This poem was written by the well known Shetland poet, Christine De Luca. As a child, Christine and her family spent their summers with the Dunn family at Portlethen Manse. Out of all the poems within the poetry section this one is my favourite.
I'm indebted to Marilyn Stronach (formerly Dunn) and her family for allowing me to use this poem here. Thanks are due to Christine as well. If, like me, you enjoy this poem you can find find out more about Christine and her work on my links page.
Pilgrim to Portlethen
For the Dunn family, formerly of Portlethen
Portlethen was a solid village rooted
between cliff and moor where words
Like 'future', 'past' seemed arbitrary.
For us on holiday it was mildest magic.
Mothers cooking. catching up.
Fathers with indulgent cars full
of comparisons of beaches, fair rides.
Mid July in the warm room at night, savouring
the muffle of distant trains. Even now
one at that time, that distance, and I am there
happy among four or five small beds
full of long and secret whispering
when we thought the day had stopped
because we had.
Ticket to ride
Here were buses we had never seen before
never dreamed of: double-deckers built
to impress, with a list of places to traverse
and a conductress who could slickly punch
a colour-coded ticket without looking
flick change into compartments of a pouch.
With her criss-cross leather straps
and snappy hat, this was a job to covet.
That would have been enough
but a ticket and a train journey
to Stonehaven and back
Was like riding to the stars.
And hours and hours were spent
on the bridge above the railway line
to stalk a big train, hear it far off
listen as its single thread of sound
unravelled; hold our breath
as it thundered underneath
dash across to count carriages
watch as it tilted out of sight
pulling a plait of sounds
tightly as it went.
The family has gone now. as ours
grown, scattered, made new alliances.
The oil boom has exploded myths
of timelessness. Superstores encamp
and factories have arrived
from distant drawing boards.
The rail-bridge arches its apology
across the line, looks out of scale.
It seems incongruous that guards
on inter-city trains announce
its imminence. For me, returning
is a pilgrimage of mind and heart.
I speak happily in past tenses
gentle syntax of so many futures.