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St Kilda. Pic  Crown Copyright: RCAHMS

Beyond the map, for months inaccessible,

except to nesting puffins on sheer stacks.

Once fearless, prehensile-toed men, able

to grasp guano-stained granite; to steal chicks,

abseiled, avoiding foul seagull spittle,

with straw ropes, to find food.  They fixed strong cleats

into bare rock, until the press prattle

brought voyeuristic tourist hordes in boats.

They wondered how men lived by sun and tide;

how those who’d never seen a rabbit, bee,

snake, apple, hard cash, earned their daily bread,

herding Stone Age sheep around the bleak bays,

anointing newborns’ umbilical cords

with vile, regurgitated fulmar oil,

which lit their candles.  They looked backwards

to William IV, before they set sail

for forest work (who’d never seen a tree).

Disease-rid, the surviving thirty-six

were taken from their archipelago

of Ultima Thule, to be shown like freaks

in geographical publications.

Now they wore tweed and lay in feather beds,

conformed to the Victorian fashion,

dictated by a different choice of needs.

But, in their souls they heard the clash of waves,

knowing they’d built their houses on the sand.

Whenever they were told that Jesus Saves,

their thoughts wandered to their Promised Land.

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