The Ballachulish Figure (alder wood and rough crystal c. 600 BC.)
Listed among notable deaths of the era:
a passenger pigeon at Loch Leven.
We’re extinguishing ourselves, Cailleach.
Age of Bronze, Age of Iron, Age of Decay.
A taxidermy pigeon, Nestlé bottled water,
celebrity chefs marking the end of an empire.
We preside over omens of decay. Ovid writing
in exile from Caffè Nero. The present as
precipice. Goddess pulled from peat into
our time of decline. A Jehovah’s Witness
announcing the end times – did they speak
the dry deadness of the last days? The living
ferny wetness of before? Before bottled water,
before dead pigeons, before this voice
rattled this head, when the crystals anointing
your eyes were hot, or when the alder forming
the splintered, dry body of yourself was a tree:
there were cool breezes on the west shore,
the years of dawns, the bog’s untouched rot,
the cattails and lichen speaking infinitely
green languages. You make rain break on
the hottest day of the year, fan the smallest
ounce of wind. A thunderstorm in Edinburgh,
in any age, could have been your cloak.
At the end of this era, so at the beginning
of this extinction, the curators said you were
a conservation nightmare, and the creaking
of your peat alder was laughter, black
as your bones
The Ballachulish Figure is a figure of a girl or goddess carved from a single piece of alder, found in 1880 in a peat bog by Loch Leven.
On Christmas Day I saw a collie trying to herd the entire ocean. It ran up and down the seashore marshalling the tide. You have to laugh. Its brain said: this is possible. Bark! THIS IS POSSIBLE! THIS WHOLE SEA IS MINE. Every wave a black-faced ewe. This whole ocean in a cup. A flock. Bark! Obey me! I am Poseidon, herder of sheep! Bark! As though the sea was an unruly lamb. As though you can shout down a gale. I thought: dumb dog. Bark! And then I realised I’d spent a life asking clouds to listen. Bark! Asking shadows to pass without touching me. Bark! Yelling into pitiless air that THIS IS POSSIBLE! THIS WHOLE FUTURE IS MINE. Bark.
Kym Deyn is a writer and fortune teller. They were recently selected for Nine Arches’ Primers Vol. 6 and their pamphlet, Dionysia, is forthcoming with Verve Poetry Press. They have been widely published in anthologies and journals including Butcher’s Dog and HAD and are one of the winners of the 2020 Outspoken Prize for Poetry. They have been shortlisted for awards including the Bridport Prize and the Creative Futures award. They are currently writing a novel.
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