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.