The Sore Thumb

When the water in the bay is flat, and clouds
                      come off the Table
           like chimney smoke, we walk along the shore
and up through fields of grasses, and find ourselves
                      near his place,
      so white it seems the stone is newly cut.
The breeze there drives the midges away,
                      and the outer isles,
           dark bergs from the shore, become the map’s
archipelago. I’ve heard talk, at wakes and christenings,
                      of a nod and a wink,
           that someone knew someone on the town planning
subcommittee. These days we see strangers here,
                      German businessmen
           who want to try the island life, who smile and wave
at us. But mostly the windows are shuttered
                      and the washing line
           is free to glint and clink against its posts.
Last week, though, we caught a rare glimpse
                      on the path down
           to the beach. We spotted him in the distance,
his cagoule whipping in the wind, his bald head
                      flashing like a gull’s,
           and as we passed he paused, and turned
his hopeful face towards us, before someone said
                      something appropriate,
           that we might slide by as by doe-eyed cattle
at the water’s edge, that raise their heads,
                      but never seem to low.

Hamish Calham Prize (2006)

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