Auks in the Minch

Alistair Elliot

The green and purple bergs of Scotland melt
so slowly the millennia seem equal:
on such a day Columba could have paddled
     here in his coracle.

In such light airs you approach the razorbills
on breaths of silence, till they patter away
or plunge abruptly at the flap of sails –
    as if they couldn’t fly.

Perhaps they can’t, in summer – out at sea
with fledglings, in these calms, and full of fish;
but we have seen them braver, dazed with joy,
    flying close when the wind’s fresh.

The rollers lifting Mistral by the heel
backwards as we surged in by Ardnamurchan
slung the plump birds all round us through wet hills
    crusted with foamy lichen.

Air at that speed must feel as firm a fluid
as water: they can skim along the veins
of either, dreaming as they swim or glide
    of perfect hurricanes,

where the whole party’s mixing in mid-air,
the fish have wings, and jellyfish balloons
which lift them off in that wild atmosphere
    where the Gulf Stream begins.