The day that I met linen was the day my grandmother closed her eyes
and the two large brown pennies were laid in place.
It was me they sent to skirt, fleet foot, round the yellow irised bay
to the Post Office which was also the village shop and the gossip station
where Angus, the owner before the famous Seumas
was all things to all islanders.
Breathless I was when I uncurled my and held out
the hot half crown sticking safely on my sweaty palm.
And the Gaelic burred from his tobacco stained lips
Still gasping, I nodded.
So he took the old wooden ladder and leaned it over
the Brasso and Blue shelf, the beans and the biscuit shelf
and climbed high, higher than I’d ever seen him climb,
to the topmost shelf in the roofly shadow of the shop.
Then backwards, backwards, feet feeling each worn rung
in the arch of his boot, he brought down
a large of dark and dusty box.
Unlidding it, the tissue paper whispered as if to say
“Who is it this time?”
When his sea- fishing, log- splitting hands parted the paper
he took out a shroud – such as was beyond my ken until then –
and it was purest white and cool and yes, it was beautiful.
“Best linen this, finest woven, plain, as decreed.”
I stretched out a finger to feel the best.
Reverently he parcelled it up and tied it with hairy string,
then took the half crone and put it in the ting box of the till.
As he handed me the tidy bundle he warned me,
in the Gaelic that I can only vaguely remember today,
not to drop it in the rising tide on my way home
or my grandmother would haunt me for evermore.