affirmation of what matters.

(Written in the days after the Boston bombing.)

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