St Stephen Street, Water of Leith

XXII.	St. Stephen Street

Here men wear trousers chosen for the fruit
they eat – cherry, lemon, plum, and apricot.
Stock fashion. Plaited belts, hair that tickles
silk cravats (in paisley print) tucked into shirts
(two buttons open), gold rimmed spectacles,
pocket squares poke from Harris tweed.
Men who say, ‘brisk breeze today,’ buy croissants
fresh each morning, dine alone at lunchtime
with a half carafe.

A study in antiquity, a street where old
meets new; where visitors
are greeted by a brutish hulk of church,
square-jawed, dark steps, porchway where
dark phantoms might dwell. I look away,
afraid who might be crouching there.
A woeful church, its glory days have crumbled
like the street it watches over
in mild disintegration, moth-eaten,
dog-eared, rising damp, it squats dejected,
like Miss Havisham waiting for the past
to saunter by.

Which has its charm, of course,
as does the epoch shop with wedding dresses,
or Miss Bizio selling Jackie-O pill-hats,
and Mr Purves peddling storm lamps,
the old-school vinyl record shop,
stuffed parrot in a window.
Allure of old-world goods marked up to prices
that befit this chi-chi neighbourhood.

One shop will valet, service and repair
your child’s pushchair. Imagine that! On cue,
Mum passes on her bike, a capsule fixed
up front, just like a sidecar repositioned.
There sits wee Archie, chewing his giraffe,
squeezed in beside mum’s shopping:
coriander, goat’s cheese, pine nuts for pilaf.

I’ve not walked here since Eóin lived in that flat
two floors up, ice-box cold, cracked floorboards, mice.
Looked out onto a dance school opposite,
close to private gardens. Cachet location,
meaning landlords hiked up rents till tenants said,
‘I beg your pardon? That’s enough to fly me
to the moon!’ The old brass bell pulls might be pretty,
and bookshops on one’s street a rarity
these days, but Golden Hare or no hare
I could not bear to live somewhere like here.

XXIII.	Water of Leith

Start off at Modern One – Paolozzi on the lawn –
bear east and walk a mile or two,
turning at Arboretum Avenue.
Well-named, trees abundant, oak and yew,
beech and laurel, crazy Rothko colours
bursting orange-red, nameless shades of yellow
dispersed by autumn’s windy bawl.

Rustle, crunch, snap, babble:
underfoot timpani of tinder-dry foliage,
child drags a stick along a railing, tig-a-tig-
a-tig, water gushes, rushes under
Dean Bridge. From a hazel,
a blackbird song soars.

The path is damp and slimy; sun cannot
breach the branches to dry this gorge, gulch,
gouge through Edinburgh’s heart. It runs to mud.
Ripples bulge up through the path, birch roots
breaching tarmac, five fingered leaves,
sycamore, point to a statue knee deep
in the weir. He stares into the depths.
I spot another, his brother, hunkered
by St. Bernard’s Bridge. Art for the public,
celebrated Gormleys for the masses.
For me, two apparitions, eerie and consoling.

When I forget he might be on my heels,
he rises from the water, reveals that fixed stare,
my sentinel, whom, when I choose to notice,
is everywhere.

Flash of white, dipper alights
upon his head and we lock eyes.
Message relayed:
flow like water,
wade in,
drift along its course,
see what its current
will arrange.

Tonight, the clocks
will change.

Edinburgh, A Long Poem

Eimear Bush (September – October 2020)

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