I posted this when I got back from Hawthornden in the winter of 2017, where I spent a month writing and painting watercolours. And here are two poems by Penny – who was also a fellow, one for Jean Findlay – who plays the bagpipes and is editor of Scotland Street Press – and one for me, celebrating a walk we took up the glen (it is more of a ravine) leading one up to nearby Rosslyn Castle.
The pipes have fainted – all limp neck
and stomach, the air knocked out of them.
You pick them up; they loll.
It does not look promising.
Unfussed, you settle them and start
bestowing mouth-to-mouth although
they’ve never lived. Notwithstanding,
spines bristle and resuscitate.
Launching is the trick: a bid for balance
among chancy toots and goose-chase spurts.
You bloat the bag with your latest lungful,
prompting with a good sharp nudge.
The pipes agree an open span which could mean anything –
in itself glad nor glum, but compatible with both.
The tune’s your call. You’ve got the edge;
we’re asking you to fill in all the blanks.
(‘God is our Guide’)
The river’s cut these rocks out by degrees –
slowly, over centuries. We cannot fathom this.
The path flirts hard with the edge,
tempting fate. We wish it wouldn’t.
It’s disguised with beech leaves
like a wealth of unearthed coins.
The horizon tumbles with loose stones
down the ravine; the water, below, repeats itself.
You sketch. I sit and eat a chilly lunch
overlooking that big nothing, not thinking much.
Round the corner we encounter a couple –
outdoorsy types in defining black, like spies.
He’s urging her onto a sublime ledge,
an empty niche above the nerveless drop.
We could be witnessing a betrothal
or a murder. If one precludes the other.
He squares himself to the terrible view;
she squats, not looking. She’s inches from the brink.
He holds the camera high to get the shot.
I wonder what they’ll find in future
to hold over each other – a lie, perhaps, or
thoughtlessness – and whether that will feel at all like this.
Penny’s book Ship of the Line is published by Eyewear