XVII. Old Calton Burial Ground Ensconced behind a ferned wall, moss clad and lichen laden, lie this city’s ancestors. Tombs, mausoleums, marble headstones, monuments in granite obelisk, all stand – or slump – in terminal decline. They tilt and lean, bereft of those who grieved them. No solemn mourners now, they’ve been forgotten. Slaters, snails and sparrows know this space, they hear the London train arrive at Waverley below and hop in time with jackhammers and drills, some scaffolding erected, heritage protected, a never-ending race for maintenance, a game to keep the past from crumbling. We cannot halt our own demise, God knows we try, and thus consign our legacy to that which lasts: the permanence of stone. In place of kin, it’s down to me to read engravings, re-invent these peoples’ lives, embellish what the dedications say. Watson was a goldsmith, to which I add, a dandy with pomaded hair. Dougall, a cabinet maker, his penchant was choux buns. And Raeburn, a perfumer, died sixteen years before the ghastly Burke and Hare might filch him from his sepulchre. The brothers Playfair, polymaths, could turn their hand to anything, but like the other famous men who rest here, I’ll walk on by their tomb, commune with those whose lives have leached, their chronicles neglected. Woods was an actor, prone to drink, to over-think. Hamilton, a builder, in love with watercolours. And Dickson, a wholesale stationer who fancied crofting in the Borders, chickens in the yard. I’m heartened lavender’s been planted for George Lindsay, if not, his posy is but nettles, bits of branches, feathers, broken bottles, cans and glistening slug trails. Lightly falls the rain from clouds that churn and ripple – the beauty of Italian marbled sky. Wet stone’s easier to read, and I pick out Matilda Meryick’s name: 1798, 14 months. This place is full of young souls plucked and faded early from the earth. Leaning on a railing, I wait for him to slink in. Surely here he’ll show. No. I am serene and undisturbed, save for the cry of roosting crows. XVIII. Princes Street As city centres go, this one’s a movie star. Outside the National Records Office bagpipes and drum beat tunes together, a tall man introduces passers-by to Jesus, a red flag waver implores blue collars to rise up, the Apple store yells, ‘this way to the future,’ while the Balmoral turns her face away. She’s decorous, this great-aunt city, and secret-keeping, amid Gothic towers, tiered streets, darkened entries. Willows spill leaves onto Waverley Gardens. Flowers wilt: stoic geraniums, yearning cosmos, wistful roses dropping petals. Only the begonias bedecking the Ross Fountain show any heart for autumn. Shoots of water toss artistic arcs to catch the light in psychedelic works of art. More earth bound is the Great War monument, forever fallen into winter, arrayed with robes of rosemary, copper domed in acer, crowned with holly; evergreen and ever gone.
Extract from Edinburgh, A Long Poem
by Eimear Bush (September–October 2020)