Wednesday, 28 November 2018

'Northern Lights' by Nancy Campbell

As a Season's greeting, I offer this captivating and evocative poem by Nancy Campbell, an Arctic traveller and searcher who lives and works in Oxford but has done several artistic residencies at high latitudes - Upernavik, Ilulissat, Siglufjörður.

Northern lights 

Sometimes you can sense them,
Guðny says. In winter she wakes
at midnight to an intense silence
as if the town is stalking itself,
and she knows the skies will be bright
as butter. She opens the window
to feel the cold air rising from the snow
and sits on the low sill, half-
dreaming, watching the lights churn
over the hills, whisky gold in her glass.

When he's not working nights
Björn likes to borrow Guðny's car
and drive out of town. He believes
you can always see the lights better
in the next valley, but you have to hurry
before they disappear. On the cliff road
he'll switch the headlights off while his eyes
adjust to the dark. Down by the fjord
he stops, lies back on the warm bonnet,
listening to the heat shields tick.

When her husband's away at sea
Alice often walks to the beach
with her camera set to manual
and a spare battery. If the tide's out
she fixes a tripod among the small black rocks
which smell of kelp. Each time the shutter clicks
it captures new magnetic patterns. 
Back home she patiently scrolls
through hundreds of thumbnails,
deletes them one by one, keeping the best.

Far out on the North Banks
the floodlit deck of Sindri's trawler
is rich with fish. He heads for home:
the lights of his town are hidden
so it's good to see the aurora
soaring over those mountains,
and the slow sweep of the beam
from Siglunes lighthouse to the east.
A tiny satellite blinks above him
collecting data for the storm report.

Birna is tired, there's so much to do
before the family visits. As she hangs
glittering stars upon her tree 
the weather forecast promises 
perfect cloud cover, but tonight
she's got no desire to look outside:
the aurora will continue circling
the world, and someone else will watch
its fires dance, while she remembers
the nights long gone.

Christmans Lights, 
Ten poems for Dark Winter Nights
Candlestick Press, 2018