Hard to know the right madness here—
Skye’s hills have the twisted pine scent
of Montana, the air of Coyote’s
bitter-bright games—but here the road
crosses the bridge where Macleod
said goodbye to his faery wife
and leads to the ruins of Trumpan Church
where Clan Macdonald was burned alive
by Clan Macleod. The crofts crumple
like abandoned ranches, houses and barns
folding in on themselves, stones falling
one by one. Here it was not hard weather
that emptied the fields but the Clearances:
the landlords and everywhere their sheep.
Stacks and hills and emptiness. Stones
rearing to the sky: churches and brochs
bending stone by stone nearer the grasses,
castles full of nettles and sheep, weeds
growing right to the sea, and everywhere,
on church walls, sea rocks, corners
of the castle windows, a strange green fern,
bright with brownish stems, everywhere
springing from the cracks in stone.
I dreamt a dog whose hair was these
ferns, thick, rich, alive. Looking at her
I saw how the stones love this land,
how the rain and wind and tides love stone,
how the grass does, how the woman who once lived
in the fallen croft shaped scones
from flour and sang while her children—
who grew to leave for the New World—
woke to the sure rhythm of her work
and the haunting lilt of a piper’s tune
reeling in the righteous wind.
All this, with my fingers woven
into fronds on her back, moving from the cool
green growth to the warmth that rose
from her skin. And in the pause of flying home,
right at the Rockies’ feet, there she is again:
standing stiff in the wind as my plane
touches down on the runway right by her.
A wolf on the tarmac, the blowing snow
swirling around her feet like fog,
like the cold and deep warmth
of her feral, human breath.
Neile Graham is Canadian by birth, but has lived and worked in Seattle for over 22 years. She holds an MFA from the University of Montana, where she worked with Richard Hugo. Her work has been published in many American, British, and Canadian journals, and she has three full-length collections of poetry, most recently, Blood Memory. and a CD recording, She Says: Poems Selected and New. Her writing projects have been supported by the Canada Council, Artist Trust, and the Seattle, King County, and Washington State arts commissions.