Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no. 217: Foula


We were two girls and the three-man crew

of the Foula mail boat. Grocery boxes crowded

around the coffin of an island woman

who had died in town.

Damp fog closed in. The engine thundered.

Its fumes hung in the air, its wake was dizzying swirls

of white water. Occasional birds - a guillemot or puffin -

flew with us over the slow heave of the waves.

Two hours and twenty-two miles out to sea

the men cut the engine. And listened

for water breaking on rocks.

We might have missed Foula. We might be heading

out into the ocean. Onto reefs. Into cliffs.

Even on clear days the five-peaked silhouette

was never certain. It was always a gift.

A horn. We heard a horn. Someone on shore

was blowing long and continuous notes

to guide us in to the pier.

When we landed, the Laird's wife snatched our wrists

and drew us with her to the Hall

for women folk must not be part of the procession

carrying the coffin into the mist.

Foula. The edge of the world.


Laurna Robertson

Published in Praise Song, December 2014

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