A Day's Work on Coll

Photo by Stephen J O'Shea

Photo by Stephen J O'Shea

MV Lord of the Isles shivers out her wide wake
from Oban to Coll, paralleled by diving gannets.

A whale’s jawbone swallows us into port
where the pony-man is waiting on the pier
but pretends not to be as he darts about
among the outgoing ferry queue.
Horses do that too
it’s called displacement behaviour.

Finally he makes eye contact
stunning me with blues
while his long fingers roll a cigarette
like a perfect flute of kelp
left by the sea.

He takes my toolbag, this widower who thrives
on unfiltered cigarettes and black coffee and salty air.
The tight twists of his hair radiate out in all directions
his long beard shines silver-white
like the sheeps’ wool
that gestures from the fences all over this island.

He takes me in a Landrover – full of Radio1 crackle –
to the fields of grazing Eriskay ponies:
a vast velvet-muzzled dark-eyed herd left behind by his wife;
their whites and grays decorated  
with zebra stripes and trout spots.

Some of the ponies have died
leaving areas of loss.

We touch and tame and trim hooves
the rasp grows blunt
nippers blister the fold
where my thumb opposes my fingers
and all day long we hear the bird calls:
goose and peewit
skylark and heron
gull and stonechat.

Yet there’s a poultry-shaped silence
The otter came, took the chickens three a night until they were all gone
says the pony-man, looking away.
The peacocks – who rest their plump breasts high on roof ridges at night –
celebrate in an orgy of wide-spread eyes;
their man-feathers rattle like pebbles.

A great blue heron flies to roost
the pony-man sits with a cup of tea
legs crossed, one long foot
wrapped around the slender ankle of the other.
Even then he still has leg left spare;
that’s what comes of eating just an egg a day
or perhaps a crab.

I wonder, what does it feel like to have wind
sing through your bones and liver.

Leonie Charlton is studying on the Creative Writing MLitt at Stirling University. She is studying part time and says, 'I thrive on hills and horses, food and friendship, music and films and the smell of the sea. I love observing the surreal in our every-day lives and the less-surreal in whatever I am reading.' Leonie's beautiful prose piece 'Bath Fatigue' was featured in both the print and online version of our first issue. You can read it: here.