Sowing Light by Frank McMahon
“Enough!” she cried out loud, “I’ve had enough
of treading clods, breaking ploughs on flint
and chalk. And growing nothing more than docks
or charlock. Look at my fingers, knuckle and bone,
frayed by frost and wind. And I’ve done with fishing!
Arms scabbed by salt, worn thin from battling tides;
my back bent by the rain’s constant hammer,
casting nets for fish who slip away!
“No more!” She slammed the door,
fell upon her bed and slept. Three days
and nights. Neighbours tapped the windows,
rattled the latch and muttered,
is she ill? Or dead?
and visions came and went and came again,
smoothed her weathered brow, softened the rigid
jaw-line, danced behind her eyes. She burst awake.
“To work, yes, to work, but eat first, eat.”
She filled a leather bag, crept from her house
as the sun was dipping low, strode towards the sea,
unmoored the boat and set its little sail,
slid away on the falling tide, unseen,
or so she thought. “Stop, stop!” they cried, “you’ll drown!
Come back and wait for dawn!” Stern-faced she plied
the oars, broached the waters’ fret and dash,
out and out, steering by the fickle stars,
peering for the white-tipped curls across
the shallow ground. She shipped the oars and drifted,
held between dark and dark; felt for the leather bag
and teased it open. She stood, swaying with the sea’s
chop and pluck, grasped handfuls,
broadcast, once, again, again until
the bag was empty, hearing the softest plash
as the sea received. The stars fell dark, the current
turned, bringing her and dawn-light home.
Men were about already busy, knotting and splicing nets.
“What did you catch last night?” “Chilled bones.”
“You took no nets or lobster pots? Why not?”
“I sowed some seeds upon the sea.”
“Of course you did, it’s spring.”
They scratched their heads and sighed,
“The fish have took her mind.”
Small work filled her days; and climbing up the hill
to scan where she had sown. Patience paid
though others went to search.“There’s nothing
there but waves and fish,” “Look harder then!”
she chided, “for I can see them plain from here.”
They turned away, “Best let her be.”
First night of autumn,
a glimmer out at sea, candle flicker,
growing on the wind, a ball of gathered pollen,
two, then more, twenty, found her on the hill,
nestled in her apron, lit her homeward steps.
She placed them in the corner of each room
around the hearth, filling her home
with gentlest balm of harvest-yellow-gold.
A child came by, stopped, gawked with widening eyes,
shouted, “Look, quick, come and look, she’s stolen
all our moon!” Shouts, retorts, “get back to bed,
you witless child!” She shouted back, “No, not until
you come and see!”Protests, murmurs, a rope
of chatter hissing through the streets, enticing
the bored, the nosey and the gossip gang
to open creaking doors, follow sceptic neighbours
and throng before the house, tongue-tied
by the threads of the floating gleam.
“That witless girl was right! It can’t be lamps
of oil or candle light to give out such a glow!
She must have gone to sea, cast her nets and caught the moon!.”
“How could she?” “Just look up and tell me you see moon.
And where.” Skywards they searched, craning their necks round
all the compass points, stopped and pleaded: “Give us
back our moon to light our streets and keep the running
of the tides!”
But no response,
her door stayed closed. Jostling, mutter, a finger
pointed. “You saw it first, you must go and knock
And wake her up. You ,yes, you!”
She pushed the door, advanced, tugged
on the sleeper’s sleeve.“Wake up, old lady, wake.”
Folds of clothes stirred, a hand uncovered twitched,
opened an eye.“What? Who? Yes? Yes? Speak!”
“They want their moon returned.”
“Then let them ask who has it.” “I. Am.Asking. You
Who.Has it.” “Me!?” “Who else?”
She stood and took the young girl’s hand
and led her to the door. “Look up yonder, look!”
“We did, it is not there, now give it back!”
“It will return, in two nights time, or three.”
“How? You fished it from the sky and took it home!
We want it there tomorrow!” “Wait, wait,
I’ll take the girl back in and I’ll explain
to her and her alone. And then I’ll see her home.”
Her eyes flashed fierce. No one moved.
“Well, if you won’t I’ll take my broom and sweep
you all away!” They turned and homeward trudged,
“This way, child, over by the hearth. Do sit
and look about before I tell you more.
This spring I scattered seeds across the sea, seeds
which now have grown, invisible to all but not to me.
They’re taller now, higher than the steeple of the church,
thick with tangled branches, like hawthorn is,
or briar, heavy with creamy bloom.
They’ve trapped the light and spun it with the wind,
over and over, globe on globe then dusted them with pollen.
Take hold of one and feel how light.
Yet strong. The wind has cords, tougher than any rope
or hawser; these will never yield to the edge
of the sharpest blade. They grow like apples
and then, like birds, they lift and fly, searching
for darkness, for darkness is their home.”
The young girl worked the little globe, her
fingers teasing it for knots or threads.“Will it
glow forever?” “As long as there is wind and sun.
Here, I’ll take you home and this will light
our way. And two more things to tell them, so
you take careful note. Meet me on the hill at dusk
tomorrow. And tell them I have harvested the sun.”
Next day, as the sea swallowed the sun,
they gathered on the hill.