Gerda Stevenson: ‘Orquil Burn (after a film by Margaret Tait)’


I rise in a quiet place, tranquil, like my name,
where the lone owl swoops above constellations
of bog cotton and sphagnum moss; water drips
from roots, and I trickle by gravity’s instinct,
meander through abandoned peat banks
to curlew’s call, past orchids and butterwort,
no thought of my own utility;

till I’m commandeered –
diverted to power a mill,
a handy back-up plan
when the wind blows herself out,
and for a while Orkney lies still.
I’m bridged, dammed and fenced –
barbed wire marks men’s borders;
even my name is implicated:
‘liquor’ lurks in its letters
as I’m piped to the distillery.
I learn to flow the man-made way
in straight lines, by Caldale Camp,
its concrete wartime hearths
bereft of walls in desolate ranks,
declaring dereliction to the sky;

But flowers still come to soften my banks,
yellow mimulus and meadow sweet,
and boys gather round me to play
in the ‘deep places’, they say, deft fingers
weaving iris-leaf boats – green vessels gliding slow,
stalking each other to childish cries of ‘Torpedo!’ –
echo of battles a stone’s throw from my estuary,
where I plunge over rocks into the tidal to and fro,
and mingle among history’s wreckage
in salty Scapa Flow.

Commissioned by Alchemy Film & Arts for the the ninth edition of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival (2019).