Where the estuary suddenly narrows
and the river begins its slow bends
through the valley, white smoke is drifting
from a thicket of trees where egrets roost.
The birds are rising, like sudden flags
fluttered, bright cloths flung into the air,
their dry, rattling calls echoing
across the empty river just at its flow.
Above where the sage hills become lilac
mountains, beyond where the invaders
ever went, high on the summer pastures
with the sheep fattening for the valley,
the shepherd sleeps in a ruined cottage
and dreams of wild goats nobody counts.
He does not hear the shotgun’s blast nor breathe
the black smoke that gouts from the tumbled stones.
She saw the dark plume first then the yellow-white
scatter of the sheep then the lick of orange
and last the birds over the river
and the wisp of smoke drift as her boat dipped
and bucked against the now ebbing tide.
The thud of water kept her in ignorance
as the flags snapped at the stern. She steered
towards discovery and desolation.
Note: The title is taken from the last paragraph of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dedication to his friend, Charles Baxter, in the first edition of his novel, ‘Kidnapped’ – http://robert-louis-stevenson.classic-literature.co.uk/kidnapped/ebook-page-02.asp