Sunday 13 November 2011

Neolithic, Iron Age and Clearance-period poems

I read these poems at the ceilidh in Drumbeg last night, and was asked to post them here.

Over recent years I have written stacks of poems and stories inspired by the stone remains of past inhabitants of Assynt. Last night was the grand finale of the Life and Death in Assynt's Past project (see the project diary here), and it seemed appropriate to read last night one from each of the three periods we have been looking at in this project.

Here they are. The first is about a neolithic chambered cairn I am credited with finding, and it's now known as Mandy's Cairn (or Carn a' Mhandy!) - very exciting indeed to have made an archaeological discovery! The second came from a walk to a possible Iron Age round house in Glenleraig with a very old wall, likely to be a cattle enclosure. The third was inspired by a huge fin whale washed up on Raffin beach, and the pre-clearance township ruins on the south side of Loch Druim Suardhalain.

Chambered Cairn (NC 24051450)

A shrine tumbles up from 5000 years or so ago
into this breezy secular present.

Stones offer a threshold
where dead and living crossover

a territory edge to wonder
where understanding might begin.

Trying to trick nature
to slough below the surface
asking if body-mind is divisible from spirit

I climb inside the neolithic cairn
enter a portal
allow cogs to turn.

I will re-emerge from this tomb
a ghost from the future
in an ancient time.

Were the dead known then?
Was then closer to now then?
Do these doors open?

Proof of iron age cheese

A tumbled line of dyke may tell which side is inside:-
    a wall’s steep face shows where livestock stayed;
    even faces mean winter in but summer out.

Mossy stones:-
    cattle mooing,
    grassy breath and hairy hides…


Around the lost

circumambulate the washed-up whale
make a circuit of a Clearance ruin

encircle a mystery
pay out a little awe

recognise a sofa-sized tongue
wonder at its song

reach arms out to an angel tail
to people long ago

before these houses tumbled
when trees grew not inside the walls

these heaved-together stones
like that giant baleen

still speak of home
of lives lived where we cannot go


  1. I particularly liked the fin whale poem, Mandy, which I'm guessing is the one we saw together? Most impressed how you capture the awe. So far the subject has defeated me!

  2. Yes, it's the whale that was washed up at Raffin during one of the early writing retreats at Glencanisp. Glad you like it! A few people on Saturday said it was the one they enjoyed most too.