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The Birlinn of Clanranald: Alan Riach at Loch Eynort

Stretch, bend, and now, pull all the way back,
on the long-bladed pines, the scalpels propel
across currents of sea –
On each side of the ship, the oars lift and dip,
their turn is in rhythm, they mash up the waves –

Stretch, bend, and now, pull all the way back
on the smooth-handled oars –
Their red backs will curve to your will –
And now pass the headland
with sweat running down you,
and sail lifting up in the air far above,
bound away, bound to go, bound to leave,
leaving Uist –
And shelldrakes and solans are left far behind,
yet nothing allows us to grieve.
We stay firm and sure with what we believe.

The Voyage

Hoist sail at dawn on the day of Saint Bride,
bearing out from the mouth of Loch Eynort, South Uist.

The storm rising

Furnace-gold, hot-yellow, yolk-yellow, brass-brazen sun, burning
through fish-nets of clouds, trellises meshed, burning them open,
emerges, and the clouds burn back, close in once again,
cover all things, changing, sky becomes ash, blackening, and a blue

splash there, and then, thickening, bulging, effulging,
turning sick, pale, brown, beige, tawny, impending, bellying
down, and the fretwork rematches itself, closes in, hue
thick as tartan, dark weaves, anger flashes, and there high in the west,
a broken shaft, a dog-tooth of rainbow, colour stripes swelling,
a fang of sharp colour, clouds moving faster to cover it over, and the winds
pick up speed, toss the clouds as if showers of boulders,
grey fragments of stone, chips of earth, avalanching in sky.

Sea opens its mouth, is all mouth, all agape,
widening, opening, sharpened the teeth, all
crocodile-strong, hippopotamus tusks, and gripping and turning,
as if wrestling was fun, forcing over each one –
Sky shrinks and clenches long ribs on its brow –
It has turned to ferocity now –
The fight to the death has begun.



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