“Portrait of an Old Woman,” Guido Reni, 1630, WikiArt photo.

Illness swept our island, young, elderly,
Too weak against taught rope, straining
Pull, deep cough, dark nights shallow-
Wheezing breaths. “How is she?” crofters
Asked of elder mother, Fenella, frail-thin,
Sustained by warm tea sips, lantern-lit
Stone-cottage. “She has not the strength
Nor will,” I, Willow, whispered this winter
Night. “Too easy not to breathe,” Fenella
Gasped, each breath more laboured that
The last – her last.

How islanders imagine death will be,
Shipwrecked, drowned, starvation. In
Reality, stranger flood beckoned, simple
Cough grew worse, settled in the chest,
Herbal teas gave way, hoping for fever-
Breaking bright morn. Our prayers but
Cymbals brass, Fenella’s pledge, feeble
Life-clutching until mainland family
Visited her at bedside. Winter gale said
Otherwise, kept screw steamer hard-
Pushed on her stony moorings.

Hearing this, Fenella’s face and eyes
Distressed, she strained upon death’s
Ropes, my arm grasped, she whispered,
“Tell them I love them. Verses I have
written, give to them.” Death settled
Over her, as much blessing as defeat,
Fenella’s soul spiraled upward bound.
“She is gone,” I stated, “with God and
Family reconciled.” Strong-backed men
Shovel-turned cold earth, another elder
Frail flesh and bone grave committed.

By evening candlelight, Fenella’s pages of
Verse I read: “Ocean and island decides
Who lives, who dies, storm petrels darting,
Life a flowing wave, cresting seas, our
Fishermen, their families, recite daily
Prayers, rattling hail, hard rain.” Few
Pages sifted, “Stone wall is this island,
Few pass, lives lived upon rocky shores,
Family and friends, our enemies daren’t
Tread. We are last voices, final footsteps,
Land’s end at foaming ocean edge.”

Perhaps Willow will discover more of Fenella’s poetry.
Thanks for reading.  

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