feasgar ciùin foghair
’s thu air do shlighe dhan bhaile,
uisge rèidh a’ bhàigh na teine
fo ghathan fada na grèine,
bàtaichean nan iasgair
air acair faisg air a’ chladach,
’s thall aig beul a’ bhàigh
bàta beag coimheach,
bàta bochd meirgeach,
bàta gun bratach, gun ainm,
gun ach aon fhaoileag na laighe oirre
a’ cumail faire san oidhche,
mànran ’s cànran
anns an taigh-òsta,
beachdan ’s fathannan
mun a’ bhàta ’s a sgioba –
coigrich, a bhios annta,
sgapte a-nis air feadh a’ bhaile,
luchd-imrich, no fògarraich,
mèirlich, no cùiltearan,
’s sin thu, a’ coimhead air an sgàthan,
a’ coimhead air d’ aodann fhèin
mar nach eil fios agad cò thu
no cò às a thàinig thu,
iargaltas na tìre air do chùlaibh,
aodann na h-aibheis air do bheulaibh,
sàl nad fhuil, ùir nad chnàmhan,
an làr a’ tulgadh fo do chasan.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The Gaelic editor in 2019 was Niall O’Gallagher.
Mystery – particularly about the identity of a poem’s subject – is a consistently intruiging quality in Deborah Moffatt’s work. She favours ‘you’ over ‘I’ in ‘Air Acair’, drawing her readers into the perspective of the distrusted outsider. The poet paints a postcard picture of tied-up boats on an autumn evening, whose serenity is disrupted not by the presence of an unknown, apparently abandoned vessel but by the suspicion of the local people about its human cargo. If the presence of the boats implies that all life involves journeying, this poem seems to suggest that some journeys are more socially acceptable than others and that the past cannot easily be cast aside. The final image of the subject with ‘salt water in your blood, earth in your bones / and the floor rocking under your feet’ imagines her still at sea, a powerful ending to a poem whose deft, quiet quatrains belie the turmoil they describe.
I was considering the word ‘acarsaid’ (anchorage), after reading a sermon by Father John MacMillan, in which he talks about Calum Cille and his desire to create a refuge in Iona. The sermon speaks of ‘an cala sàbhailte sòlasach, acarsaid bhuan na beatha shìorraidh’ (the safe harbour, the enduring anchorage of the life eternal). Various images came to mind – of the boats I often see sheltering in St. Andrews Bay during stormy weather, of sailors, fishermen, migrants, refugees, of anchors that hold, or fail to do so, of imagined anchors that tie, or bind, for better or worse. A narrative evolved, and with it, my poem ‘Air Acair’ (at anchor).