Logbook Poems – Songs of the Minch

Saturday, Stornoway
N 58°12’33” – W 6°23’23”

Merlin by the jetty.
Skipper Oliver
Welcomes us aboard.
We wonder at ourselves
Our familiarities
Our strangeness
Our planned
Cohabitation, collaboration, collusion, collision.
If ships are shes
Is Merlin a she too?
We’re here
We’re aboard her now
But not here yet,
No time to arrive
Before it’s time to depart.


Saturday-Sunday, Shiant Isles
N 57°53’49” – W 6°21’11”

After an afternoon of miracles and mirages
Some realer than others
Mountains shapeshifting
Fading into ever lighter
Overlapping shades
On the horizon,
Pilot whales arcing upwards
breaking the surface
Dolphins leaping clear
And surfing underwater
In the wake of the boat
Gannets arrowing down into the waves,
After all that
The Shiant Isles
Just a blue smudge
On the horizon
To resolve themselves
Into a cacophony of auks
An indescribable whizzing
And whirring of wings,
An incessant cawing and calling
A cliff-colony
Of black and white wonders
Some blacker than the seas around them
With the finest streak of white
In their razor-sharp bills
And with all this going on
We let ourselves be rocked to sleep
By the south-easterly swell.


Sunday morning, Eilean an Taigh, Garbh Eilean
N 57°53’39” – W 6°21’28”

We’re on the Enchanted Isles
Between the Island of the House
And Rough Island
A grey-stone isthmus.
Large pebbles
Big as your fist
Ground to discs.
We’re here
To listen to the rocks
To hear them as our own bones
To speak the gravelly shore-wave voice
Of pebble dashed on pebble
The pull of the stones
In the undertow
The indifference of the crags
And their stream-fed weeping,
To feel an aeon of magma in our veins
Millenia of cooling
Ages of folding, uplifting, weathering
In our bodies
Each wrinkle a crevasse
Each flake of skin a shower of boulders.
Each sheer cliff
A brazen face to the world.


Sunday-Monday, Loch Bhrolluim
N 57°56’43” – W 6°32’35”

Southwest to Loch Bhrolluim
Accompanied by dolphins
Greeted by howling seals
And golden eagles
We drop anchor
To scramble across bladder wrack
And mossy, white-spattered stones
Skirting pathless hillsides
Overgrown with long, lush,
Tickbearing grass
To reach the forlorn remains of
Ceann Chrionaig,
The skeletons of its houses,
Forcibly abandoned
Their tenants evicted, dispersed, deported
In the Clearances.
The rain sets in,
We head back to the ship
Laden with ticks
And a heavy burden of sadness,
To sing back to the seals.



Sinn fhìn, còmhla – We ourselves, together

The heart is the holdfast
Sinn fhìn, còmhla
And we’re just weed
Just kelp in the current
But we’re holding fast
To our kindred, ancestral
rocks and stones.

We are rock, we are stone
Sinn fhìn, còmhla
Here forever almost
Born of the molten
Fires of earth
Laid down by aeons of zooplankton
We’re the heaviest there is
We’re light as a feather.

We are feathers, down and quills
Sinn fhìn, còmhla
Plumage fresh, and molt-ready
Light as air, blow us away
But strong enough to bear our wearers
Wherever they may fly
Or dive or swim.

We are water, we are currents
Sinn fhìn, còmhla
Dark ocean depths
Home to creatures known, unknown
The myths and fantasies
Of our collective longings.
We are waves
With fetch a thousand sea-miles long
We are the surf on your shore
Our shore
Home to bleached Atlantic bones
And more.


Tuesday, the Little Minch, heading south
N 57°41’31” – W 6°52’14”

It takes a couple of days
For the boat-life to kick in
For the circle to form
For the heart to open
For our land-minds, city-minds
To float away.

When the seals sang to us
They sang of lost villages
Of grief, and homes
Broken and destroyed,
No more now
Than grass-covered rectangles
Open to the sky,
Of lives smashed
Of a people lost
and transported
Across the sea.

And when we sang back to them
We sang of life, of earth, of sea
Of the ocean as the giver
Of all life
We sang stories of resistance
And community
And love
And we felt it form then,
In our singing:
The open-souled,
Sea-spirited, kindred


Circle circle

Circle circle
Tern and petrel
Sea-eagle’s wing
And razor bill
To cut us free
Unbind us.

Circle circle
Bladder wrack
Dulse and kelp
And mermaids’ hair
To braid us
and to bind us.

Circle circle
Mussel, limpet, paua shell
To gird us
And to birth us.

Circle circle
Kelpie, selkie
Blue man
White horse,
Surf and ocean wave
To lose ourselves
To find us.


Tuesday-Wednesday, Wizard Pool, Loch Skipport
N 57°19’25” – W 7°14’35”

We came
Looking for darkness
And found it
In the form of a salmon-farm.
Polluted cage prison
For thousands of parasite-infected
Wild fish
Bearers of the knowledge of the world
Unable to cross the ocean
Swim upstream
Be who or what they were meant to be.
Destined only
To be slaughtered, cooked and eaten
Or dumped as toxic waste.

We looked at the salmon
and the salmon looked at us
and who’s to tell
who pitied whom the most.

We came
Looking for darkness
And found
A dark light,
Perhaps some strange bioluminescence
Of the deepest ocean,
Some shy, undiscovered cephalopod
Peering warily at us strangers
And flitting away.

We came to shed the darkness
To share the darkness
Darkness of the world-times
Darkness of the dying
Darkness within ourselves.

A heaviness no?
How could it be otherwise
In these tipping points
Of our hearts,
In these times of five Hiroshimas of heat
Pouring daily into our world-ocean?

Our depths
Like the sea
Remain unspoken.

Yet what is speaking
When all the yous, all the Is
That make the we
Have given up of themselves
Have shown themselves
Let go themselves
Let themselves
Be cracked asunder.
Have blossomed at the core

We share our sadness,
But we also share our joy:
A pool of placid sharks
A string of mermaids purses.
A dolphin’s smile
The rainbow at the entrance to the loch
The wave-skimming of a shearwater
The thrumming of the sails
And the slope of the ship’s deck
As she powers up in the wind.

We came
Looking for darkness
And found
the sea-light
In ourselves.


Wednesday-Thursday, Loch Skavaig
N 57°11’42” – W 6°09’49”

From startling Skavaig
All waterfalls
And tenebrous summits swathed in mist
We set ourselves ashore
And hike round
To placid Loch Coruisk
With a view to
The Black Cullins
And Sgùrr a’ Mhadaidh
Our own dark mountain –
Peak of the dog,
Wound of the wolf
In the distance.

There on the shore
We take our own advice
And join hands
Form a circle
As standing stones
Like the weed
In the water’s current
Hearts are open
The circle is unbroken.

We make art, walk
Skinny dip
Together or alone
Are grateful for the place
The ship
The perfect moment
Each other.


Tide pools


Tide pools
Where sea holds sway.
The sand,
Storm warnings,
The heartbeat of a whale,
The foam on which it casts a shadow:
The world stops,
Home is as near as
The minute you step aboard.
Two centuries of oil,
Like a biblical plague,
Looters plunder the sea.
Life on earth:
Help wanted.


Thursday-Friday, Rum
N 57°00’44” – W 6°15’37”

Sometimes things fail.
Sometimes it takes more
Than just a wanting
For a change to come about
For a wound to heal
For a ceremony to be performed
To make it really happen.

Such is the way of the broken world.

We have a world that’s waiting to be born
And who knows who the midwife
Of that world will be?
Or whether she’ll be here in time.

We have a dying
And a learning to undertake:
A learning to be human.
Who will be the undertaker?

Our path is clear
It’s written
On the cave walls of a drowned world.

Not all writings are ever read.
Some depths remain unspoken.

And even when
There’s no getting over it
We just
Dust ourselves off,
Get on with it,
Get over it.

For now we have love in our hearts
A perfect sunset.
Grit between our teeth
From badly washed seaweed,
And an inkling of impending departure.


Friday-Saturday, July 14, Mallaig
N 57°00’19” – W 5°49’33”

Ghosts ships
Escort us from
Rum to Mallaig.
They drift in and out of the mist.
As do we.
Perhaps we are the ghost ship
On this cusp of time.

If a ghost is like
The echo of a being
Then we are echoes of who we were
But also
Future ghosts
Wraiths of becoming.

Something has shifted now
And before we are finally dry-landed
We join hands once more
Tell our tales
Give our thanks
Bid our farewells
And, bounded by
Merlin’s hull,
Bask like sharks in the warmth
We have engendered.

Our ship, our trip
Already a ghost
Sails on in our hearts,
Back out
To the Hebridean Sea.