Deep Wheel Orcadia

Orkney is a small group of islands off the north coast of Scotland, and my home. Deep Wheel Orcadia is a space station a few hundred years in the future, which is almost but not entirely unlike Orkney. I wrote a verse novel about this place in my home language, Orcadian, which is a form of Scots strongly shaped by Old Norse. I wanted to take Orkney into space because small languages and small places are rarely imagined in futurity, and because doing that helped me write about things I care about, like how hope folds time over on itself, and how homecoming is a difficult utopia, and how the places the centre imagines as fringe are where life is made. The poems here are an extract of the central plot, a love story between Astrid, who grew up in the Deep Wheel and is returning home from art school in Mars, and Darling, who is running from a Martian life and looking for a place to call home. As in the book, the poems come with a parallel English translation of sorts, and you can read them as you please.


-- Harry Josephine Giles

Astrid Docks

The chime o the tannoy is whit taks her back,
fer hid isno chaenged, nae more as the wirds
summonan her tae the airlock: her wirds,
at sheu isno heard fer eyght geud year.

Sheu waatched the Deep Wheel approch, gray-green,
hids Central Staetion tirlan yet
anent the yallo yotun, peedie
bolas teddert aroon hids ring,

pierheids trang wi yoles, wi glims,
an fund the gloup atween ootbye an in
clossan slaa – but only noo,
wi this soond, deus sheu ken whar sheu is.

Sheu leuks aroon the ither fock,
tryan tae mynd wha’s uncan, an wha’s
whas bairn, an wha’s gien a naem fae sheu left,
an whas naem sheu shoud mynd yet.

An Astrid leuks tae anither body,
stannan at the vizzie-screen:
taall, pael, reid hair ravsie,
Martian style, gappan at the sight.

Sheu coud been a student fae college, but no
like Astrid, at waants tae waatch her an kinno
disno: sheu’s ferfil bonnie an warld-like
fer Mars, but here i’the ramse poly

habitats o inner space,
sheu’s a aafil queerie sowl.
The visietor leuks aroon an grins
at Astrid, at leuks awey, no kennan

whit wey tae meet incoman joy.
The jaas o the transport appen, a gant
thrumman the bonns o the ship, a kord
whan the gangwey connecks. Astrid’s taen

a peedie an weyghty life on her back,
an whan sheu steps intae the airlock
sheu catches the grief o whit will come
if the pairts o her canno find thir piece.

 

*

 

Astrid Docks

The chime of the tannoy is what brings her back, because it hasn’t changed, and neither have the words summoning her to the airlock: her words, which she hasn’t heard for eight goodlong years.
                She watched the Deep Wheel approach, grey-green, its Central Station still turntwistwhirlspinning againstaboutbefore the yellow gas giant, little bolas ropemoormarried around its ring
                pierheads fullactiveintimate with boats, with gleampointlights, and found the chasmcleft between outside and inside closing laxslowly – but only now, with this sound, does she know where she is.
                She looks around the other folk, trying to rememberknowreflectwill who is strangerweird, and who is whose child, and who’s taken a name since she left, and whose name she should still rememberknowreflectwill.
                 And Astrid looks at another personbody, standing at the viewing screen: tall, pale, red hair roughabundantunkempt in a Martian style, gapingfoolishmindless at the sight.
                 She could have been a student from college, but not like Astrid, who wants to watch and also doesn’t: she’s veryfearfully finepretty and healthynormal for Mars, but here in the roughcurtbitter plasticpolymer
                  habitats of inner space, she’s a veryawfully strangequeer soulperson. The visitor looks around and grinyearns at Astrid, who looks away, not knowing
                  whathowwherewhy to meet incoming joy. The jaws of her transport open, a yawngasp thrumming the bones of the ship, a chord when the gangway connects. Astrid’s brought
                  a little and heavymeaningful life on her back, and when she steps into the airlock, she begins to feel grief about what will happen if the parts of her can’t find their placedistancepartwhile.

The pieces Darling’s been

Fer her coman o age she asked o her faithers
a week’s resiedential on Aald Eart.
Nae Ball, nae press confrence, nae giftid
Executiveship, nae ship, even,
tho aa her brithers wis taen the sleekest
o sublight racers. Thay naeraboot
imploded, but sheu wis inherieted airts
an negotiated the week as traed
fer a simmer wirkan at senior manajment.
Mars simmers is ower lang.

That wis the stairt o her travaigan.
Foo wi the guff o fifty square mile
o aald equatorial rainforest, no
landscaepid ava, sheu kent
sheu wadno gang haem, but see as gret
a lot o the seiven starns as sheu coud.
Sheu peyed a ecogaird tae mairk her
on the wrang manifest, an fleed. She saa
the Natralist munka-hooses on Phobos,
whar papar refused ony maet traeted

wi more as fire, praeched wershy beauty.
Sheu saa a demonstraetion staetion
o sepratist Angles: bred, snod,
rich, blond, an weel-airmed.
Her faithers’ credited wirds – first barman,
than teely, than dortan – trackid her
fae Europan federal mines tae stentless
pairties orbitan Wolf. Thay wir even
bowt bulletin time on the ansible network.
At lang an at lent sheu tint thir trackers

on the unregistered Autonomist traeder
whar, awey, sheu teuk her new naem
an body an face, whar sheu teuk time
tae cheuss an recover, at teuk her here
tae Orcadia, the innermosst Nordren staetion,
aence the edge, aence the centre,
pangit an empty yet, wi Darling,
eftir peyan her rodd ower that
grand a piece o space, lukkan
fer a peedie piece tae listen an leuk.

 

*

 

The placesdistancepartwhiles Darling’s been

For her coming of age she asked from her fathers a week’s residential on Old Earth. No Ball, no press conference, no gifted Executiveship, no ship, even, though all of her brothers had taken the sleekest in sublightspeed racers. They almost imploded, but she had inherited skilldirectiongrift and negotiated the week in return for a summer working in senior management. Mars summers are very long.
               This was the start of her roamingramblingtravels. Drunkmadfull on the stinkpuffsnortnonsense of fifty square miles of old equatorial rainforest, not landscaped at all, she knew she wouldn’t go home, but see as much of the seven stars as she could. She paid an environmental quarantine agent to mark her down on the wrong manifest, and flew. She saw the Naturalist monasteries on Phobos, where holies refused any foodmeat treated
                with more than fire, preached thinwatery beauty. She saw a demonstration station of separatist Angles: trainbreddrilled, cleantrimabsolute, rich, blond, and well-armed. Her fathers’ moneyrespected words – first ragefrothseething, then pleadwheedling, then sulkforsaking – tracked her from federal mines on Europa to unrestrainedendless parties orbiting Wolf. They had even bought time for a bulletin on the ansible network. At long last and after much effort she lost their trackers
                on the unregistered Autonomist trader where, awaydeaddistracted, she took her new name and body and face, where she took time to choose and recover, which took her here to Orcadia, the Northern station closest to the galactic centre, once the edge, once the centre, fullbursting and empty still, with Darling, after buypaying her way across such a goodbig placedistancepartwhile of space, looking for a little placedistancepartwhile to listen and look.

Astrid meets the visietor, Darling

Astrid’s sketchan the yoles at a pierheid on Central,
cosh i’the neuk anunder a pilot light,
whan Darling, no lukkan, snappers atwart her, dingan
her styluses ower the skitey deck o the pier.
Thay waatch the gadjets hurl intae the clifts,
Darling speldered intae Astrid’s skirt.

Darling’s haep o sorries an offers o credit
is as gabsie as Astrid’s reassurance is blate.
“I wirno uissan thaim. Better ithoot.”
Darling trys tae mak the fykie transietion
fae shock tae blether wi “Are you visiting too?”
an gars somtheen a weys more precious gang.

But wi the offer o tea, Astrid gies
tae Darling whit sheu’s waantan: lowses the vouels
in her spaekeen, nods an smiles whan Darling yatters
on aboot community, the community,
fills the visietor’s lugs wi the new aaldness
o her staetion haem, spaeks whit sheu disno ken.

An eftir, eftir tea turns tae spirits,
kennan her ploys is waatched by ivry lighter
i’the Hoose, cheussan no tae mynd, seean
the meanan o the lunt in Darling’s een,
carean that sheu disno care, sheu laaghs
at the dunt o the invitaetion an follows the wife.

Thir touchan’s stimmerie joy, trivvlan, agglan,
airtan, error, hixan, delight. Thay both
ken the movs an maan unlairn them noo
fer this new body’s waas, windows, doars.
Astrid taks a guff o Mars again,
an Darling, discovry. Thir tongs tak a gless.

Than eftir, whan the cruisies brighten tae morneen,
wi Darling yet sleepan, Astrid busks an leuks
fae porthole tae bunk, fae the tide tae Darling’s hair,
an speirs o the gods, at dinno exist, if
thir both fund whit thay waant, or need, or no,
or if thir maed hid, or if hid ivver metters.

 

*

 

Astrid meets the visitor, Darling

Astrid is sketching the boats at a pierhead on Central, snugquiethappyintimate in the nook under a pilot light, when Darling, not looking, stumblestammers across her, knocking her styluses over the slippery deckfloor of the pier. They watch the gadgets speedthrowrolldrive into the crackchinks, Darling spreadsplit over Astrid’s lap.
                Darling’s many apologies and offers of credit are as voluble as Astrid’s reassurance is shydiffident. “I wasn’t using them. Better without.” Darling tries to make the trickyfussyrestless transition from shock to talkchatramble with “Are you visiting too?” and causeforces something more precious to go.
                But with the offer of tea, Astrid can perform for Darling what she wants: loosens the vowels in her speech, nods and smiles as Darling rambles about community, the community, fills the visitor’s ears with the new oldness of her station home, tells her what she doesn’t know.
                And later, after tea becomes spirits, knowing her actiondecisiongames are watched by every lighter in the House, choosing not to rememberknowreflectwill, seeing the meaning of the flamesparklight in Darling’s eyes, caring that she does not care, she laughs at the shockchancestrike of the invitation and follows the woman.
                Their touch is stumblestammering joy, fumblefiddling, messdirtconfusion, searchfinding, error, laughhiccuping, delight. They both know the moves and must unlearn them now for this new personbody’s walls, windows, doors. Astrid tastes a stinkpuffsnortnonsense of Mars again, and Darling, discovery. Their tongues drink.
                Then later, when the lamps brighten to morning, with Darling still asleep, Astrid dressprepares and looks from porthole to bedbunk, from the seatimetide to Darling’s hair, and asks of the gods, who do not exist, if they have both found what they want, or need, or not, or if they have created it, or if it ever matters.