This is where the drowned climb to land.
For a single night when a boat goes down
soaked footprints line its cracked path
as inside they stand open mouthed at a fire,
drying out their lungs, that hang in their chests
like sacks of black wine. Some will have stripped
down to their washed skin, and wonder
whether they are now more moon than earth –
so pale. Some worry about the passage,
others still think about the deep. All share
a terrible thirst, wringing their hands
until the seawater floods across the floor.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2014. 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 editor in 2014 was Roderick Watson.
I spent a lot of my childhood on the island of Eriskay as it was the island my grandmother lived on. Its population was no more than 120 or so. The island, specifically around its coast, has many empty dilapidated houses, their doors slumped open, their windows, dark at night and dark in the daytime. Ripe for the otherworldly – and yet I wanted the poem to be soft, or tender, if possible. The ruined house, themselves, symbolic of such things as depopulation, disappearance of unique life or customs (especially when seeing the island’s old ‘black houses’), or, simply, loss – I wanted the inhabitants to carry some of this charge. If it was to be a poem featuring the dead, I wanted the dead to be at their most human: careful, thoughtful, unsure.