nine scenes from a diminutive notebook, January 2017

Wintering the storm:
it unfurls so silently as she sleeps alone.


Insinuation. The pathway twists toward her,
and disappointment.


A boy on a bike, its stablisers removed;
his dad runs behind.


The frostbitten path,
angularity of ice, shades and shards
like glass.


Outside, the robin rings the twigs
and starts a round of feathered pinball.


Enter the water
and swim, swim into the blue.
You cross a border.


A heron stood there, statuesque
by the roadside.
Slategrey sentinel.


The cemetery stones standing
in granite lines:
vigilant of loam.


A distant thunder,
roiling, brooding, gathering
at the edge of the skyline.


M. John Harrison, ‘Wish I Was Here’ (Serpent’s Tail, 2023)

This delightful, insightful, stubbornly peculiar “anti-memoir” by Mike Harrison is my book of the year so far; I can’t see anything overtaking it, frankly.

The writing is as luminously sui generis and haunting as his best work, although there’s so much in that category to render the superlative clumsy. Wish I Was Here is also fictively tricksy, memory standing in for the undeniable, unreliable narrator, the weight of evidence such that each of us is essentially no more than palimpsest, dense overlays of misrememberings and dismemberings. Perhaps it’s a book about writing, about not writing, about an escape to and from writing: I don’t really know, and don’t need to know; I just absolutely loved its brilliance and its ghosts.

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the author at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this coming August.

Wish I Was Here was published by Serpent’s Tail in the UK in May 2023.

Notes from the Red Moss, 2 June 2023

stillness on the Red Moss
and flax almost adrift
in soft peat:
from lint holes, the memory
of sunbeam on sundew
and a thousand thousand blues above

jade mounds in bracken, stumps,
lighten but never
still, always different, ever
the same—
the sun on metal hexagons
on wooden walkways

looking to Bavelaw
in the lee of Hare Hill
I think of Stanley Roger Green
searching for that unfound cairn
while Threipmuir glitters

in scenes from a stillway
of pinecone and feather
can I be dappled
by light, by trees?
a trunk’s bend and
branch’s oscillation
a hoverfly lands on this nearly white page

[words and images from a morning walk through the Red Moss of Balerno nature reserve at the foot of the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, and then along the shore of Threipmuir Reservoir, Friday 2 June 2023.]

There is time always to consider time

Sitting at the northernmost point of the Tarbat Ness peninsula (Rubha Thairbeirt) at 2.34pm on 9 May 2023, I find myself taking a moment to drink in the sound of these waves—all different, all the very same as across the countless centuries which have collided with this headland.

That wavecrash of water on stone on water, and that infinity of white noise, both of these sounds signal to me that it’s now finally time to contemplate time.

And so I end up beginning to do just that.

10 March 2023

A bed is laid in a secret corner
For the three agonies – love, birth, death –
That are made beautiful with ceremony.
— from The Finished House, George Mackay Brown

My dad would have been 89 today. I don’t know that I miss him any less or any more than any other day since his death in September. But there’s an increased focus on this first absent birthday, I think, which makes me recall all the more acutely the decades when he—and my mum—were everything in my world.

This photograph of him and me is probably from mid to late 1975 or perhaps early 1976. I’m the one on the right. Look at his hair-and-cardigan combo; look at my red shoes; look at those vertiginous stairs. I’ve no idea what colour his shoes were, because as is customary my mum has cut his feet off in the photograph.

This was taken in our first house where we lived until I was 13, and which I loved. It had been my dad’s parents’ house. It had curious angles and sometimes even more curious angels in its architecture of happiness and security. Love is everywhere in this photograph, in every fibre of the stair carpet, in our smiles, in the way my dad’s hand holds me close.

And even though I don’t miss him any less or any more than any other day, I still miss him in a way that’s impossible for me to express, and which I don’t even want to put into words. It’s love which causes the most pain, but that pain, which diminishes, is worth enduring, as the by-product of that love, which will never diminish.

Six strings; some sea; the unknown

I bought a new electric guitar. Was it a whim? No, it seemed like the right time, or at least a better time than there’s been for a decade or more. Somehow, as I feel its weight in my hands, the years slip back, fold in softly on themselves, liquify. Flickers from the past play out on the projection screen of memory: moments of friendship, of intensity, of solitude. Minutes becoming hours becoming the book of days. It was once my instrument; maybe it’ll be so again.

In the meantime, there’s the sea; there’s always the sea. I can offer you 40 seconds of it*, but you should repeat these 40 seconds as often as is necessary to fashion your own sea. A friend once said—or rather sang—that the sea is madness. But it doesn’t have to be.

Anyway, the guitar came today, a few days earlier than I’d anticipated. I wasn’t ready, but its arrival does feel like a turning point, or more likely a signpost to somewhere else. I’m not sure where that is yet, but the draw of the unknown is intoxicating, isn’t it? Sometimes we just have to walk the coastal path and see which sea it finds.

* This sea is from Cambo Sands, Fife, 4 March 2023. Other seas are of course available.