Two Poems by Lydia Harris

Quadrangular Hand Bell

I swing my body to the clang of my tongue,
dip into copper to sweeten my tone,
hang over the door for my voice is a song.

Three rivets at sunrise fasten me down
with a loop at my head to wrap fingers round.
Grip me with a thumb, let my clapper sound.

It’s in my power to subdue a storm.
I can muffle my toll with a fustian shroud,
draw spirits close with my star-jagged tune.

In the name of the Three, I’m baptised in the sun.
Prime, None and Vespers, so my day turns.

Fragments from the Codices of the Lives of Scottish Quadrangular Iron Hand Bells

In the fog
it pastes us to the ground, to the walls
like those swallow-nests
the sucked mud pellets of us stuck
to the eaves and the furze sea track

You can’t see through bell in the fog
she wakens the spirits
her disembodied tongue rip-raps the murk
now she’s the silent, the empty, the bell of space.
Bell of the gaps in the eyes.

The miracle bell in the fog
When Samuel was lost on Fitty Hill
and the bell drew him down
clang ding for each step

The rust of the bell in the fog
the cling of the droplet cloak
the faux fox russet and flake
the creeping change
from the shoulders down

The cloaked bell in the fog
here but faraway, the fog shifts
the bell, the bell tears the fog
splits it to vent the three texts

Fragments of the texts of the bell
the copy of the bell
the mark the bell left on the cloth
the rivet which dropped from the bell
the shadow of the bell
the bell floating
the bell at sea
the bell underground
ah the bell and the pomegranate
and the sound of the bell
and the sweet juice

I am tintinnabulam
tuned to the shoulders
of Cairn Gorm and Suilven
and the small hills you count
on your fingers, one, two,
three, my voice honed to the grind
the roots of the ground.

I am klocka
my cry, my call
all me to you
and back
our tongues
connect and click

I am kell
fell if dumbed
let me tell
let me tell
let me tell

I am bjalla
to your fall
I am call
I am haul
I am pull-you-to-shore
I am draw
I am tide at the full

Poet’s note: Hand bells were early medieval accompaniments to worship and it is argued that they come from the Coptic tradition. They were revered as sacred in their own right and at least one has been found encased in a shrine. There’s one in the Orkney museum and one was recently uncovered in Westray. I love to think of a hand bell in this small island making its voice heard.
Lydia Harris lives in Westray one of Orkney’s North Isles. Her newest pamphlet A Small Space will be published by Paper Swans Press, Spring 2021.