I love this poem. I carried and shared it on Poem in your Pocket Day on April 18, soon after we decided to come here this summer. The author lived for a time on Rousay, a small island off Orkney’s Mainland.
It’s a bit fanciful, a bit magical – and it evokes the mood of this place so very well.
Doing what the moon says, he shifts his chair Closer to the stove and stokes it up With the very best fuel, a mixture of dried fish And tobacco he keeps in a bucket with crabs Too small to eat. One raises its pincer As if to seize hold of the crescent moon On the calendar which is almost like a zodiac With inexplicable and pallid blanks. Meanwhile A lobster is crawling towards the clever Bait that is set inside the clock On the shelf by the wireless—an inherited dried fish Soaked in whisky and carefully trimmed With potato flowers from the Golden Wonders The old man grows inside his ears. Click! goes the clock-lid, and the unfortunate lobster Finds itself a prisoner inside the clock, An adapted cuckoo-clock. It shows no hours, only Tides and moons and is fitted out With two little saucers, one of salt and one of water For the lobster to live on while, each quarter-tide, It must stick its head through the tiny trapdoor Meant for the cuckoo. It will be trained to read The broken barometer and wave its whiskers To Scottish Dance Music, till it grows too old. Then the old man will have to catch himself another lobster. Meanwhile he is happy and takes the clock Down to the sea. He stands and oils it In a little rock pool that reflects the moon.
The Orkneys seem to inspire poetry. The islands’ most famous son, the poet George Mackay Brown lived almost his entire life in the town of Stromness. He found much to write about there. We stayed in Stromness for a couple of days; I can see how a person might not want to leave.