On stilts, Ali Mal could carry
across Abhainn Eilcheag*
a ten stone sack of meal

tied to his back. His sister,
a sparrow of a lass,
hopped across on a single stilt.

These were workaday stilts
cut quick from alder;
a round handspan’s grip;

one foot from the ground,
a stub branch to hug
the instep of your brogues.

Duncan Matheson of Kintail
shows how. Solid, in plus fours
and check, his weight

drives down to the turf.
A plumb line from eyelid to toecap
stakes balance to his will.

In the water he places his trust
in silt. He knows the treachery
of pebbles, the lure of their smooth speckle.

Your great grandfather’s brothers
carried his cist barefoot, the water’s chill
on their toes, a wreath of cable stitch

and toe-tacks on his coffin lid
as they bore him inchmeal,
safe, to the other side.

*Pronounced Ah-veen Eel-ih-hake = River Elchaig.