For more than twenty years, I have lived at least part of the time in Orkney. Crossing the Pentland Firth, however, can be very unpleasant, and on one horribly rough crossing, I found myself asking 'Why do I want to live in this place?' This poem is the answer.

Orkney/ This Life

It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other’s face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends, and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.

It is the way you lean to me,
the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other’s prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands,
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I’ll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.

It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends’ houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle’s switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers,
while in Hoy Sound the ferry’s engines thrum
this life this life this life.

from This Life, This Life: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 (Bloodaxe, 2006), © Andrew Greig, 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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