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Saturday, August 06, 2016

On the Nature of Landscape as Quotation

Though I might wish to dispute it, the statue of Robert the Bruce outside Marischal College is not holding up the Declaration of Arbroath for my personal benefit. He’s not really looking at me. Yet there he is on his horse, a herring gull posed on his head. Likewise, the statue of Gordon of Khartoum outside the gallery has no deep thoughts on its French Impressionist holdings. The statue of Victoria at Queen’s Cross has no demonstrable thoughts about anything. You may have seen one just like it, or close enough. She is there but not really there. All landscape is quotation. Further out from the city centre:

the Aberdeenshire canal
continues though dry, and where
should be bargefuls of granite
clearing the culverts and locks
are filled-in bridges over fields,
the trail coming and going.
Water remains available
but spurned yet

closer to where I live in the countryside, it elects to resurface in a short, anomalous stretch behind the Italian fish and chip shop in Port Elphinstone. It is August and the grass and nettles are overgrown, but a path has been trampled down to the water’s edge, where I find a duck on a log and not much else. I cannot see where the water begins or ends.

As an absence the canal repeats the paths that would have been there before it, now doubly lost, but snaking back from absence to presence it goes somewhere else again – not found, exactly, but diverted beyond municipal utility and marked deletion alike. Pushing the low branches of a beech tree aside I find algae, plastic bags, and clumpy growths of celandine. Rendering the canal obsolete, the age of steam will surely never die, I tell myself, before I turn back to:

where the waste
from the closed
paper mill gathers
the surface now
frothing now
placid and since
there must
be something
to look at
accept this duck
returning my gaze
from its nest
and a single egg
beneath it dead
but looking
ever so comfy

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