Moonlight becomes blades, blades moon-
light as they lilt and pivot out of shadow
into yellow pool: I make a point and stop:
steam breath into air that cracks like ice,
close eyes upon a world that gleams
and scrapes and rasps; 'Look out!'
Brown, behatted, a figure grasps
my arm and birls me about; I make a run:
circling to the centre of the loch -
cross stroke, chassé, cross over slip - turn
and look back across the white and shining
field: the huddle of 'ingénues'
practising their 8s, the cries of 'off!'
and 'change!' the silver scales
of safety ropes slithering from baskets;
silence set off by a distant swish.
And so I see the scene again: late
afternoon; the little minister, still svelte
but on the verge of portliness, breasting
the ice with a frank and open stroke;
his friends, the painters, smiling, betting:
which one could lay down just that shade
of lilac shadow cast by the suburban
Mercury, silhouetted contre jour?
Then, the sudden hush as water tensed
at his instruction, trout gazed up at his incisive feet.
I felt that God must be in clarity like this
and listened to the valley echo
the striations of his silver blades.
Far out on Duddingston Loch
our true apostle sped with twice the speed
of Christ who walked on waves.
I saw him harrow ice with grace of the elect
and scar the transubstantiation
of wintered elements. At once I heard
a tapping from the hills
as if a tiny hammer big with work
sought to split this world: the shelf
of ice with all its merry skaters
cracked from side to side then tipped
like a sinking ship; loch made
meadow loch as little cows,
aristocratic blades, the Reverend
and his painters clung to trees
above a sundered castle, floated off
to villages, new towns, enlightened
schemes and sunken moonlit pastures.
With a sense of real presence
he crossed my vision: and I wondered
if it mattered which man would win
the bet: Raeburn or Danloux?
Both helped him to untie
the fine pink inkles strapping blade
to boot and walked away with him
arm in arm towards the village.
from Finger of a Frenchman (Carcanet, 2011), © David Kinloch 2011, used by permission of the author and the publisher.