The Tartan Shawl by Gillean Somerville-Arjat

(For Betsy Macdonald, 1880-1974)

Her mother’s shawl is folded on the vacant chair,
Once firmly pinned around her thin stooped shoulders,
It shut out draughts that crept like mice
Through window cracks and open doors.

Where they are going now she scarcely knows.
Halfway round the world?
The news alarms her.
A pinprick on the atlas Murdo showed her,
Two islands sprawling in a distant sea.
‘Be warmer there,’ he said. ‘Believe me.
Besides, there’s better prospects if we leave.’
Her mother gone, their home to sell at auction,
She’d no excuse to stay.
‘But still it’s far,’ she said.
The thought sends shivers through her,
Her world all tapsalteerie.

Her hands immersed in soapy water at the sink,
She cleans the few mementoes he’s allowed her,
The cow-shaped jug she played with as a child,
Some blue Bristol glass, a Denby dish,
Her rose-painted wedding tea-set, London bought,
When he stopped off on leave.

When they’re dry she’ll wrap them in the shawl
To keep them safe and whole, from
Creaking cart and potholed track,
Towering wave and tilting deck,
And when at last they land, she’ll wrap herself in it
To keep her heart from breaking.


Retired. Lives in Edinburgh. Writes short stories, articles, reviews and occasional poems. Currently working on a collection of short stories and a novel. Her stories have appeared in magazines such as New Writing Scotland and Chapman and more recently in two Crime and Publishment anthologies. Her articles and reviews have appeared in the online Scottish Review. Several poems were written for the Scottish Poetry Library’s Belonging Project run by Marjorie Lotfi Gill.

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