St Cuthbert’s, High Street, Lawnmarket

XIX.	St Cuthbert’s

My plan: to gaze on David glazed in glass
bejewelled, a rarity from Tiffany’s.
Slingshot held low on pebbled shore, he glances
over, searching for Goliath.
In the background, flags wave triumphant,
God’s inspiration, a spur that we can conquer,
vanquish beasts. But today the church is locked
to keep at bay the threat no slingshot can destroy.

South facing bench, I rest to view
the castle rampart where witches flew
to meet their end in murky ponds below.
It’s now a place where children play on round-
abouts, on swings and sea-saws, as if to say:
life has its ups and downs and history
comes around, repeats itself in circles.

I grapple with the past and present when,
suddenly, a man sits down beside me,
a comforting companion. Elder of the church –
he says, and – you’ve picked a perfect spot for
contemplation, time to spend with Cuthbert.

I tell him I once lived in Durham,
Cuthbert’s resting place. He nods,
a kindly man I might have met before,
a glow of wisdom, gentleness.
His presence brings me hope.
As good a place to rest as any – he says,
and bows his head. Mine shall be here.

Once more I look at gravestones
intricate with lichen, flaked filaments,
mantilla of mourning.
Bill – he says, rising. Simpson.
I have to go, something to attend to.
And he wanders off,
like air.

I write about the colour of trees
in my notebook until I’m interrupted
by a rattle of keys, the minister
at the side door locking up.

You’re last here –
he says.
I sit up straight.
Apart from Bill – I add,
point vaguely to the corner and
he frowns, chin tilted,
weighs up what I’ve said,
and tells me, hint of hesitation –
our Elder,
died last year.

XX.	High Street

Courts and closes call bewildered tourists
down damp passages parched for light.
The city’s arteries where starlings gather,
weeds wither, where once disease was rampant.

The wheel of destiny has turned, and with it,
pestilence returned to bring this city to its knees
and mute this celebrated mile. The Bow Bar,
Ensign Ewart, The Mitre: all the taps run dry.
It takes the shine off pewter quaichs (of what use now?),
or tam-o’-shanters, fudge and whiskey snifters,
cashmere scarves, kilts and golf umbrellas,
the poignancy of Loch Ness monster magnets,
or is it pointlessness?

But wait, before my inner
cynic hardens to cement, contempt, I come upon
a couple posed, an artist draws their likeness
in charcoal. Yes, life rolls on regardless,
glad memories arise from tranquil chaos too.

XXI.	Lawnmarket

Atop the spire of Toolbooth Kirk, I spy
a pair of steeplejacks. My stomach flips
to watch those brave boys breach the cloud,
to touch the cross, to seek salvation there.

Down on the pavement a most peculiar sight,
affecting, life-affirming in its way,
a child in leather glove is hooked onto
an eagle owl, Eurasian, strokes it with
a feather. Speech lost to awe and wonder,
its claws and bulk and stippled wing, heart-
stopping beauty, silences the watchers.

And do I recognise those amber eyes
that bring some momentary wordless wisdom
to us passers-by? Perhaps I know that look
of quiet knowledge.
I am soothed.

No need to stop
by Hume’s big toe and rub, or spit
our ire on the Heart of Midlothian.
Touch and spume spread germs,
so down with falsehoods,
superstition, all hail to nature’s glory.

Bells		toll		midday
at St Giles.
Carved choristers sing silent hymns
from parapets where angels shield
and gargoyles defend buttresses.

At the Castle Esplanade it sounds again,
rings out as I stand beneath the brass stag’s head.
I read a rollcall of the Boer War dead,
left where they fell to rest in Zulu fields.
Baird, Baker, Best.
Reid, Revill, Ross.
The bell it tolls
for all those who were lost.

Edinburgh, A Long Poem

by Eimear Bush (September-October 2020)

2 thoughts on “St Cuthbert’s, High Street, Lawnmarket

  1. Hi Eimear So enjoying your poetic Edinburgh tour. Particularly loved the St Cuthbert’s, Princes St Gdns part, where I have spent much time also – the playground with my much younger sister (back in the day) and more recently with my son when he was young. Was this true? I’m fascinated – wonderful artistic license, if not: Apart from Bill – I add,point vaguely to the corner and he frowns, chin tilted,weighs up what I’ve said,and tells me, hint of hesitation –William,our Elder,died last year.

    I hope you are well, our next Lit Salon is this Tues from 6pm at The Outhouse (upstairs). Best wishes

    Kim x

    Liked by 1 person

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