Beyond the narrows of the Inner Hebrides
We sailed the cold angry sea toward Barra, where Heaval mountain
Lifts like a mast. There were few people on the steamer, it was late in the
year; I noticed most an old shepherd,
Two wise-eyed dogs wove anxious circles around his feet, and a thin-armed
Who cherished what seemed a doll, wrapping it against the sea-wind. When
it moved I said to my wife "She'll smother it."
And she to the girl: "Is your baby cold? You'd better run down out of the
wind and uncover its face."
She raised the shawl and said "He is two weeks old. His mother died in
Glasgow in the hospital
Where he was born. She was my sister." I looked ahead at the bleak island,
gray stones, ruined castle,
A few gaunt houses under the high and comfortless mountain; my wife
looked at the sickly babe,
And said "There's a good doctor in Barra? It will soon be winter." "Ah,"
she answered, "Barra'd be heaven for him,
The poor wee thing, there's Heaval to break the wind. We live on a wee
island yonder away,
Just the one house."
The steamer moored, and a skiff—what they call a
curragh, like a canvas canoe
Equipped with oars—came swiftly along the side. The dark-haired girl
climbed down to it, with one arm holding
That doubtful slip of life to her breast; a tall young man with sea-pale eyes
and an older man
Helped her; if a word was spoken I did not hear it. They stepped a mast
and hoisted a henna-color
Bat's wing of sail.
Now, returned home
After so many thousands of miles of road and ocean, all the hulls sailed in,
the houses visited,
I remember that slender skiff with dark henna sail
Bearing off across the stormy sunset to the distant island
Most clearly; and have rather forgotten the dragging whirlpools of London,
The screaming haste of New York.