Elegy for Iain Banks
First published in Star*Line 39.3
For Iain M. Banks (1954-2013)
Scottish science fiction writer
known for fanciful spaceship names.
The Irish corvette Macha – a small
warship – was dispatched to France
to bring William Butler Yeats’s body
home to Ireland for reburial in 1948.
Iain waits at Forth Ports in Rosyth,
where his father had once worked.
He sits on a dock, dangling his feet
into thick air over dark green water,
where once submarines lay for repair,
their blunt noses airing in dry dock.
The clipper spaceship Screw Loose,
from his novel The Player of Games,
is on the way to fetch him, to ferry him
to Avalon, Ynys Afallon, Isle of Apples,
where King Arthur reposes, braced
to save Albion—England—from peril.
Iain squints into gray, storm-clouded
sky, uncertain from which direction
Screw Loose would appear, swoop in.
A three-masted ship gracefully slips
into dock. Iain pays not one whit
of attention, still scanning the skies.
Iain is surprised when the sailing ship’s
captain strides up, blue plumed tricorn
and tasseled epaulets glistening gold.
“Mr. Banks, I presume? When will you
board, sir? I am master of this vessel
to leeward of you. She is Screw Loose.”
Jaw slack, Iain doesn’t know what
to say. He allows himself to be led
onto the deck of the clipper ship.
Captain MacBride gives the order
to cast off, weigh anchor. The sun
emerges brightly from behind clouds.
Standing in the bow, Iain leans into
salty spray, the sea scudding and
frothing as it breaks on either side
of the clipper. Iain feels the cancer
somehow fading away, black flakes
sloughing off, flurrying away in wind.
Iain recalls how he had driven today
to the Rosyth docks in a bit of a frenzy.
He’d imagined he would be tardy and
need to sprint, yelling out for someone
to hold Screw Loose even as it left.
Or worse yet, there’d be no spaceship.
Hearing a strange metallic noise,
like a submarine klaxon dive dive,
Iain turns and looks upward
at the sails on the closest mast.
Someone in a boat alongside
the Screw Loose would have seen
Iain smile, as sails harden and shift,
drape a translucent metallic canopy
over the deck, flare ’50s rocket fins.
The spaceship Screw Loose lifts
from the water and streaks smoothly
up into air, deep space, the heavens.