“Writing with Light” and other poems by Gerry Stewart

Writing with Light

Finnish Photography Notes

Guided by imaginary intersections,
fumbling our heavy DSLRs,
we learned the rules
for rhythm and repetition,
aperture and cropping.

My notebook sketched
the tutor’s words in haste.
They resurface beyond the lens.

Organise your space.
I carve out this new home
without maps, using rough translations
and neighbourly advice.

Exaggerate the angles.
Each experience becomes bigger,
more muddled.
I focus along sightlines
to the extremes
until I can make sense
of the finer details.

Never cut away the long shadows.
If I cannot embrace
the long Finnish winter,
I can view its sharp oblique light,
from skis or over a hot cup of glöggi.*

Leave the house,
explore the parts of the world
where you don’t belong.
Blend in with the locals,
find what attracts you to strangers
in their silence, in their open faces.

Travel light.
My unnecessary luggage
and expectations are abandoned.

Arrive early, leave late.
Wait for the decisive moment
to speak those hesitant first Sanaa.

Don’t put the subject in the centre.
Yet even out of shot
I am always fully exposed.

*warmed mulled alcohol or fruit juice served in winter


Slow City Unwind

The Hidden Gardens, Pollokshields

Unseeing strangers blur,
heads down, rushing off.
The rain-mirrored street
a reminding nudge.

Signs offer no way out.
Brick walls. Cigarettes stubbed.
A black bag afternoon caught
in the branches of a stunted tree.

I enter through the sandstone gates.
Grasses bow below a horizon
of hazy tenements.
Stones scarred by workers long forgotten
hold the warmth of my hand.

Whiplash leaves rise
into a painted sky
the colour of seagulls’ wings.

Stake a claim, slow down.
My voice buries itself
among the pine needles
after a day of borrowed words.

I soak up through open pores
the unruffled sunset and rill song,
ease myself away from the current.
Rake away the debris of a hectic life.

Carved wood and soaring trees
rest the spirit, a sanctuary
to keep impulsive winds at bay.

Sap rush.
I translate the garden’s poems
and expand my roots.


From Scratch

A tangle of tree roots, moss
and clay-bound shade,
a gift of apple trees and berry bushes.
All day sun and space to roam.

I dreamt of this new garden more than the house.

The first year’s fruit exceeded
our ability to cope.
I simmered pot after pot
with a newborn in my arms,
every morning let my eldest
eat all the raspberries.

Before the ground has defrosted
our window is full of little pots,
dirt trailing everywhere.

My daughter sprinkles her seeds
with haphazard joy
while I painstakingly transplant seedlings.
Hers will flourish,
blessed with whim and wishes
while mine struggle to adapt.

We cut back thirty-year-old trees:
koivu, kuusi, tammi, pihlaja, punaherukka*:
logs for the fire, mulch,
sticks for childhood games.
Our patch feeds our Finnish life.

The sun traces the arteries of roots
across the unmown lawn,
awaiting autumn’s gift of leaves
to rake and rake and rake again.

A parcel of land:
fit for hide and seek,
treasure hunts and first steps,
cups of tea and doing nothing.
Our home.

*birch, spruce, oak, rowan, red currant


Moon of Winds

February / March

A thawing crack in spring’s resolve,
frost gathers along our ridges,
tight as white-knuckled lichen.

Uprooting gales
no longer push through us,
still we search for a finger-hold,
a bolt hole in the lull
of the rain-scrubbed city.

A thin shaving of new moon
blown into bent oak branches,
taunts us with a Cheshire cat smile,
hunger in its whiskers.

You can ease out your breath
among old brick, foundations
and familiar ground
but I struggle to release
my bone-serious grip.


Thunder Moon

July / August

The piebald moon darts
between our flashes
of galloping inspiration
and the rumbles of routine.

My comfort is found rewriting
and weeding plotlines,
the slow trust of my work
growing word by word,
seeding clouds with potential.

At the first signs of heavy,
threatening skies
your dark twin pulls you
out of alignment
slipping a knife-edge
between tight shoulder blades.

I sieve fragile strands of sunlight
into your open doubts
to recharge your reserves.

Counting on the preceding calm,
we test the air, anticipating
the next adventure or upheaval.
A welcomed foreboding.

Writing with Light and other poems © Gerry Stewart