Whilst spring had arrived, days and nights
Seemed just as long, seas as cold, yet fishers
Took to cresting waves, lowering nets along
Distant rocky isles, coves and bays up and
Down foreshores. “She is old enough,” Papa
Said of me, Willow, watching for swaying
Lanterns of village fishing boats as they
Made night return. By land lantern, I would
Guide them through difficult tidal roost.
Since barefoot girl, I listened to elder men
Crooked cane in hand, seated by hearth
Fires, they sang mournful tales of fisher’s
Deaths. Eyes closed, white stubble beard,
Sips of whiskey, they sang as if entranced,
Dozen names lost to sea, island families
We had known, foam-streaked waves, strong
Currents, dirty weather coastline-hugging,
Legends of sea-death swirling whirlpools.
Found washed upon shores, breathless-pale
Survivors, foundering flotsam, swore never to
Push boats into fishing waters. “We’d rather
plow stone fields, build stone fences, shep-
Herding shelters, tending sheep in mud, snow,
Rain.” Sea widows, children gathered, tears
Wiping, repeated in chorus, “We’d rather
Tend sheep in mud, snow, rain.” For some
Bitter truth, for others whiskey singing song.
In simple ceremony, laying sea-weathered
Hands upon mine, fishers passed signal
Lantern to me: honour, duty, life-pact,
Alerting light on beaches, headland cliffs
Dark nights when mist, fog descended,
Opaque darkness wore to predawn hours.
Can of lantern oil, hand-knitted fisher’s cap,
Sleepless nights I awaited hand knocks on
Cottage door, guiding fishing boats ashore.
Thanks for reading.