The School Bag




The Stone Cross

George Mackay Brown

At dawn Harvard sighted a hill in Ulster.
‘A point to west,’ said the helmsman. ‘There the hive is
There is the barren kingdom of drones.’

We sailed past cave and cormorant and curragh,
We anchored under a stone cross at noon.

Creatures came down to meet us
With stony heads, voices like insects, raised hands.

They murmured ‘Mother’, ‘Sancta Maria’, ‘Our Lady’
But that hostess was not to be seen.

Brother Simon drew me from sea to rock.
He made a cross of grey air between us.

It was a household of men only.
A boy offered to wipe salt from our foreheads.

‘Harvard, it is time to make a start now.’
Harvard flashed his axe in the face of a brother.

Then women began to screech from the crag above,
Gaelic keenings and cursings.

A dozen eunuchs fell beside the porch,
The boy made a dove of his two hands.

We entered a cave of wax and perfumes.
Mund took a silver cup from a niche.

Cold tinklings like nails
Took us to nothing — a crust, a red splash.

Soon that hive was all smoke and stickiness.

We brought a fair cargo down to the Skua.
The abbot had called that treasure ‘moth-food’.

Sunset. Sharing of spoils. A harp-stroke
Soon I drifted into the stone of sleep. 

1976