I’ve not written for a few days now, mainly because I haven’t had the heart. I lost my dear sister to cancer and despite having stood at her graveside in Sutherland, in the top left hand corner of Scotland, I can’t believe she’s gone. I won’t truly believe that, I think, until I’ve landed on the Isle of Iona and know that she won’t be there to greet me, to tell me of some new adventure she’s planning, or to take me on a walk to somewhere I’ve not known before. I keep saying that she was the youngest person I’ve ever known. That’s why my family’s still struggling to believe it’s possible she’s gone: she had such extraordinary vitality, such a huge sense of fun and laughter, that no-one can understand how it could be taken away. Somehow I think of her as the human embodiment of an otter: they are always on the move – for all the hours of the day they are frisking and searching and diving and sliding. They are water come alive; flowing in every direction. Somehow that sums up Helen. For all the last days I have felt numb and have written not a word. Then at five thirty this morning phrases began tugging me, and after three hours of scribbling I felt the poem had found its way onto the page.
My Sister Helen
She was Scotland to me:
bedtime stories that woke me
to the history of Wallace and Bruce,
would have had me up in a saddle,
galloping back in time
for the bits of the border we’d lost.
She lived down endless long windings of bumps,
in cottages with attics and owls –
the hope of conkers in the morning.
She drove me one August night
when the skies were orange and bruised,
till the storm was flickering booms
and we came back in the silvering rain.
She was drives at high speed
down roads that should have closed long ago,
in cars that were held together
by the hope of a better tomorrow.
She would coax a whole ceilidh
out of a candle and an old bothy;
she was songs and tin whistles
in the middle of the worst of blizzards.
She was a beach where you could always swim,
and a place you’d not known before;
she was a fire that would set you alight,
an adventure that was yet to be planned.
Kenneth Steven 2016