The long wait in the wind: A poem by Jim Crumley

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It has been a long wait

in the wind, that ill-at-ease

wind of change. Now fear

is laid aside to deal dully with disaster.

But at least we knew

about the wait, the wait

and the warning and the wind.

The otters and the birds

knew only the wind.

Ever since our glad hand beckoned

oil ashore at Sullom Voe

we began to wait for its gatecrash

on some wild and unprepared tract -

a reckoning behind our backs. On an island

you can only face

one shore at a time.

Today the reckoning

is fastened to Quendale Bay

like a peninsula

and the waiting ones were right:

the oil has not come ashore

at Sullam Voe.

The wind has done this.

They said it would,

the waiting ones, for the wind

permits no lethargies of the soul

for the Shetlander, and varies

only in the degrees of its withering assault.

Life here is a courageous compliance, bowing

to the overlordship of winds,

mourning and singing

to their whims. Today we mourn.

One spring-bright tomorrow

on Ronas Hill, the wind

will eddy the land in song:

we will sing too, and briefly

forget - forget today

and the new waiting

which by then will have begun.

Besides, all Shetland's story

is wrought by winds of change.

This ill-at-ease wind

bore gifts - jobs, roads, ferries,

social vigour, brimming coffers,

and stemmed

that cancerous flow - south] south] -

of our children. Why then

should there not be a price?

And at least we knew

about the wait, the wait

the warning and the wind. But oh]

If only we could have warned

the fish and the birds,

the seals and the otters

and our lovely land.

Jim Crumley is a writer specialising in wildlife and wild places. His books include Shetland - Land of the Ocean (Colin Baxter) and Waters of the Wild Swan (Jonathan Cape), both 1992.

(Photograph omitted)