Read an Excerpt
My Sister Anna Clare Writes from Lewis,
If we had wanted abundance I suppose
we could have chosen another home.
This place is full of losses. When the boat
went down in the Minch it was a clear day
and the sea looked green and flat from here
though the currents have a mind of their own
as you know, and take who they will.
It was our Francis, and I can't say
I had foreknowledge. The sky was clear
and my heart light too, like the shallows
you see through to sand, and no stones.
The seals had gone, and the razorbills.
We had no thought, except the ones
you always do, the worry whispering
like the sea when it's stillyou always hear it.
Like a child itself, the sea is. Once he's born
you never don't think of him, never don't know
what he's doing. Living here is like that.
And it's beautiful. Even when you forgetwe did
this timeits treachery. If you could spare a wee bit
of comfort on the next boat we would be grateful.
It has not been possible for us to locate the speaker or her sister. Eds.
Mary Angela Rose Writes from St Kilda, 1903
You think because I am a midwife I will talk of babies lost
that came in winter squalls, their mothers without milk,
the blood, white thighs. No.Though Iadmit the thighs will
sometimes move me. And the bairns. A person is not made
of stone. They wail. I oil and swaddle them. I study
small pale faces and sometimes I can tell the ones will live
a week, a year, and aye, I grieve over wee hopes lost,
the man he would have been, the bonnie lass. Here am I
with three names, a richness that discomforts me
in this poor place. My mother died as I saw light: in prayer
my father gave me holy names and bright, and in my time
I have replied to all of them. I no longer fancy living here
though on the mainland I would always be a stranger.
Here the land is fine, all stones and hills, but steep: hard to climb,
on the feet, hard to farm. Like a picture of my loneliness.
It may be on the mainland there'd be others more like me.
I like to watch the sun rise from the sea but not go into it,
and never look west: it's too empty. In all these years, only one time
did I bring out an unnatural child. Several born dead or marked,
but only one affrighted me. Afterwards I had bad dreams.
I was sitting on the beachI never would doand a boat,
tossed ashore, splintered and threw pieces on me, spar
and ropes and boards and nets: I sat in ruins under stars
as cold as sin. Then things of metal fell out of the sky
but how could they?stone and metal cannot fly
like birds. Rock and metals fell. They crushed
the sheep and tore the grasses, leaving gashes on our island.
Once I married but my husband went away to Shetland.
I felt for many years that I disgusted him. Even clean
I smelled of blood and milk. My work reminded him
of troubled ways that men and women come together.
Once I saw him watching sheep. I saw his mouth
all twisted, though he didn't know it. When birds come south
I sometimes think of him. Once a stick, I have grown stout
and I wonder what it would have taken. Perhaps nowt
would join useven wee ones of our ownif he had remained.
View from the south, over the Straits of Florida
Gleaming in its sheath of bluegreen air
and water, Florida's familiar body emerges
from black space and at the southeast edge
returns to it where the continental shelf
drops hard to darkness. The picture
doesn't show flat sandy country,
the wild variety of palm and fruiting trees,
the sprawling banyan at the Ringling Home
like circus elephants in stilled parade
around no tent. You can't see me walking
with an image of my mother, north
along a curve of Gulf, the water blue
as the insides of shells, as her eyes.
You can't see me spyingas when a fan
of palm fronds separates to let the wind
come through, or in a drift of vision
just beyond a clump of pinesFlorida
in the forties and fifties, dusty, somnolent,
and dull, unselfconscious in its finery.
You can't see me leaving a man
I first loved thirty years ago and likely
will not see again. From 200 miles up,
what's visible: countless sweet blues,
the sandy littoral, swirls and brightness
in the shallows. Through cloudfizz
like painted glitter on a painted sea
erratic rounds of lakes, hammered silver
spangles planned, as for a necklace, in a row.
Then, the Maker suddenly distracted, dropped
at random all the way to Okeechobee,
just north of where the country hollows
like a bowl to hold the grassy inland sea. Home
hangs off the vast expanse of mainland
like a dollop of sweet cream or a drop
of seawater, heavy at the bottom, trailing
islands, a few drops blown to westward.
In my heavy new silk dress, dark blue,
I have come to know it fully: you are dead
beneath palm trees. Never the crush
of your arms, never your thigh thrust
between mine. Your voice never.
In my empty house I call your name out
foolish girland like the girl I was
when you were here, shout. Echoes rush
into space like radio waves, straight off
into the dark where you are
where I will go, though not because you're there,
good dear, and I want you. I want you here
between me and the dark, quick
flesh, that fluttering small light, its guttering wick.