The Purse of the Fair Isle Mermaid
It’s hard to base a piratical take
on timetables or radar trails.
Solans settled in the ferry’s wake
don’t lend themselves to roaring tales
of buckle or swash. Seals nosing the air,
doing their best dog impressions,
tend not to climb rigging or care
about the deathbed confessions
of rum-pickled privateers where X
always marks the spot. But when the light
cuts the fog and catches the Rivvicks,
then comes into focus on the Bight
of Haven, it spreads on the sea’s screen
a film. Shipwrecks feature a lot –
bodies split or reprieved on this green
shred of land – and in a sub-plot of a sub-plot
a tiny shark slips from its sack
and signs the contract of its own franchise.
The redundant sack, a perfect black
submarine, is left to itself in the rise
and the swell, until it finds this beach
and settles in the cupped space made
by four stones. Its sequel? The Reaching
Hand and The Purse of the Fair Isle Mermaid.
Walking the road in her own story.
Hair dyed dark red lipstick
carelessly applied. Doors open into
doors, and at Shirva they’re starting to wonder.
The phone in the phonebox rings.
In a hotel room, the phone on the table rings.
A cigarette curled into a glass ashtray.
This lamp and laughter track is particularly sad.
It was a Polish trawler that came pixelated
to the pier last night. We took their ropes
and gave them water. One of them was angry
about something. A cut in the side, up under the ribs.
In her story the old woman says ‘Fuck’,
which gives us all a shock. In the shetl
she heard these stories. The doorhandle turns.
Are you the first to see this graffiti
as if it was written just for you?
Strong to the finich
South lighthouse, Fair Isle, 11 August 2016
So after a while the next wave’ll make it.
Hestigeo’ll take the hit this time.
Won’t be the first, or the last.
What doesn’t break you
makes you stronger.
The wipers clear the rain,
just about, and we
take a photo of the football pitch.
A signal finds the wireless.
A scrap of Woman’s Hour.
The wave hits. The island
drives it up,
before it arcs to ground
like Popeye’s squeezed spinach.
These poems were written after a trip to Fair Isle in summer 2016. I've lived in Shetland most of my life but hadn't appreciated how different Fair Isle would feel to the places I'm used to. It's like a world in itself, but not in a disconnected or isolationist kind of way. I had the idea of using ideas from popular culture and films - Popeye, David Lynch, Jaws - and seeing what happened if they were transported to this little island. The combinations seemed to come out OK, I think, and hopefully the poems catch something of the outward-looking, engaged-with-the-world mindset that I caught a small glimpse of during those few days last year. Fair Isle is really a unique, special place and I'm grateful that spending time there let me catch some new ideas.