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The Old Woman

And there she is,
vacant and pale and frail and bereft,
like a clipper who once knew distant seas
and now for too long landlocked
on a vastness of dry and golden rye

no wind or courage left to surge
the whiteness of her sail
or gale to swell her wooden heart —
and thus prompt her depart.

And still she remembers distant days,
when gulls flocked to the mainstays
of her hands; days when the vastness
was made of silvery waters
and the transparencies of skies.

She remembers those days
and the warmth of golden sands,
and the gentle murmuring sways
of waves and the caresses
of the wind on her tresses –

bleached by many summers of sun
to the same colour as salt tempered sisal.

Still she remembers the ardour of youth
and its vigour, despite the uncouth haste
with which time hurried its demise.

She remembers his hands too, and how
they touched, rough and scratched
by the nets and the sands and the sea.

And she remembers the kisses of his lips,
fleeting and brief like passing ships
in the night. But no longer can she remember
in the darkness of this night of harvested rye,
the colour and glint of the sea in his eye.
© Nina Light 2013 CC-BY-NC-ND

Newlyn, old fisherwoman fanny mathews-1906_56530 copyright The Francis Frith Collection


~ written on watching a reportage on how some of the last fishing communities in Portugal were being broken up and forcibly displaced from their waterfront neighbourhoods and housed in landlocked housing estates, in order to liberate those prime locations for luxury developments and/or land speculation. Some of these waterfront neighbourhoods have been the home of local fishermen and their families continuously for the last couple of centuries. This old woman was crying as she was interviewed, at the same time desperate and exasperated, as she had been born, got married and had raised her children in the house she was now being made to leave, and where all her memories of her late fisherman husband were. They had known nothing else but waterfront living and fishing all their lives. Her last words were that she did not know what she was expected to do with herself once living inland, and that she was now too old and frail and leaving all her life behind like that would quite probably “hasten her depart”.


image credits & copyright:

bottom image: Newlyn, Old Fisherwoman, Fanny Mathews (1906) © The Francis Frith Collection;

featured image: Women waiting for the return of the fishing boats, “Soalheiro” Photo by PedroPVZ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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