This is a plain text version of Michael Pedersen's work, with some formatting changed to make the text as widely accessible as possible. Visit the Michael Pedersen page for a PDF version of the artist's original work.
One More Open Gate
Isobel Wylie Hutchison (1889–1982)
pioneer, botanist, painter, poet, voyager
who is blood moon whisperer, lore makar,
Saturn-eyed, owl-eyed, willow-catkin-saxifrage-eyed,
—so many monikers it’s humbler not to list them.
Isobel, privileged as you were, it did not spare you
death’s savagery, its graceless aching—
father first, then brothers both. Perhaps grief
sent your mind fleeing before the body could:
Edinburgh to John O’Groats, walking
with the spirits—deep north, all ways north,
60? Shetlandic north, Leith to Copenhagen
hella’ north; norther still.
Isobel, first Scotswoman to set foot on Greenland,
collecting flowers on the tundra, greeting
cherishable humans and—dressed in
those famous seal skinned breeks & island knits—
dancing reels imported by Scottish whalers.
Banshee fiddles, the squeeze-box,
figures-of-eight and dos-à-dos—
did their music dial the heart’s hotline
into your bale of memories of home?
More likely, the other way around—back
in Caledonia pining for this
moonlit frozen ballroom.
Isobel, watching the river that carried you
gush ice into the fjord, feasting
on boiled salmon, hand
-torn, bones becoming
toothpick spears. The upturned boat:
a wind-breaker, its seal skin belly drying
by the fire's fuzzed amber
as oil lamps turn tents to lanterns.
But it’s the welkin, of course, that wins
the night—Auroa above like a giant ship
of light, land the bottom of the ocean:
electric seaweed ribbons of emerald
& amethyst. Dragon’s breath.
The silence explodes with Greenlanders
baying up at stardust glaciers.
The Northern Lights are Merry Men
they tell you, souls of the dead
playing games with the head of a walrus.
What a night’s kip
that must have been. How many ghost ships
sailed by you sleeping? How many dark shapes
sucked into the freeze?
Isobel, traveling by dog sled
by the rope of Artic wind, towards each
long unopened gate, inking letters home,
scrawls to end: that's if I ever make it back.
I wonder what you'd reckon to us, so
starkly elsewhere, eyes plunged into a screen,
uploading the lens's latest
capture. It's not all bad, I'd tell you, sometimes
we too are watching dolphins leap, ships
overcome pelagic trials, posting pictures
that might combat the long loneliness,
but not before we chrome filter those suckers,
revving up the faint glow
of the cruising stars, to a red-gold
sweet shop bright.
Isobel, it just takes some getting used to.
Did I mention, we’ve found water on the moon?