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.

Red Hills

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.

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