Pan-Ross

Robert Davidson has lived in Ross-shire since 1980. He has twice won the Mountaineering Council of Scotland Writing Competition and been published in Great Outdoors Magazine and the Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal but he is best known as a poet. His published collections are; 'The Bird & The Monkey', 'Total Immersion', 'After The Watergaw' (editor). His collection of song lyrics 'Centring On A Woman's Voice' was put to music by several composers and performed as part of the Highland Festival. Sandstone Press have published two pamphlet collections 'Butterfly On A Chestnut Leaf' and 'Fractured Beatitudes'. His verse sequence 'Columba' was published entire by Poetry Scotland and performed at the Cromarty Book Festival.

Highland Culture

Inverasdale

Watching the NATO exercise on Loch Ewe,
our minds all on the moment, on those gray boats
moving across the water like toys

I suddenly remember a story she told,
how she and her brother rowed out
to the American fleet, anchored just here.

The sailors would throw down gum, throw down
cigarettes to catch. "How'ya, kid?" they'd ask.
"Swell!" she'd call back, in her West Coast brogue.

The Luftwaffe hit them at night. Churchill knew,
or so the story goes. The small boats went out.
In every home; cold water, blankets, burn victims.

Through my binoculars I watch their screws
purling the water as two helicopters rise,
lift their tails like bustles and rush for Poolewe.

I glass the decks, observe twin banks of missiles,
gun turrets, tiny sailors moving at the double,
fluttering pennants of red and black.

Then to look at the great breach in the mountains
behind Poolewe and remember
how we set off from Corrie Hallie for Sheneval,
the wonder we felt when we arrived.

And the two rivers we crossed
before climbing to the plateau
where all the rocks were deep red
and distant lochs shone like amethysts.

How carefully we made our way down
to the stone causeway beside Carnmore,
eventually emerging through the breach
tired and sore, but changed. Somehow kinder.

What we felt then was a quiet ecstasy.
We could hardly believe it was really done
that had been planned so long.
We made light of it.

That was the night we visited her brother's home.
Well settled in his chair, a shepherd so tough,
so hill-burnished, so sinuous in old age,
he might have been carved out of bog wood.

That was the night we spoke of secret places
in the hills, of something higher than summits,
of corners turned unexpectedly, tiny lochs
the mind kept on finding, kept on wading into.

That was the night we took a dram and song
spilled out of her as she might have stepped
out of uniform. When it was time to leave
the leaving took as long as the staying.

And the night was light as day
between her brother's home and her own,
the road a sure and certain footing
between field and moor, that led on

and on, always the same, changing only
those who travelled it. The three of us linked
arm in arm, singing like there was no tomorrow.
Frightening the sheep. Calling on the day.

Who is to say the last translation
we can be sure of is the final one?
You never thought so.

You, who kept on returning.

We never believed in absence
only different kinds of presence.
I think of you now as a filling sail,
as a Scottish song,
as a strong and determined walker
forever homing on Inverasdale.

For Isabel Urquhart, nurse.

The Water Carriers (for Magnus Chisholm)


We took the water your father asked of me
from below the Allt Mullardoch's only bridge
when the hills were dusted with snow,
the sky blue as a Wedgewood vase and the loch still
as a christening font. Every rock, every plant,
every insect, it seemed, endorsed the silent,
irresistible hymn of continuance.

There is something classical about the carrying of water. Something pre-Christian and fundamental had me thinking
of hunter gatherers at last settling, the birth of the City,
the mastery of bronze and the potter's wheel. The plastic bottle filling in my hand, I knew, had a noble ancestry of tin buckets, rain barrels, improvised diesel cans and old Jubilee mugs,
all following the Grecian urn.

Since nothing of what we are can be new again
there is something of the classical in all we do.
Look into the water, Magnus; see the economics of slavery,
stoicism elevated as a virtue, tyranny legitimised,
the stages of paralysis named one by one
while, before the walls of Troy,
armies wade through each other as they might the sea.

Clydebank. Dresden. Coventry. Berlin.
Grandfather Alasdair and Grandfather Hans,
knowing all there is to know of loss, discarded
ritualised hate and the tradition of violence.
When the river's water closed around my wrist
it felt like their hands on mine, and behind theirs
the colder hands of the needlessly killed.
This morning, on the occasion of your birth,
your father called me up to say
that you are strong and blessed with health,
and how, birth being no clean or easy matter,
he had carried the Allt Mullardoch water
on fresh, white linen to his boy's dear head.
Guided by God knows what, he washed the blood away.

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