Postcard from the Desert of Reverie

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Painting by the beautiful and talented Ella Calvert

(part of a series of poems written in response to Ella’s paintings)

Postcard from the Desert of Reverie

Dearest, the insects have quivered
long enough in the hole in my heart.
If you were here, you could press
your hand against the skin
where it beats, uselessly.

I have collected enough Mexican sunsets,
enough blood orange dreams
of distant cities, to know
that you are not coming home.

The spider scatters relax
only at night, settling into spasms
like the aftermath of a birth.

In the wee hours, the acids hiss
for a burst of their petulant green.
I have tried to hide my desire
for your eyes of lilac;
I have shined my skin
to the gleam of shellac.

Still it beats.
Time still turns
on the axis of thorns
which circle my chest.

I have tried to confine my thoughts
to shapes, like a rosary;
but the worry bleeds out,
erodes the coating
I have grown to protect
this fragile feeling.

Side by side, with or without,
I know you now
as the virus that spreads in my bones,
the words that swizzle and twist —
and in the darkness without colour,
mean nothing.

— July 2016

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Land of Boats & Rust & Sunset Metal

Eerie stillness, the still point of the stillest day. All of the western isles are supposed to be windswept, breezy, cold and white. The sky is never quite white, more a milky, ashen grey. An ink-stained clearness of upside-down water.

We’ve walked along the beach, along the shorefront of the town with its screaming islander kids on the green. The ice-cream diners lain quiet by winter. Daffodils swaying in terracotta pots, cats lounging on garden walls. Shop fronts of Easter displays, gold blue postcards and tall jars of sweets. We’ve walked ourselves back out of civilisation.

It’s so quiet here. The edge of the beach. You focus on the absolute intensities of nature, and that’s it.

The gulls, endlessly circling, squawking, cawing. The cry of a gull is always an echo.

The lapping of waves. A glassy, perfect, trickling sound. Clicking of our cameras. Metallic sound of rusted nails, grating against rocks as we walk upon them, crunching down matter. In the distance, dusk comes in colour, like someone cracked open a lump of cryolite, spilling its yellow fluorescence over the world.

A boy circles the road on his bike. We do not see his face; he is hooded, a messiah or a ghost. Later, he appears again on the ferry, then the train. Earlier in the day, we saw him meditating out on a rock, alone. He starts to embody some kind of fear, an omen. Like teenagers, we giggle.

You can drag your hand through the cold wet shingle and scoop out its shining treasures. We gather orange shells and red bricks which rub dusty colour onto the black of our jackets. Some shells are broken, yet still pearlescent. Nasty beasties quiver and squirm when we lift big rocks. We lift and scavenge and pillage, and then walk on. We are growing closer to the still place, the stillest place of the island.

An abandoned shipyard of sorts. Some of the boats are still in use: there are ‘For Sale’ signs and various parts of ship rigging, scattered haphazardly around. Lobster plots, lonely buoys, a trail of broken forks. A slipway coated in green sea slime. Some of the boats grow a strange, alien rust. It comes apart in circles, flakes away at the edges like millions of wrinkling eyes. A brilliant, ginger bronze. Piles of thick iron chains succumbing to the slow process of oxidisation, stung by exposure to the harsh salt air, harsh salt water. To drag a finger along a single link is to be cut with visions of a ship at sea. Billowing storms, sails failing amidst inevitable shipwreck. It’s difficult to imagine such disasters on this pretty island, yet there is an uncanny sense to this space, as if we have entered a secret porthole, discovered what was supposed to be invisible to outsiders…

The quietness recalls an abandoned filmset. Some unidentified source strikes the repeated sound of a gong, mixing with the steadily lapping waves. We wander this place for nearly an hour. We return to the quiet gloaming, the silver mist rising over the sea. The mainland is there to meet us, its blue shadows of mountain studded with lights. For awhile it seemed so far, but of course it isn’t. We find ourselves in Largs, then on the train back home to Glasgow.

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