Encounter on the Beach
With the wind blowing us off balance
we take care on the rocks, looking down
to place each foot. That’s when we notice
the fault trace on a slab of sandstone,
A shiny, crinkled, white surface,
perfectly smooth but grooved.
Slickensides, I say, a mark caused
by the movement of rock against rock.
Back on sand we notice . . . little sand.
Four days of strong easterlies
have stripped the beach
to stones and gravel. At the west end
we see the sand piled up
covering the rocks and the concrete walkway.
A friend walking her dog –
running her dog – rushes towards us.
It’s hers, a malamute, she says,
one of those blue-eyed sled dogs.
It’s frisky, jumping up at us.
She’s just being friendly, our friend says,
but dogs have never been our friends.
She talks of scans and tests;
she looks well, but tumours
come and go, pull as much
as any dog, and are friends
to no one.
O Sole Mio
There was a shortcut, avoiding
the jammed main streets of Sorrento.
It wound down the hillside
in sharp turns, passing
gardens and small plots
strung with vines and lemon trees,
fruit ripening in October sun.
In backstreets, steel-shuttered lockups
where lemon juice and sugar
were mixed with pure alcohol
to make Limoncello,
sold from roadside booths,
cafes and bars.
It tasted good here,
and each maker’s spirit different.
Back home, the commercial stuff’s bland,
too sweet, less lemony,
and paler Scottish sunshine proves
our setting is too far from Naples,
Oh, far too far from Naples.
The shale bings of West Lothian,
relics of a long-gone industry,
are mostly gone themselves,
recycled for road-making,
good foundation material
on the flat.
Raised high by rail trucks,
hot and smoking, fresh
from kilns and retorts,
the tipped shale slid downslope,
growing mountains, near-conical
or flat-topped mesas where, I swear,
I once saw horses grazing
like in a Western movie.
Bright red when new, flashy
against the green landscape.
Oil distilled for lamps, motors,
and chemical feedstock –
detergents, plastics and the like.
Left behind, sintered ash
and miners’ rows in villages
built of dark red bricks,
terraces of low-built houses
for folk used to crouching
in small spaces.
The baked clay flakes
that made the shale
still slip and slide,
uprooting plants that took
a chance on the slope’s stability,
as gravity and friction compete
to find an angle of rest.
Colin Will is an Edinburgh-born poet with a background in botany and geology. Six collections published, the latest being The Propriety of Weeding from Red Squirrel Press (2012). He was Makar to the Federation of Writers (Scotland) in 2011. He currently teaches creative writing and conducts workshops and readings.