‘It’s a terrible habit,’ Jan Sutch Pickard writes, ‘putting food into my pocket. This keeps happening: where the midpoint of an Iona Community pilgrimage is marked by welcome flapjack; at beach picnics with my family sharing sandy sandwiches. When I was an Ecumenical Observer, a peace monitor, on the West Bank, I was given flatbread from the taboon – the earth-oven – of my Muslim neighbours; in West Jerusalem, the Women in Black shared cookies at the end of a stressful demonstration; after church in Nablus, Palestinian Christians lingered over coffee: but I’m not good at eating and talking. The morsels go into my pocket – and later become food for the birds.’
This collection of poems can be compared to such crumbs – from many sources. Poems of strong and well-crafted connections – between communities in the West of Scotland and the West Bank Palestinian territories; between prayer and politics; between a lyrical delight in the natural world – and down-to-earth living, observed with warmth and humour.
Jan Sutch Pickard is a former Warden of Iona Abbey, a storyteller, liturgist and Methodist lay preacher. She has twice served as a peace monitor with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel.
Swallows at Crianlarich
The sleeper shuffles into Crianlarich
on a grey morning, eyes not quite open yet.
Stepping onto the platform, I feel air from the hills
splash like fresh water in my face
and am startled by a world full of wings:
swallows swooping round the station,
small bodies that jink and dart,
over the down platform, past tearoom signs
and tubs of late-summer flowers,
across lines stretching south to Glasgow,
rails running north across Rannoch Moor –
dancing as though delighted,
maybe with the morning midge-rise,
or simply with all that air
sending out urgent messages on twitter,
low-flying, then looping over and up
to gather on wires with fast-beating hearts:
a new brood testing their wings
in training for the long haul
where lines converge on the horizon,
connecting with another hemisphere
and this in-between place where I’ve alighted,
paused for breath, is where the tired year
breathes out and blows them far away –
where the young swallows’ journey starts.