Poetry     Steve Ely

        Photography     Michael Faint

                                    Now, as surely then,
the landscape knits together from the vantage
of its summit. Open your arms, and embrace
the evening sun. For the hundred and twenty degrees
of your span, all you can see is the squinting gold of ocean:
sun-swallower, storm-bringer, bearer of bounty,
edge of the knowable world.


Where the island falls away below the shark-fin
stone, Atlantic has gnawed a sheer-backed cove.
On Fair Isle they’d call it a geo—cliffs of gneiss
and gravelly substrate, tussocks of undercut turf.
The back wall drops six fathoms to the beach,
its flotsam of buoys and nylon rope, black wrack
and white, disarticulate sheep. The side walls slope
to the gate of ocean, low tide’s suck and slap
of swell. Oystercatchers yelping from the rocks;
herring gulls drifting over; a convoy of cormorants,
bound for the Sound of Barra. Under the turf-lip,
a man’s height down, a pad of kelp and felted fleece.
Squirts of white emulsion. The ledge it rests on
is an ibex path. If you hold your nerve you can walk it.


I can feel the shush and thump of ocean,
breathe the beach’s warm kelp breeze.
Patrolling herring gulls monitor my approach
and gannets plunge from the sky’s high tower—
then the wind’s in my face on the low dunes’ ridge,
and there, beyond the precarious, hop-across causeway,
the storm-ripped ruin of An Doirlinn and the crab boats’
wedge of white van landing—twin-papped, raven-crested
Orasaigh stands on its strand before me.


                                     The isle lies flat
on the low horizon, crushed under the dome
of the huge Atlantic sky. Each crunching stride-length
lifts it taller, on the western skyline, the vistas
of my mind. I lift the loop on the five-bar gate
and pass between derelict lazybeds and a stand
of thin phragmites. Sheep scatter from the fences
at my bootscrapes. Greylags up their periscopes.


The follicles of the cotton grass are rising.
Five thousand years of immaterial culture,
life on the literal edge—Hebrides, falling slowly.