The Old Smiddy
Some nights when the stove is glowing
my friend swears that the stone wall
begins to sweat the smell of stallion,
as if one is being backed into the room,
arriving to be shod, though the building
was converted forty years ago.
The stove becomes a basket of charcoal,
a chair an anvil, floor earthen again,
the huge hoof of the docile animal
up in the lap of the smith’s leather apron.
My friend hears a ghostly conversation
in East Neuk dialect, about broadcasting
seed by hand, a son missing on the Somme.
She is sure her house is haunted by horses,
the stove-light a red rosette on harness,
the struck anvil thrilling through her.
When the wall becomes stone again
she laments the loss of the portal.
The first mountaineer was shod in deerskin,
painful on scree, climbing not out of curiosity
but to search for sustenance for his family,
the stag too far distant for his prototype bow,
the plover too fast, the hare in camouflage.
He would have slaked his thirst at a torrent
that had not yet a Gaelic name, it being
too early for that tongue. Weather closed in,
and he became fossilised in the snow
until, in spring, the eagles would reduce him
to the scattered puzzle of bones picked clean
for the archaeologist in a millennium.
Later, the Victorians would arrive by train,
climbing in plus fours and outsized caps,
girdled with ropes, but no pitons,
the axe hacking icy steps to heaven,
cumbersome camera on the back, then down
to whisky among foxed sporting prints.
Sometimes they would overnight,
wrapped in a plaid on a foot-wide ledge
at two thousand feet, legs dangling
in the circle of the moon,
awakened by the capercailzie bickering,
an eagle circling in the clarity of dawn,
the first smoke from the hamlet rising.