Strange Tales of the Kingdom of Fife

By Mark Jarman

Hear the author read this poem

Here Michael Scott, the Wizard of Balwearie,
Set Satan to the task of braiding rope
From sea sand. He might still be laboring
Below the ruined castle as the sea
Slicks his raw material to mud
Or the rare sun dries the grains—all bits of seashell—
So that they run like water through his hands.
Nobody comes to this place just to be here,
A factory town hunkered on the North Sea.
It’s business or it’s accident. Or returning.
To come back, after thirty years, and stare
At a church—now boarded up—a school, a house,
Might pass for reverence to passersby,
But then you are expected to move on.
Across the Firth the sunshine, grudging through,
Strikes the skyline of the capital,
The domes and spires like monuments of sea coal
And the green slopes that lean toward them like palmers.
So close! So much like wish fulfillment, heaven.
Why not depart for it this instant? No.
Look at him pull his head in from the cold,
Turn collar up to the wind’s grit, and stay.
Nobody stays here when the sun is shining
Beyond, where one can see it beckoning,
Unless it’s business or by accident.
Here Michael Scott, the Wizard of Balwearie,
Set Satan to the task of braiding rope
From sea sand. He might still be laboring,
Watched by no one but another stranger
Who has his own enchantment to endure.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/10/strange-tales-of-the-kingdom-of-fife/305218/