2007 - 2021

George Gunn – In Atomic City

Caithness poet – and Bella Caledonia columnist – George Gunn is making a rare appearance in Edinburgh this Sunday 24th June reading at Shore Poets (7.45pm at Hendersons foot of Lothian Road) .  As a taster here’s an exclusive of a new unpublished poem from George reflecting on changes in a town close to his heart (and to that of one of the Bella editors).


The year is late

it is the middle of June

that sweet season

with all things great & pleasing

Atomic City is getting ready for the end

the hotels are full

but not with tourists

Atomic City does not love tourism

anyway tourists are allergic

to our indifference

instead the bars & restaurants

are packed with bored men

who are dredging the harbour

or decommissioning some part

of the reactor

the posters outside the Information Centre

alliterate the official poetry

diminished dismantled

delivered destroyed

demolished decommissioned down

as if in a sequence of songs by Poulenc

the graffiti poets of Atomic City

have added dereliction destruction

depopulation depression disinformation

deception decommission

I add war & corruption

as by day the workmen argue & swear

in temporary buildings

erected on site

& around the town

the prospects of independence

& a different enemy

have brought us to the edge of ruin

some politicians fact-find for a day

about investment in renewables

the crystal meth addicts Sun themselves anxiously

in the occasional optimistic afternoon

their obsessive banter echoes

off the industrial units surrounding the housing estate

as if their hysteria must also be imprisoned

it is one o clock

& where have you been

& is the harbour deeper yet

& how long before it will silt up

& why don’t you speak?

Out in the bay a red ship lies at anchor

it has been there for two weeks now

some say that it is a relief for the Faroe freighter

but this is Atomic City

so you never know

something about that red stripe on the black funnel

the way the mid-cargo deck bulges

in a menacing heave of hydraulics

& that its name is so tiny

no-one can read it without binoculars

like the unmarked transit vans

parked secretly at night

around guest houses

like suckling pigs

how they add to this aching

how even the lighthouse is untrue

it sits blind on its headland

its signal stolen

by the winking eye

at the end of the new ferry pier

how enlightenment has brought us here

through the tern-shriek of progress & civilization

of land enclosure & clearance

of the clap trap of two world wars

& the missile pointing stand off that followed

how we lapped it up

& swallowed it down

huddled together on the top

of fulmar-crested cliffs in a laager

of cheap Authority housing

where the plague-ghosts haunt the cement

& tidy gardens of sixty years of nothing

to finally meet the conundrum head on

the system that was meant to save us

we now have to save

the beach is marked by the tracks

of the radiation monitoring vehicles

two children play at the tides edge

with their wet dog they run to their mother

who carries a Tesco’s plastic bag

behind them the castle

which the Sinclairs burned down in the fifties

stands like a sandstone domino

out at sea terns dive for mackerel

the orange floats of lobster creels nod on the swell

a young boy in a blue shirt

peddles his new bike

along the lower beach walkway

what’s left of the dayshift

pours into Atomic City

all this under the early Summer Sun

the boy peddles his bike back

again and again

three girls walk along the higher path

talking loudly over their personal headphones

beside the library is parked

a mobile decontamination unit

up on a nearby roof

two men without masks

grind off all the excess asbestos

George Gunn 2012

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