Ethie McLean

by John Stocks


Someone had left Vogue on my table
In the North Lounge of the Argyll Hotel.
Nascent androids in touched-up torpor
Glowered fish-eyed from every glossy page.
I walked to the island museum
And read about the life of Ethie McLean.

* * *

It was a day familiar to this island world
Of watery sunshine and fine soft rains,
A day to trace the shadows of your dreams,
The Gaelic dreams of Ethie McLean,
Who would dance on the street and become the sun
As it reeled across the silver Cuan,
And kiss strangers on the lips
After every dance at the Ceilidh.

Years later she’d remember the boy who sailed in
One languid afternoon to Martyr’s bay,
His rosy cheeks and pale blue eyes
Belonged to the ocean; but he would stay all summer
And when she asked naively where he’d found his words,
How he had laughed and mocked her.

When the autumn came the sea reclaimed him
And left her to the brooding island boys
Moody and transient as the weather,
Their faces as formless as distant clouds.

Seventy years later she’d recall
How they had tumbled in the moonlight
In the secret place, beyond the sacred stones;
His strong arms,
The strange softness of his tousled hair,
The new scent of his olive skin,
The poetry of a stranger’s lies.


[Author’s note] Cuan is Scottish Gaelic for ‘sea’ or ‘ocean’. Dancing in the streets and kissing strangers had become a custom; it celebrated rare days of sunny weather.

Copyright © 2009 by John Stocks

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