Once Upon a Time in Edinburgh

This time two years ago, September 2020, we were deep in the throes of the Covid pandemic, mired in lockdowns and uncertainty. A vaccine was on its way, that much we knew, but we didn’t know when it would be administered, if it would work, or how much of a winter of isolation lay ahead. It was an uneasy time, a quiet and slow time, a reflective time. I spent the months of September and October drinking in the end of the light before the clock’s changed by walking Edinburgh’s streets and further exploring its interlocking city villages and outlying parts. By no means did I cover it all – mostly I walked my own hinterland and some neighbourhoods I had previously skimmed through without properly seeing. This time, I stopped to watch, observe, note. In retrospect, perhaps I was stalking the edges of madness, or maybe it was keeping me sane (I believe one can flâneuse one’s way to both). This eight-week exploration of the city resulted in me writing a long poem I called ‘Edinburgh Views’. It contains a little of what I saw and a whole lot of what I felt.

I printed it out, placed the sheets in a drawer, and let it be. Lately, I’ve revisited it and decided to give the verses some air by posting it here over the next two months in small digests which match the time of year in which it was written in 2020.

Poetry may be the last thing you want to read or listen to, but maybe you’ll scan some, read some slowly, you might dip in here or there over the next seven weeks as I feed you small collations of my wanderings. There might be something in it you recognise from back then, there might be something relevant to now. I won’t know until I share it, you won’t know until you read it.

So come and join me where it begins, the quietude of my kitchen table at nightfall. Please sit with me, watch with me, and when the time comes, walk with me.

Edinburgh, A Long Poem

I.	Kitchen Table

Like marathon runners, hermits push through
the pain barrier. Don’t think it comes easy,
all this being alone. I know it doesn’t.
A Buddhist nun once told me, said madness
bites around week eight of confinement:
voices, night terrors, regrets, pain –
moods gather, abject as a metal bucket
catching rain.

Tonight, I stewed two Bramley apples.
Stirred thoughts of last May,
caught in a web,
my reason tangled,
sanity flown.

And it will fly again, head south with the
whinchats while the hermit shuffles
in, wrapped in the cape of autumn’s equinox
to sit silent, stooped and static
at my kitchen table.

II.	Bedroom

Night falls. It’s time for bed. I tightrope walk
the equinox bearing equal weight of light and dark.
I’m trying not to trip.

“There are nights when I am lonely and long for love”
wrote MacNeice in Autumn Journal.
For me. He wrote it for me. Tonight.

Mashed malt,
boiled hops,
sweet ooze of fermentation
through my open bedroom window,
warm and bubbling,
comforting as these five pillows.

In the backgreen, cats screech and scratch murder.
Shallot slaughter! Swiss chard carnage!

Bottles smash on Montgomery Street,
the beep-beep-beep of a reversing truck
picks and tips, readies the city
with a lick and a spit and a shakedown
for morning.

Drunks roar outside Middie’s Pub.
Somewhere – might be Portobello Road –
a siren wails a banshee’s lullaby.

Extract from Edinburgh, A Long Poem

by Eimear Bush (September–October 2020)

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