Wednesday, 06 January 2021 16:17

A Finnish Story

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in Poetry
248
A Finnish Story

A Finnish Story*

by Edward Mackinnon

Landless, she worked on the land of a great landlord and his lady
             where the grass was lush and fat cows blinked at the northern light
But she had to walk thirty miles with a fish and a pound of butter
             and having an honest heart she told everyone she met on the way
             that the good fish and butter she was carrying were for her son
             and had been given to her by the lady of her great landlord
             because her son was in prison
The northern air was as sharp as the spiny fins of a fish
             and the sun was the colour of pale butter
             and she had to walk thirty miles
For part of the way she was given a lift by a farmer
             and as she always babbled and spoke from the heart
             she said the lady of the estate with lush grass and white birches
             had given her a fish and a pound of butter for her son in prison
But when she told him her son was a Red
             (it was the time after the civil war)
             the farmer ordered her to get down from his wagon and walk
Along the way she met women doing their washing in a stream
             all gathered together like water birds
             and when she told them about the fish and the butter and her son
             they looked up and listened
             glad to be fed a scrap of news from the wider world
The woman walked on, past green fields and poplars with sun-dappled leaves
             until she came to the prison
             where the ground was bare and the trees were scraggly and bent
Her son enquired of her about this and that, her neighbours and her aching back
             and when he saw the fish and the butter
             he asked whether she had begged for it from the landlord and his lady
             and when she answered yes he refused to eat it
I won’t take anything from them he said
             this although the prison rations were scarcely enough
             to feed a crow in winter
So the landless woman had to walk back the thirty miles
             with the fish and the pound of butter
             which began to smell and turn rancid
She therefore ate the food as she walked along and told everyone she met
             - farmers and women hunched over their washing at the stream - 
             that the food had been for her son in prison
             but that he had refused to eat it
             because she had begged for it from the great lord and his lady
             explaining that he wouldn’t take anything from them
Thus she walked all the way back to the estate with lush grass and white birches
             babbling like a child and speaking from the heart
             and in this way many people heard about her son
             and there were those who talked about him and remembered
Yes, some people are like that, they said.

* After a scene in Herr Puntila and His Servant Matti by Bertolt Brecht and Hella Wuolijoki. Image is Peasant Woman and Cows in a Landscape, by Paul Gauguin, 1890.

Read 248 times Last modified on Saturday, 09 January 2021 15:56
Edward Mackinnon

Edward Mackinnon's fourth collection is "The Storm Called Progress", published by Shoestring Press.