Landscape with Signs

A tourist strolls between mossed dykes in search
of the Ettrick Shepherd   (It is the ninth month
the beginning of autumn   the road deep with mud)
In memory of his wife   (the waters swollen)
he has come to trace the forebear of his children
(There was a want of bridges   the waters broken
For many hours he was obstructed on his journey)
At first he’d believed the road would transport him
as we had unpeeled it into the twentieth century
so it would unreel us into an ancestral stratum
His car is parked on a grassy verge   he saunters
away from the lane uphill into focal distance
He knows he is venturing into the past   that this
is what it meant   the unnavigable tracks, the want
of bridges   for he is a man who has envisaged
flyovers, underpasses, highways   concrete signs
by which we’ve chosen to possess our time
A sheep fold holds the lie of a paddock
a part of the body of earth as a road is
cambered topsoil overlies its stern elemental
This is what earth is   is what he makes the future of
the past and present tense   of prose
impervious Ettrick traversed by roads
of ballads   of bewitched and footless journeys


from The Duntroon Toponymy, Mariscat Press, 2001

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