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3 poems by David Wheatley

To a Damselfly

Your wing is a chambered eye,

your glassy wing that prints its

airy view on the freeze-framed

flight paths that you trail flying

by. Cryptic-coloured female,

you come in to land over

the cow-parsley on legs that

cannot walk but only stand.

The sweating, late-July sky’s

a porous edge of havoc;

fanning your stigma markings

wide you relaunch into your

element, a pond of heat

and colour dragged for prey. The

pulse of summer keeps time with

your inaudible hum, and

you are the line all day long

between trees, water and sky,

the world’s loose stitch and its thread.

The Companions of Colmcille

If I never go home it is because

the tides, I have noticed, flow in one direction

only. With Viking anger the North Sea

snapped at my heels on the foreshore as I

marvelled at its circling, patterned collapse,

the golden spiral in my Euclid turning

before my eyes. When the Covenanter

who led me arrived at the city gates

he would not pay the king’s penny

to cross the bridge but stood transfixed

by those swithering waters. The road was closed,

he told me, we would have to go back.

I saw the long-beaked oystercatchers gazing

down from their nests along the flat roofs

and knew this for the place where Devenick,

Ternan and Drostan had passed before me, drawn

ever further north and east. I swore an oath

at the mercat cross to a man who answered

to the Earl of Montrose, and a prayer-book

was placed in my hand. Much later, when

the peace was won, bodies decently buried

were exhumed and despoiled, marking

an end to it all. I attempted to read the psalms

in the vernacular, but did not know

what language that was. If you throw out a hand

in the dark of the chapel a door to the bell-tower

will be there, and a view from above that promised

once, not now, to make everything clear.


A Lecture on the Newton Stone

for Jeremy Noel-Tod

A star collapse, unimaginable

dark energies turned in on themselves:

likewise these misplaced civilisations,

the anti-matter of millennia leaving

only fingerprints on standing stones.

I came when the man digging the ditch called out,

stunned by the protuberance. Now

the huge mossed-over phallus swives the sky,

the point-seam of the ogham snaking up

the left-hand side in a hopeless medley

of proper names: ‘lies here… son of the priest

of… offspring…’ Eagle, dolphin, and wolf

are written first on the stone of the skin,

are ranks made manifest, the comb and mirror

that other natural order matriarchy.

Our concern though is the central script,

a tremor felt in someone else’s blood,

the names mysterious and a swastika

prominently inserted. It would seem

that Pictish was a sort of Bolshevism

of the tongue, capable of anything.

Forswear the Aryan hypothesis,

nor are you looking at Phoenician. Still,

nothing quite like it had been found before.

The Irish saint addressed the natives through

an interpreter, and this proves nothing:

the circles on the symbol stone do not

spin only to grind out theories on

the Christian god: they are their own thing

and I mine, crossing the garage forecourt

under the red moon to the Crichie stones

to keep my fierce appointment with the new

and old gods, be they present or no.

What they want, the Phoenician-Aryan crew,

translating these stray characters as

‘the Briton raised’, is sunshine in fog:

the Picts impossible kindred, cancelling

all others, but anything they might say lost;

the florid hieroglyphs of imposture

for founding myth. Erasure is real, it is

a road sign painted over, the ground beneath

our feet violently unacquired.

My pamphlet printed by the stationer

enjoys wide circulation in Inverurie:

I have pressed a copy into the minister’s

liver-spotted hand, the dust of decades

laid lightly grey against black on his collar.

There is no question of neglect, however

long the stones might hide in earth; your

pretending none of this exists is also

a part of the weather as we gaze across

Pitfichie. I am not bribed by the languor

of incompletion: the stones are speaking now,

the Neolithic vista is the trance

of wandering the back fields and the tang

of all our histories legible on

our double tongues. There remains the permanent

monolith of a world denied: the crystals

in the bloodstream slowed to static; error

triumphant as a dying star still fancied

visible, scarred into granite in our

only language, never spoken here.


G. F. Browne, On Some Antiquities in the Neighbourhood of Dunecht House, Aberdeenshire (1921), 110-124.

W. F. Skene, ‘Notes on the Ogham Inscription of the Newton Stone’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1865), 289-298.

Gillechriosd Moraidh Mac a’ Ghreidhir, ‘Irish Lessons for Scottish Nationalists’, Modern Scot (April 1931).

Cf. George Moore, Ancient Pillar Stones of Scotland (1865).

Alexander Thomson, ‘Notice of the various attempts which have been made to read and interpret the inscription on the Newton Stone’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1865, V).

Francis Diack, The Inscriptions of Pictland (1944).


David Wheatley’s most recent book is *The Wandering Mountains* (Hercules Editions). He lives in rural Aberdeenshire.


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