I stand within a deeply carved Rouault woodcut
framed at the edge of the habitable world. Ghosts
of saints Columba and Patrick tread here among sheep
and the new lambs. Arms of the sea cradle Ardionra Croft,
tamed over centuries by the same farm family. The house
of stone and thatch rests upon beds of ancient
basalt, serpentine and Iona’s own creamy marble veined
with pale or dark green. Stilts and jackdaws rove
among the sheep grazing on the machair. Farther out
the ferry churns its hourly rounds over the marine blue sound.
Like others who walk here I have come to find something.
If I’m lucky I will know it when I see it. If I’m quiet
I hear the sea’s soft lap on the marbled bay. I wait
seated on the stiff grass, rest my back against a basalt wall, rest
the bird book in my open lap. A wheatear pecks boldly nearby.
On the road back to the Abbey
a wedding party led by a piper in his dress Mackinnon kilt
walks to a Celtic lilt: the bride, her father,
her women friends in pancake hats with feathers.
Sea breezes gently lift her hair and ripple the satin
streamers of her bouquet. In the Abbey
she will take her vows to cherish the island boy
who waits with trembling hands for her at the marble altar, wanting
and not wanting the instant when she and the air and the shafts of sun
gleam in the open door and she wafts down the aisle
like the censer’s smoky perfume. In the ancient way
they will craft rooms of stone and thatch, their own croft with lambs.
It is a perfect day for making promises. On this machair, this isle,
theirs will be the fire that never dies away.