MacKerral, that was one hard winter.
Your father died on the moor road,
his bag of meal buried under snows.
Death relieved him of his load.
Raking wilks with freezing fingers,
your little sisters crawled the shore,
scourged by gusting showers
until their knees were raw and sore.
Your few black cattle, thin and famished,
lay and died at the far end
of the draughty common dwelling.
There was little else you owned.
In the factor’s oaken-panelled room
that the shafting sunlight glossed
you looked for your reflection:
you had become a ghost.
That month a stranger entered
the green cleft of the glen.
You watched him coming, from a hill,
and stabbed the earth again.
When he returned he brought the sheep.
At the house where you were born
you closed a door behind you.
Two hundred years had gone.
There was no end to the known land.
You looked, and there were names
on every shape around you.
The language had its homes.
Words had their lives in rivers;
they coursed them to the sea.
Words were great birds on mountains,
crying down on history.
Words were stones that waited
in the silence of the fields
for the voices of the people
whose tenures there had failed.
You knew those names, MacKerral;
your father placed them in your mouth
when language had no tragic power
and you ran in your youth.
You ran in the house of the word
and pressed your face upon the glass
and watched the mute processions
of your grave ancestors pass.
Look back on what you cannot alter.
Not a stone of it is yours to turn.
All that you leave with now:
lost words for the unborn.