Mandy Macdonald is an Australian writer and musician living in Aberdeen, trying to make sense of the 21st and other centuries. She has been writing poetry for much of her life, clandestinely, but finally began letting other people see it after returning to poetry via Jo Bell’s path-breaking ‘52’ project. Now it has been seen by readers of several anthologies and many online and print journals in the UK and further afield, most recently Vaster than Empires (an anthology about vegetables from Grey Hen Press, 2018) Multiverse (science fiction poetry from Shoreline of Infinity, 2018), and Noon (Solstice Shorts, Arachne, 2019), and journals including The Poets’ Republic, Marble, Words for the Wild, The Curlew, and Firth. When not writing, she makes music with Intuitive Music Aberdeen and a number of choirs. Her first collection will be published later in 2019.
Aberdeen’s cold, wild and beautiful North Sea coast is a far cry from the golden dunes and blue surf of Mandy’s Australian childhood, and she has also lived and worked in Cuba and Central America. All these places, and others, find a place in her poetry. She is appalled by climate change, but poetry, music, and gardening keep her sane.
Wrong about the nightjar
I saw a nightjar once, in Thetford Forest, 1975, a summer-end night, moonlight strobing through the trees. I was half mad then with unrequited love – so, yes, moonlight. And there was music: a ghostly purring, feathery and mournful – no, regretful, unlocated – fading at the edges into a mere echo in the night. And love, and romance, were they there in the spectral flitting of the bird? Was it really a bird, that vague shape, colourless, putative, threading through the pines’ dark colonnade? That’s what I remember. Except, that wasn’t it. Just the other week I opened, idly, John Baker’s hymn to the peregrine falcon and the Essex landscape and all its birds, his obsession of ten years. And then I knew that memory had lied. The nightjar is not spectral, Baker says, not gloomy; it does not drift through the woods like a shade. No, it leaps up joyfully into flight, it dances, its song is a stream of wine spilling from a height into a deep and booming cask. How could I have got it so wrong? The sad bird half seen, half heard, the forest-filling purring? Was I even there? I’m sure about the love, though. I clung to it for years. * Note: The short quotations in italics are taken from J. A. Baker, ‘The Peregrine’ (1967), in The Peregrine, The Hill of Summer & Diaries; The Complete Works of J. A. Baker, with introduction by Mark Cocker & edited by John Fanshawe (London: HarperCollins, 2011)
almost at the full moon floodlights the hotel veranda bleaches its white wood whiter tenderly strokes the blue soft cushions I sit washed in its light, beside you alone you are here but away, retracted I cannot reach you there is no enjoyment in you no comfort I can bring up in the rafters a little gecko chitters sleepy lorikeets stir and whiffle settle again warm rain has painted green everything that was brown I am home, in my own country but you are far from your cold home its rain that paints grey everything that was not already grey I think perhaps you would rather be there
A season ends
To the west, sky pearls the sea; to the north, grey, a breast of down – overhead, geese, a perfect arrowhead such as you might find in a burial kist two thousand years in the waiting, but didn’t, this summer. For the last time this year you pack away the kite-shaped trowel, the soft and stiff-haired brushes, the fine sieve, the tweezers, the small trays and bags for captured scraps of bone and metal, clay and seed. You close your notebook, notice again the worn threads of the loop that fastens it, tuck it into your pocket. Next year, you’ll need a new jacket too. You drink the last lukewarm tea from your thermos, breathe the seaweed tang, commit it to memory, catch yourself shivering a little in the gathering evening’s chill. Around you they are closing down the site for the winter: spreading plastic sheeting, weighing it down; hundreds of old lorry tyres make a pattern of circles, a charm against the rough lullaby of wind and rain for those who sleep here.