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A Hebridean Body by Karen D’Arcy-Kernan

Karen D’Arcy-Kernan’s poem ‘A Hebridean Body’ explores the wild and rugged landscape of the Scottish isles and their innate connection to the human body for Silk + Smoke Issue 2.

First, Mull;
dusky diorite, xenocrysts,
dark silver gashed, wounds across salmon pink granite,
amalgam filling forced against palpitating pulp.
Sand burning, glowing, white as manicured nail tips,
blazing eyelid afterimage; all bleached blue with exposure.
Here brings the freedom to inhale – gasping, scrabbling sea air into me,
salt bite and fish tang scorching through throat and suffering lungs.
These sad dank sponges, burbling and bruised bronchioles,
sodden, soughing with city reek and dust, now vital, heaving;
the spaces between breaths breaking, like the crash of waves.

Later, Iona;
gneiss surging, dappled,
settled in inevitable bulk, a verdant colossus sleeping;
swirling green epidote like the striae of my thighs, my stomach.
My distant branches of sea green veins and stipple of burst capillaries.
Scree of the shingle shore shattering knees, feet, fingers; juddering pain,
the pain all pilgrims must go through, I remind myself.
The turquoise water a tremendous jewel, abundant, coruscating,
mirroring oceans of my eyes, spasmed in strabismus, glinting.
My body pulverised, a marine creature crushed, sifted sand and shells,
a graveyard still living; machair growing fertile, low lying, wild and rare.

Ultimately, Staffa;
basalt monolith, volcanic,
looming sober from the brine, a titan, an executioner;
eldritch colonnade, hexagonal hierophant; audaciously extant.
An Uaimh Bhinn gapes black, sings in its symmetry, a cavernous cathedral
of ribs, intercostals, eerie organs; a swelling sea symphony.
This condition has no famous overtures; acoustics heard only in my tissues,
in too-sweet notes of theremin strain, in ostinato paroxysms of pain.
But still, life amongst the ash and debris, flourishing flora, sea birds nesting.
Cackle of fulmars and revving chainsaw of puffins, raucous and free;
a shipwrecked, salt encrusted heart, coarse and throbbing, untrammelled.

Read this while listening to ‘The Shanty of the Whale’ by Norma Waterson and Eliza Carthy.


Karen D’Arcy-Kernan is a practising counsellor by day and a reader and writer by night. Having grown up in Glasgow, she now writes poetry and short stories from her home near the Ochil Hills. Her work explores identity, nature, and chronic and mental illness.


I visited the Hebridean islands of Mull, Iona and Staffa in 2017 and was awestruck by their beauty, their wildness, and their incredible geology. I was diagnosed with joint hyper-mobility syndrome a few months later, having struggled with physical pain for years. This poem is a processing of that pain, of my understanding of my own chronically ill body, and of the solace to be found in nature and wild places. It connects the landscape of my body, with all its pain and potential, to the awesome landscapes I encountered on these islands; both with the beauty and struggle and freedom of dying and living interwoven, and both with endings and beginnings existing simultaneously.

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