Dry land drowning

The seals haul themselves ashore
to pup on the rock flats every year,
and you arrive,
frayed and torn as sea-tossed rope,
cloaked in the stink of the city.
You breathe the air deep as before,
say how good it is to be
somewhere there’s space
while your eyes burn with fever
and your talk of pubs and clubs and chemicals
lights up your face
with homesick and longing.
And you will speak – again –
of poverty and injustice
with eloquence and anger
and only the silence of what remains unsaid
hints at your increasing fear,
while in the evening,
gathered round the burning peat,
rain lashing the windows,
you will entertain with anecdotes and tales
that leave us helpless with laughter.
A talisman, more than ever now,
to beg us not to forget you.
And you will leave as suddenly as you came.
An eager moth yearning for
the city’s cold and glittering flame.
And I will sit and ponder how lonely you have grown,
how brittle,
and the seal pups wait on a tide
to sweep them back to the sea.
© Steve Pottinger


(from Kissing It All)
I am sleeping in the van
on a remote headland in Orkney.
The headland is at the end of a farm-track
which winds its way here from where
the single-track road ends.
The single-track road has, in turn,
led on from another single-track road,
and at the other end of that single-track road
is the middle of nowhere.
I sit in the van, which rocks gently
from the constant buffeting of the wind
sweeping in from the great northern seas.
I gaze out at the impossible beauty
of a midsummer sunset,
at a panorama of sea,
other islands, islets,
the immensity of an ever-changing sky.
All I can hear
is the call of seabirds,
the breaking of waves on the rocks below.
From here, the city I live in seems
some diseased imagining,
born of some other nightmare world.
Half a mile away there is a house.
One day I stop to talk with the woman
who lives there with her dogs.
She is elderly and South African.
But how did you get here? I ask,
gesturing at the farm-track,
the twisting single-track roads,
the half a planet that stretches back
beyond them to her homeland.
Oh, she says, as if it explains everything,
I came via Barnsley.
© Steve Pottinger