Fourteen days gone, too long,
Since you rowed the chopping sea
Away from the island,
And the heat beats down on half-shorn sheep,
Biting through turquoise shards
In a slate-grey sea.
Fruit ripens and rots on the bushes,
And the boys next door are casting longways looks
At our eldest daughters.
Old women out of the sun
Fan themselves with hands roped and ridged
Like gorse roots.
Washing and dressing the children,
Milking the full, pendulous udders of the cows,
Digging floury fingers deep into unbaked bread -
Stalks in the field would bend and break
So heavy with grain!
Come back in the bay,
Come back ‘cross the sound!
Come back and I will lick the salt from your lips,
Jealous of the ocean’s kisses.
Come in, cariad, warm and welcome –
Come home – my darling –
Ynys Enlli or Bardsey Island is an island off the coast of North Wales. The island has no harbour and the journey across the stretch of ocean between it and the mainland has always been a treacherous one. In the past, the only way to make the crossing would have been a rowing boat that often required every able bodied man on the island as a crew. If the weather was not fair for the return crossing, the men could then be stranded on the mainland for weeks at a time with no way to contact the other islanders.
I wrote this poem during a stay on the island in 2016. It is still difficult to reach by boat, being so dependant on fair weather, and I have been stranded there myself before. In this poem I imagine the emotions of the women left behind, charged with running their homes and farms single-handed, and finding themselves frustrated in the absence of their partners.