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Fife Writes

Ian Ledward - The Bothy

The Bothy

‘Cut doors and windows for a room;
it is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore, profit comes from what is there;
usefulness from what is not there.’

Tao Te Ching verse 11. Translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English.


Ancient stones, and here, I can smell their age
as I spray the wall to settle the dust with water.

Some might say, vintage petrichor, 
binding what once lay in disarray
in fields of barley not so far away.

Three centuries past and in this very place,
this island of seaweed and driftwood,
a man put a yoke around the neck and shoulders of emptiness,
where sheep grazed on the rough tough sea-salt scoured grass,
surrounding that nothing with something of his making,
by building himself a bothy.

Substance, enclosing, surrounding, annexing
a space within space, and now, I want to add
more nothing by taking something away.

I’m looking at the wall as if to find a message in these runes,
seeking the secret of their downfall if only in this one small part.

If I listen I can hear their groans, read them,
they will tell me where and when to strike,
like the ancient Norse who raided
taming their maelstrom
and making their home on this island.

What are these stony siblings saying in their cold silence?
Huddled in non-verbal alliance, locked in familial intensity,
they know their nooks and crannies;
they know whose arms to grasp to give and take support.

I touch my heavy hammer like an amulet in anticipation
and in the hesitation of that moment,
I feel like a young Thor first landing on this island,
electrified in the strength and ambition of juvenile audacity.
I study the stones, and choosing one,
I weigh my options of direction and intensity
and deliver my first blow.

The hammer strikes back towards me with dangerous force
as the stone retaliates, shocked from its long dormant state.

I step back and choose a safer angle
and in this world of whin and granite the stones now wake,
seem to settle more tightly, as I shift my stance and strike again.

and again,
and again,
and again. 

And this time, I feel a different feel,
and hear a different note

I lay the down the big mell and get a finger hold
to push and pull and worry like a loose tooth that nags
and when I first feel movement, I can’t let go until it comes away
in a kell of antique dust that coats my legs and boots
and settles on the ground.

An opening. A small beginning. So many stones.
No two the same, and the pile on the floor
seems bigger than the hole I’ve made.
But that’s the way of things.

Emptiness has its uses and the substance that surrounds
it now connects both time and space,
and though they do not understand the word
this doorway opens up their vocal chords
in a lithophonic litany,
a stony-faced rumbling mumble of acceptance

This land is built with sighing whispering stones.

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