Translating Mountains from the Gaelic
A pebble on the tongue –
my clumsy mouth stumbles their meanings:
I mumble Beinn Laoghail to Ben Loyal,
Beinn Uais to Ben Wyvis,
humble Beinn Artair
from King Arthur’s Hill to The Cobbler –
turn Bod an Deamhain
from Demon’s Penis to Devil’s Point,
stammer on An Teallach
with its rearing anvils and arduous spelling,
my throat a stream-gorge
where quartz chunks chatter against each other –
my English rolling off their sharp consonants.
Next summer, I’ll shoulder my red rucksack,
a Platypus bottle, and a vial of Dad’s ash
up Schiehallion –
Fairy-Hill of the Caledonians –
via the less-worn path.
A deerfly, its eyes peridot ringstones,
will pincer my skin for blood,
my voice a trespasser, echoing
charred moors and razed crofts.
Dad, I’ll pour your English dust
for the hungry roots of the hill’s oldest pine –
a speck of you will lodge in a walker’s boot-tread,
the breeze catching a mote of your collarbone,
the rain will seep through you,
mingle you with Aonach Bàn,
Loch Teimheil, Sìdh Chailleann.
nod their steepled heads as you pass:
a lone figure, stark on the Andean glacier.
A continent away, you taught me
the language of icefall and chimney,
hex, axe, cam, cwm –
now, your friend at Moraine Camp
lies sick with the rarefied air
of five thousand above.
But you have risen
an hour after midnight
to slog on, solo, your abandoned rope
a quipu tallying your twenty-two years,
uncoiling your final hours.
No snow-anchor to halt your fall,
no mastiff to yelp at crevasses,
paw at your icebound form.
Just lens-shaped cumulus
over neighbouring peaks,
and, from the east,
an approaching wall of storm.
Your breath, becoming cloud.
(These poems are from Translating Mountains, Winner of the 2016 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition, published by Seren).
Yvonne Reddick is Research Fellow in Modern English and World Literatures at the Institute for Black Atlantic Research (IBAR), School of Language, Literature and International Studies, University of Central Lancashire. Twitter @YvonneReddick