A lean predatory
thing of beauty
with a keen nose for war.
In the mud of Roskilde harbour
iron spirals stud her dragons head
seven rows of rivets
mark vanished planks
where the wood was hewn thin
oars looped to rowlocks.
Shipwrights trimmed every excess from the rib frames
perfectly mated anger and beauty.
A shallow draft meant she could
run up the skinniest inlet
flat with the waterline.
Before shrill jeremiads have their say
look in awe at this perfect art.
2. St Edmund
In the eastern parishes
legend outweighs fact;
has spawned a martyrs cult.
Only the manner of his death is disputed.
Was he beheaded
dumped to corrupt dishonourably
or blood-eagled for Odin,
ribs cut from his back,
lungs removed and draped over his shoulders?
On the naves north wall
depict his killing
the heavy-headed figures of
transept carvings and screen panels
smell of martyrdom. They promise the dead
shall speak. But I see
a Saxon king. A place of execution.
The xenophobic murder.
Our island shaped like a
rusty axe-head pointing east out to sea
louder than gale-bowed hawthorn
or the song of seals. Waves make liturgy
on the washed sand,
feathery powder snow
over my footprints. I stare out --
sea crisps vividly blue. The wrecks
rotting timbers are
sandfull to the gunwhales.
Like a penitent sea-animal.
I came here
as a child to impress our Father
and like a child I doodle gargoyles
and snigger. When the causeway
floods, this is a frontier closed
among the insouciant chatter of reeds
the talk with angels
I knelt on the sand
hungry for miracles.
Cloud. Seamless tunic over
the hills of Mull
it seems for all eternity.
Above rock eyries and
otter printed shore
a ringed Celtic cross
stood in the empty socket stone
funerary art to saints
who came in currachs
their graveslabs carved with
serpent and boss.
At the landing places voices
yelled over the sound
and I can understand how
the aesthetic hardness
but would I have the faith
to wade up to my armpits in seawater,
offer a benediction?
Boomerang-shaped rock a child
tossed in the sea and forgot
across the sound
fit only for
aesthetes, hard station island
where saints found a cold heaven.
As dusk sculpts her, smooth pebble you could
skim to the mull of another country
kelp describes a shore mosaic
for birds to pick over.
And do only
I hear famine in the swells plainchant
watching her in
winters ineluctable blue or vestments
after an Easter snowfall
singing high mass for the waves
where no parishioners shall come?
Dont look for big vistas in
drumlin country, for such earths the colour of
a peat brick that wont burn
impressing its geography on the mind
like turf mounds, abandoned homes and
obstinately cloud-cowled hills.
When fogs drift over the peat
the fattest eels birth
in expanses of bog
dank as a leechs foot.
Dawn is murky as poteen
or can cut, hoarfrost-sharp
like ogham script on standing stones.
It tastes of the sea
a handspan over the Rosses
but far enough to be infinity
where sun bloodies the foreland
and the isles
a holy pilgrimage away
grow tar-black as upended currachs
sinking out of vision
and I feel at home.
Robert James Berry
If you've any comments on
these poems, Robert James Berry would be pleased to hear from you.