Sunday, 1 January 2012

(54) Sora’s Epilogue

The dry tone and rich supple vigorous style keep me immersed in reading the Oku-no-hosomichi, sometimes arising and clapping or lying down, stirred to the core. Once had my raincoat on, eager to go on a like journey, and then again content to sit imagining those rare sights. What a hoard of feelings, Kojin jewels, has his brush depicted! Such a journey! Such a man! Pity only that he turns wearier and more and more white comes tingeing his brows.

...............written by Soryu
.................(early summer
...................seventh year of the Genroku).

photograph: Ken Cockburn, 2010

our Epilogue

And so, many months on from the ending, we append our Epilogue, beginning with the last journey

photograph: Luke Allan, 2011

Back when we were planning the route, pairing off the stations one-by-one, Ken said that the last view should be mine, of Lindisfarne, seen from the train south at the end of the last day. So it came to pass.

tea-moon, Alec Finlay, 2011

Thereabouts Luke and I exchanged gifts on the train, and sipped the final tea, a thermos of Keemun Hao Ya.

photograph: Luke Allan, 2011

he gives me marmalade
I give him whisky
we’re both happy

Enough for a final libation.


‘After an era of drawing maps of the United States my companion took to drawing maps of the world, supporting them by mermaids and making them fly by north-westerly and north-easterly angels, and he wrote original couplets and hid them in hollow trees and under stones. As Shelley made paper boats in the Bay of Naples he made maps and hid them—his pet hobby for a number of days.
One verse asked Atlas if he did not find the world heavier since the Treaty of Versailles.
“I hope you made a copy of it before hiding it," said I.
"Oh, no; stray leaves of poetry, rewards for seekers," said he. Celebrated mountaineers have been putting copper boxes with their signatures on the tops of the mountains this year; Vachel has been leaving original poems in the valleys.

From To The World’s End: XVIII. Making Maps of the World

Reluctant to relinquish the enterprise entirely, I sent a few final labels out into the world, to some of the topographies we hadn’t reached. I’ve become accustomed to the experience of others taking the poems on to places I can’t access, so much so that it has almost become an intrinsic, even natural, aspect of the process by which this artwork was made.

(I) Sado, St Kilda

When I heard Kathleen Jamie was off to St Kilda there was the chance to sew those islands together with Basho’s Sado. I sent KJ a wee parcel of poem-labels and she replied:

‘Ah, but Basho has been to St Kilda. I took his Works there on my last visit three years ago, enamoured of the idea that he was taking the North gait in 1685, and Martin Martin was sailing the Isles in 1695. Brothers in wandering. There was a snowy owl on St Kilda then, white of course, it favoured a particular rocky overhang, and would stand there, as I thought, like a priest at the door of a shrine. One label will be cast adrift in the manner of the old St Kilda mail-boats.

This time I'm taking 'The Selected Poems of Li Po'.

And I'm going to buy a camera on Monday, because I don't possess one.







.................... kilDa

wings beat the winds bear the wings

St Kilda / Sado, poems AF; photographs Kathleen Jamie, 2011

(II) Shetland

To Jen, in Shetland. (A link to her road north poem for Tingwall appears in the Intimations, below).

Hello Alec

I got your postcard and label, ta. I have got a lovely raised beach behind my house; I'll go out very soon, soon as the wind dies down a bit; it's been wild. Today or the next I'd think.

fucoid wrack grips the stone
giving wind and wave

grasp to drift and drop it
at the high water mark

poem, AF; photographs Jen Hadfield, 2011

(III) Orkney

Next to Peebo in Orcadia, more beach poems, all of which were inspired by the pioneer ecologist Frank Fraser Darling.

clean sand is beautiful
but being littoral
birds want mud

knotted wrack
quieting, darkening
the tidal wood

poems, AF; photographs Alistair Peebles, 2011

(IV) On Kirsty

Off the shore, Pat & Andy Law sailed the Kirsty, with a stowaway woven poem

'this won't happen without you'
woven poem, AF; photograph Pat law, 2011

(V) Glasgow

To Amy, in Glasgow, a Kasane label, her name 'little pink', sewn in little green

Kasane woven poem, Alec Finlay; sewing and photograph, Amy Todman, 2011

(VI) Assynt

And finally the far north-west, which we regretted not reaching. This photograph, taken by Issie MacPhail near Clashmor, also inspired by Fraser Darling, and in proximity to his isle Tanara Mor.

without spiky
marram grass

there would be no
rich machair

poem, AF; photograph, Isobel MacPhail


Chonzie's change of circumstances

‘eager to go on a like journey, and then again content to sit imagining those rare sights’

..........– Sora

'shady hosomichi'
Alec Finlay, 2011

Last June I moved across the city, north to south, from a hill view to Hill View. I left behind a second-floor vista that stretched from the Easter Road stadium across Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags and Calton Hill all the way round to the castle. Seagulls provided the soundtrack – a nesting pair colonised the roof of the single-storey building opposite, keeping shoatie from the lamposts. At Hill View, ground floor with a small, hedged front garden, if you stood in the front-room bay and peered right you could just glimpse Blackford Hill. I’d been with Lorna for nearly three years, and this was us, and Holly, her nine year-old, moving in together.

The flit was hard work. I’d spent five and a half years in the old flat, initially a bolthole after I separated from Tamsin. I’d gone through a divorce there, found and lost new relationships, and watched my kids work their way through school, making the shift from primary to secondary, from secondary to college. Suitcase in hand, I’d locked its dark green door when I left for Bratislava or Fraserburgh, unlocked it again when I returned from Kirkwall or Berlin.

Even if the flit became woven in to the narrative of The Road North, a re-enactment of Basho leaving behind his hut in Edo, and even if I did feel it was high time to move on, packing boxes and then lugging them down the tenement’s worn stone stairs felt like the loss of a slowly garnered order, more precarious than I had realised.

Hill View’s front-room became study and spare bedroom. We had a sitting/dining room that led out to a wee back garden, and to a narrow unheated kitchen; then there was our room, and Holly’s room. Lorna moved in first, unpacked, made an initial order, which my arrival unbalanced and overloaded.

After that, the first road trip with Eck came as something of a relief. The simplicity of living out of a suitcase, of studying a library of a dozen books and maps, of going for walks. Ever generous, the days unfolded their delights – river-swimming, hill-walking, poeming outdoors – Basho and Sora prompting us all the while from the wings, encouraging us to speak and act beyond what we might have done alone, nudging us towards ginko, 'walking to write poems'.

I extended the summer travels with a solo trip to Stornoway, and a week in Krakow with Lorna and members of Zielony Balonik, a Polish book group based in Edinburgh, so it wasn’t until November that I spent much time at Hill View. By that time Lorna, who too had had her own place before the flit, was used to having it to herself, and we found that the house was smaller and colder than we had imagined back in spring. A year, I thought, I have to give this at least a year. Snow fell early and, unusually, stayed. The summer journeys seemed to disappear over the horizon, especially after the last blog (and I kept putting it off) was written.

We had a difficult week when Judith, my sister, who lives in Killin, came to stay. She was beginning a course of chemotherapy at the Western General, for a brain tumour diagnosed in those early days on the road. The street is a bus-route, so the snow-ploughs had cleared it, pushing snow against the parked cars, where it refroze; extricating the car from compacted snow was a real struggle. One day it became a community effort, neighbours and the bus-stop queue all mucking in. But somehow, slowly, we made it there and made it back, one day after another, and at the end of the week I drove her back to Killin, on a day when the roads were clear.

My daughter Isobel lives with her mother on the north side of town. Coming to the hill view was an easy bus trip, or a walk from school. She’d been used to coming with me to visit Lorna in her old flat not far from Hill View, so the journey was familiar to her. But it was a long bus trip plus a walk, and I missed her dropping by as and when, for lunch before Friday afternoon drama, or after Saturday morning hockey. I missed just sitting companionably with her, playing gin rummy or watching Neighbours.

I still had that notional year in my head, but day-to-day the difficulties mounted. We wanted different things, needed to live our lives in different ways. Should I stay or should I go? asked The Clash, and as neither of us could say, stay, come February I was ringing the letting agencies. The month between putting down a deposit and flitting was an odd interlude, theory without practice. April came, and it was time to take the books down from the shelves, box and pack them in the hire-van. Angus helped me shift them across town, south to north, and ground floor to ground floor made things easier. We even got lucky with the roadworks – the No Parking notices were up but the works hadn’t begun, so we were able to park by the stair door.

That first evening as darkness fell I sat among the boxes, wondering if I’d done the right thing. The windows framed a back-green enclosed by an uncultivated slope. Angus and his kids came round after swimming, Isobel visited the next morning, Lorna and Holly on Sunday. I enjoyed hosting them, and soon it started to build its own history, develop its own style, reveal its character. The Garden Flat. Beyond the nearby supermarket I explored the cycle path, the park, the riverside scenic route, discovered the second-hand furniture store, the wifi cafés, the Egyptian frieze, the slug-like vintage Peugot.

Isobel comes for Saturday brunch, Lorna relaxes on the sofa, Eck stays over en route to the far north, Holly likes the rocking chair, I sit out in the back-green with Angus while he smokes. It’s not a warm flat, and I can’t see myself wintering here, but it’s home for now.

The transition mirrors that of Judith, who has been through a difficult separation and move. Last summer, from her own Hillview, she overlooked Loch Tay, while this she sees no further than the finches feeding in her garden. She’s down in the village, in amongst it all, near the shops and the hotel. When Eck and I made our final road-trip last month we ate with her and her kids in her new dining-room. She’s been to stay at the Garden Flat, and we spent a warm afternoon in the nearby Botanics, strolling in the Chinese garden, feeling the waterfall’s coolness, sitting in pleasant shade.

These past days I’ve been recalling this same week a year ago, when we made our first road trip, which feels much closer again. Day by day… Acharn, Aberfeldy, Bruar, Glen Lyon, Schiehallion, Sma’ Glen, Dunira, Dundurn, Dalchonzie, Dunkeld… I’ve strong memories of the Schiehallion climb, but what I’d forgotten until now was the rest of that day – the Croft Moraig stone circle, lunch at the Watermill, a walk uphill to St David’s Well, a swim in the Tay. As I write, a year ago we were breakfasting and packing the car at Margaret and Gonzalo’s house at Dunira, just starting to realise that renga and QR weren’t the way forward, our eyes and our minds opened and tuned by our encounters and by a new practice.

Here the windows overlook a neat back green of shrubs and clothes lines, extended by a wild embankment of nettles, bramble and elder, home to foxes who emerge at twilight, canny adults and playful cubs. During the day the garden’s animated by blackbirds, thrushes, doves and grey squirrels. The seagulls keep their distance.

Edinburgh, June 2011
Eck's Inverianvie

The memories I want to share are here.

pulling my legs
along with my eyes
drawing a straight line

in-between grey-
clitched boulders
and tarry puddles

walk on, walk on
when your boots
get bent

walk on, walk on
to the white noise
of the waterfall

walk on, walk on
with a dream
of the lochan

walk on, walk on
as far as the name-
lost glen

walk on, walk on
kist beneath Carn
an Lochain Dubh

walk on, walk on
sensing skyline
after skyline

walk on, walk on
anticipating every
bend of the river

walk on, walk on
this far, this close
to the water

walk on, walk on
part way up Inverianvie
or part-way down

walk on, walk on
wherever we are now
I can go no further

looking back
down the path
to the sea

letting go the loch
I pour the tea
thinking of dear Tom

still giving illumination
as language flickered
and dimmed

poetry is still beautiful

taking me with it

quiet but still something

ground, river and sea

my body my tree

after that it becomes

simply the world

accepting the mountains
will remain maybe
always too high

reeling in the grip
of fatigue
I nod to the 2 climbers

as they pass
headed out
sullen with exhaustion

been in far?
four days

I’m too shy to ask
what did you see
how bad was the weather?

now I’ve to find
my way out this glen
back by the waterfall

leaving my wishes to
walk on, walk on
over the next rise

walk on, walk on
around that next bend
to Loch a Mhadaidh Mor

descent from Inverianvie

there will always be
some distances
I can only imagine

so I follow the path
of what’s real
seeing how the world

around us
has begun to look
as it really is

allowing new thoughts
to flourish in the verges
catch on briars

slip into dirty ditches
knowing how the path
from making

to accepting
always has to begin
with making

I wind a few words
round the stalks
of plaited bog-grasses

and green rushes
hooking the knot
over the spike

pulling the bow tight
on the seed-head
take aim with the camera


I take a long look
back at rocky wastes
and tussocky paths
from Pillow Hill

so long a stranger
struggling with
the stinging lactic
that shadowed

so many walks
I’ve found other
ways to wander
in the wilds

other ways to be
where Suzanne said
I could never belong
sharing the warmth

of Ken’s quiet company
or sitting by the fire
counting 6,
7, 8, no, that’s 9 hours

he's been gone
plodding up Schiehallion
and down Slioch
carrying my eyes with him

while I walk
along the old paths
at whatever pace
I’m able

running my fingernails
around the contour-lines
gauging the incline
and pain

that will result
letting myself ponder
what would I have been
well, a climber, father to?

would we could
live our lives
as a novel
read backwards

secure in our ending
as a tied rope
or taut stay
each strand untwisting

a moment
tense with shock
giddy for joy
when love becomes

our delirious ending
we slowly un-wind
to the tight knot
of that familiar

difficult beginning
would we could glimmer
the perfect form
of an idea

emerging complete
in its own right
from out some vague
insubstantial object

only every now and then
we may be brave
enough to dare
a handstand

emptying out our
pockets, seeing
inside a world
turned upsidedown


The Inverianvie interlude is from a long poem reflecting on the road north, that Ken and I have nearly completed.

The Inverianvie River flows from Loch a Mhadiadh Mor to Gruinard Bay.

Notes to the poem: 'walk on walk on', Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee; 'with a dream of the lochan', Loch a Mhadaidh Mor; 'pour the tea', Jun Shan golden needle, one of our 53 teas; 'Tom', Tom Lubbock (1957-2011); 'poetry is still beautiful ... simply the world', from Lubbock’s memoir.of living with a brain tumour; '2 climbers', descending from An Teallach; 'the path from making...', after John Cage; 'Pillow Hill', R. L. Stevenson, 'Land of Counterpane'; 'stinging lactic', symptom of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis; 'Suzanne', Suzanne Piper, post-urban artist.


You can read Jen Hadfield's poem here.



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