Issue 7: Helen Mort

North of Everywhere

i. Hermaness

Last night, my body was a compass needle

drawing me past every place I’d once called North:

past Sheffield’s border lands, the sleeping giant

of Manchester, grey towns en route to Aberdeen

then silently across the waterway to Lerwick

where my bearings ferried me past Baltasound,

the sloughed down moors, past Norwick bay

where waves worry at rock all day.

By nightfall, I’d approached the edge of Unst,

the land curtseying to meet the sea,

a lighthouse with no keeper but a resting gull,

the tide, dragged from a North

I couldn’t even dream. I stopped

and let my heart go on ahead of me.

ii. Shetland

Wind-whittled, turned on the sea’s lathe too long,

built by a craftsman who can’t leave it alone:

the trees scoured off, the houses pared down

to their stones, the animals less skin than bone.

We walk to Windhoose, find a barn even the ghosts

have left, a sheep’s spine turning on a string,

a name reduced to nothing but its sound,

the wind repeating it until we answer speechlessly.

Our silences have come to be the better part of us.

iii. Westing

The coastline’s fingers reaching for the sea

and mine for ledges in the sodden cliffs.

The dog finding the grey harp of a wing

or clenching a jawbone between her teeth

as if she’s going to wring the history out.

The way those lovers on the clifftop path

must hug within an inch of life

until one of them confesses everything.

Below, an otter mines the water,

gets a single truth from it.

iv. Aurora Borealis

How typical of us: thinking that pale green corridor

cutting across the blacked-out Baliasta road

must be a searchlight, hunting us.

We clutched each other as we never would again

then skittered towards home, imagining we were

extras in a B movie: the Shetland hills huge UFOs,

or the whole island a slumbering beast whose back

we clung to, this the beam of his mate’s eye.

We looked down from that slender radiance

to watch our steps along the track,

and missed the sky’s brief fire, the North

lighting its own touchpaper and standing back.

Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985. She has published two pamphlets with tall-lighthouse press and her first collection Division Street is forthcoming from Chatto & Windus in 2013. From 2010-2011, she was poet in residence at The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere.