First drafts for Shetland Notebooks
Newborn eyeball (walking down from Fitful Head)
far-away half face
Crab claw and cairns
Rabbit leg bony and still;
Haloes of thrift
bones of feathers
feathers of bones
You come to meet me
pressing palm against rock, old hand of ages
Calloused, warm, dry.
Old family voices your slow song,
the deep rumble a vibration I have not senses to perceive;
The elements arrange you
Your heart is thunder
Your vessels air.
As if hung by some celestial cord the birds open themselves to the air, and trust.
Through a bird’s eye a glimpse of beyond stars
A place where you can feel time growing.
the skin of time marks you
pale flowers wing-bright and folded
Quiet as bird soar,
Hind hair or horn blown,
path crossed near sea to home of earth.
Burrow like an animal.
Stone nest curved as wing breast,
a line like bird call,
tapered voice, sharp call of hill green cloud
displayed as wing across all the sky,
From island to island
I hold a tern feather in my hand, the part which has come out of her body,
Grown by the sun, the fish, and her womb.
The colour of rock caught to flight
sky flashes silver as fish scales
-tirricks refract the air, turn it in their wings, make a sound shell of it, a musical spirit fish of sky.
Fish swim in air.
cots in the earth
little grassy cribs
The Mother belly rests
Feet pray to Heavens
Serpent bound rocking like seals, praying sea-paws skywards
In my pocket there are white hairs shed by deer, found in a wood, long ago in England; and feathers from the birds of Shetland.
I sit beside a broad beach sweeping white, open. Roman-nosed seals watch children play. Arctic terns dive and squeal.
Walking here I passed a stable. A golden horse, of broad front and blonde mane, peered at me from the gloom. His coat reminded me of the light dancing in a stream, river trout reflecting; of trips as a child to beaches where I’d seek out ponies and donkeys, burrow into their aura, follow them, learn their stories, leave my family to be with them. A nomad child then, maimed, my compass animal scent.
A child painting in a pale blue boat.
Dream of ploughing with my heart.
Dream of my body, of peeling back my skin to find my flesh is made of rubies.
Dream of a woman with a boat coming out of her mouth, full of people.
Song of bird
The skin of the sea your face
The skin of the sea made veins
birds gather ribs from clouds, dress them in feather
Stain your cheeks with breath of bills
Red of passage, daylight drunk
Folding in your hand as earth comes to hold her
Neck soft, body pliant
– no taut sky dancing now.
Breastbone aloft like a sail, cold open wings, bodies wash in around your feet.
I sit beside you tern
your still heart resting against a rock on the beach where this morning you fished
Acrobatting the mountain you made of air, the sea you swam in
now deep red tiny feet forever curled
Your mate is silent, chicks unfed.
I weep for your beauty, your courage, globe swerver, body artist.
I watch your fellows diving still, cavorting in the air, hovering cruciform, then twisting arrows dive.
Tiny deep red bill a miracle
your white tail feathers forked, still.
You are like the tips of petals, the constellations of stars
Your black-tipped cap night dusky ruffled in death
Carmine sharp bill cut like a lacey lance
a dagger closed,
the names of places the animals I’ve loved
Seal song lowing, a deep green banshee
swinging, rocking, embodied song sea chunk
belly song balancing soft flesh on rock, the tip holds you
stacks of rock layers of prayer
Glistening breath of water, the sound of water breathing, Island lungs, the creatures shine in completeness, their hearts quiet.
Thread of seals in brightness along the island’s rocky frills.
Flotilla of duck divers black curving water; land
Orange yellow meadows
Orchid pulsing purple
swallow scimitar blade cuts air
St. Ninian’s Isle 3.7.17
Thick arm of dark cloud twisting overhead, N to S. Three bonxie fight over gannet entrails, countless pink and yellow strings sand peppered.
Fat-necked bird you sleep now, your salt-blasted eyes forever grey, tide-hued.
Wing of fulmar forlorn, alone beside a cliff.
Sea anemone shell fragments the colours of a warm sea: violet, jade.
At St. Ninian’s Isle the Black Madonna bestowed her body – blood gone black to rock now starry with birds; a great skua lands here with crab fished from the deep; the sea dark with weed, the horse-sleeping-nymph her hair waves from the shallows; her hand print a continent of palm pressing on ancient sand; the mud between her fingers these slanting sleeping stone children.
So now the rocks speak with foam and through the mesh of weed; head-dress of feathers, constellated with birds.
Rocking seal, you gaze at me, round unblinking eyes. Fat creamy bulk in breasty form, the stony pillar supports you, you appear to rock and the waves come. You close your eyes, yawn, keep your balance on the rocky anvil where your life is beaten out. Your head turns as you shift your weight. I see a large red wound on your far side, a crescent bite, a pink moon wound. I imagine the Orca biting your neck, throwing your great form in the air. The afternoon is sadder now. I keep watching you through the binoculars, you keep on looking towards me. Then your eyes close, I see your eyelids dull, opaque. The tide rises. Finally a big wave comes, lifts you off the rock. You are submerged, washed out of sight. I wait. I do not see you again.
On a walk. Cow with newborn away on her own. Red birth-cord trailing, tiny soft womb-white feet. Creamy soled calf you hesitate as you cross the track, tarmac hard.
Legs still womb-curled from another world. Mother large-framed and attentive, her face near her babe, breathing the same breath.
Tern with silver fish bright as gannet wing. On the beach the scent of flowers. I paddle. I wear three scarves; winter for an hour this July day on Shetland. Still the terns dive, dunlin decorate tide-line. Newly mown fields make a palette of greens; the intense light floods my eyes, washes them.
PREFACE, first draft
I first travelled to Iona aged 18, to take photographs for my A levels. I remember the Abbey vividly, and the ferry crossing. And I remember walking past a tall, dark monk who could have stepped straight from an El Greco painting. He looked right through me; a spell was created.
I returned in my early thirties with my young son; I was broken-hearted then. I spread myself upon the heather near the Hill of the Angels, high up and far away. I felt a sort of bliss, supported by the scratchy and pliant purple, violet and orange-hued pillows. Wild places inspire me. Something in me responds to the sense of them being completely themselves, raw and pure. It restores my heart.
Early in 2015 I applied for a residency at Iona Hostel, staying in the shepherd’s bothy at the North End, or Traigh An T-Suidhe, near Lagandorain. Lagandorain means ‘hollow of the otter’. One day in the late afternoon dusk, I was standing still as a tree when I saw a see-saw creature scything down the beach just feet away from me. In my wrapped stillness I was unobserved – or ignored – and, breathless with delight, I watched the otter merge with the sea and swim away through towering swell. Next morning I was on the beach at dawn hoping to encounter the magic again; I found little round tracks at the shore line marking the spot where the otter had landed from her sea-flight, tipped gently from a wave…
The owner of the croft, John Maclean, wrote these words about my visit there:
Kate is a listener. She listens to her psyche and dreams and has an altogether more ancient response to the land. Her work explores place through archetype, symbol, the animal world and the older religions. This is home territory for Kate -she is quite comfortable in the company of the ‘Sheela’s (the Sheela na gigs).
Kate’s work isn’t easy, in the sense that it neither makes assertions nor statements. It seems to be deliberately un-emphatic. The effect is to unsettle, to make us alert and create a pause.
Whenever I stay on Iona I work long days. Spread around me as I sleep are my drawings and notebooks. I wake and review, pick up pen, ink, roller, paint, and continue my responses on the pages taken from The Bhagavad Gita which I have prepared with gesso.
And yet there is only
One great thing
To see in huts and on journeys
The day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.
Inuit poem, found in Ice Bears and Kotick, by Peter Webb