Lochinver. The end of the track.
Black swallows black
and the storm howls like a dog.
At the quay, in orange fog,
a ship spews out whiskery fish
and you, in Dumfries,
are crackling over the phone
picking at the bones
of my latest lunacy. I nod
but I am really wondering
if this phonebox on its outcrop of scree
can be seen from sea
by that schooner
crewed by dead sailors,
or by aliens circling,
hungry for pineal gland.
Yes I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,
and the rain sounds like drums
in this bubble of yellow light,
emptiness everywhere like the tide.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2009. 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 2009 was Andrew Greig.
I could have selected several favourites from this striking collection, a sort of public transport Highland road movie, where mostly it is raining and the narrator not in good shape. In these poems there’s an unmediated directness and brevity – the sort we identify in postcards, without the clichés – that is the opposite of emotion recollected in tranquility, and yet on closer inspection they are quietly crafted. In the course of a year-long shadowing of Norman MacCaig I have spent time in Assynt, including memorable nights in Lochinver, so I have gone for the postcard with that title. I believe I know that phone box (mobile phone reception being patchy in those parts).
This poem comes from a collection called Postcards from the Hedge which is meant to portray a somewhat frantic journey round Scotland. Lochinver was one of the stopping points. I’ve written several poems about Lochinver, one about the hotel toilet and one about the harbour so I suppose the phone box was the next target. Lochinver has always seemed to me the end of the road, literally. To travel north from there you either go overland, or back south to take another route. This portrayal of Lochinver was very much informed by my state of mind at the time, and by the fact I was having an argument via the phone with my wife about some financial irregularity or other – possibly she’d dug up the box of bank statements I’d buried in the garden. I’m pretty sure the phone box in Lochinver is on an outcrop of scree. It certainly is in my recollection of that night, though a certain amount of drink had been taken. Then, surrounded by the sky and the sea and darkness, it seemed like the phone box with it’s flickering yellow light was like an annex to another world.