The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Shipwreck, a poem by George Mackay Brown

Paul grounded at Braga, a gull on his shoulder.
The milkmaids wrung him dry.
He lay that night at the fire of Lifia
And then moved inland
And keeps pigs on a black hill.
   Jan put a cut of tobacco in his teeth
When the Maggi struck.
They found him at the end of the kirk
Near dawn, out of the gale,
Squirting poison among the tombstones.
   For Gregory was much grief in the crofts.
The sea did not offer him with green hands
To the seven dark shawls.
His bones fouled no net or slipway.
With small diagonals crabs covered him.
   Two storms and a dove later
A man with a limpet pail
Turned a gold swathe among seaweed.
That was the hair
Of Robin, weaver of nets, in a warp of ebb.
   Peero said when the first lump of salt
Fell through wrenched timbers,
'Now it seems I can never
Hang a brass chain at my belly
Or sit in the council
Or go among doors with the holy cards'...
The gray lumps fell and fell and stopped his mouth.
   Peter was three years getting home from the wreck.
He found his feet at Houton.
The ale-house there kept him a week.
He stayed at Gair for harvest,
Drowned and drunk again with broken corn,
Then shipped at Hamnavoe
For the blue fish, the whales, the Davis Straits
And casks of hellfire Arctic rum.
He stood dry in his door at last.
Merrag wore a black shawl.
He read his own tombstone that evening.
   For Donald the way was not long.
His father had a dozen horse at Skaill
But Donald loved the dark net.
Indeed for Donald the day and the way were not long.
Old men had said,
'Such skill at Greek and physics and poetry
Will bring this Donald fame at last.'
But for him the day was not long.
His day was this long –
Sixteen years, four months, and two days.

George Mackay Brown: Selected Poems 1954-1992