Poem of the week : A Garland of Rowan Berries by Janette Ayachi
A Garland of Rowan Berries
(After Bridget Anne McNeill)
On the day of the wedding on Rathlin Island
the sky sparked a voltage, a veneer of light
as bland as iodine gouged its way through the mist
and cast a crown of fire behind Turloughs head.
He stood tipped over the weight of his jewelled Rapier,
knighted by the sun, searching the horizon for rites of passage.
King of Tyrone, Lord of Ulster, Chieftain of the O’Neills,
his beard plaited down to his navel, his eyes methane blue.
As sails whitened the bay and seals bobbed to shore
he rolled out caskets of ale to his Gallowglasses.
Gaelic bards arched over lyres; druids swirled rune
stones and waved their staves of rowan branches,
as jugglers tossed flames and tamed falcons,
jesters pirouetted through crowds signalling bells,
applause and laughter where the vagabond travellers
with wide-eyed locals lunged at the goblets of spiced wine,
clans-merged-merry and singing smelted together like steel,
crafted into an alliance by the artisan’s steady hand.
And in the foreground of it all, Lady Agnes Campbell
with her army of Redshank kilted men, thrust out
of fairy-tale from the day she was born in Inveraray Castle
where the ravens circled the turret with berries brim in their beaks,
and the sun singed a hole in the clouds fraying their haloed-edges.
Here she stands now, in her matrimonial best,
her dress as red as dried blood, a garland of rowan berries
braided in her hair, clotted together like grapes;
a relic to warn away evil, laurel of marble-bead holding back her veil.
When the maudlin pollination of night blotted across waters
and the moon released its mouth into a gaping sigh
tossing out bats like scores of fervent music, the troops turned
to pitch up tents and Sorley Boy stood to recite stories.
The shadow of the lantern’s flame dripped over
hands of passed out men, some faded into a reverie,
concussed by the dark, others snored under tables
rattling the plates of bones left over from the generous feast.
For fourteen days the sun rose each morning in the west,
the kestrels leaked out from the caves and guests
clambered down from the scaffoldings of sleep to revel again,
the collapsing chords of bagpipes resonated over Rathlin’s basalt cliffs.
Janette Ayachi is a London-born Edinburgh-based Scottish-Algerian poet with a BA Combined Honours in English Literature and Film & Media from Stirling University, and a MSc in Creative Writing from Edinburgh University. Her first full poetry collection Hand Over Mouth Music (published by Pavilion: University of Liverpool Press) won The Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Literary Award 2019.