The only distinct things were the causeway
and the white lines down its straight way,
receding to the invisible horizon and the invisible island,
with the high water marking posts at its edge,
the pilgrim way’s brave assertion of itself even when submerged.
The rest- water and sky- merged, nebulous:
the air vaporous, the sea mist-breathing,
a soft pewter world
except for the green of the verges, which on close inspection,
proved itself not earth plant but the lacy weed of the sea.
We watched the tide prevent our passage to Holy Island,
and advance ripple by ripple, slurping the road,
the sea dragged in smartly by its collar,
as one last car from the island skated its way to freedom
in a well-practised precision too risky for our hire car.
All this in an illusion of stillness
that blanketed sound and cancelled sight,
when out of the mist
walking their way before the tide,
returning from the island,
of white clad, white veiled nuns.
It would suit to say they were tall and thin and pallid
in a mock-martyr willowy way,
but in fact most of them (and there were perhaps a dozen and a half)
were solid and dumpy and over sixty,
and all wearing sensible shoes and waterproof coats.
As we stood watching the lapping water,
awed and a little alarmed at the rapid competency of the tide,
we began to talk as strangers are wont to do in such strangeness.
They were, women given to the care of the elderly,
together for pilgrimage from all over Britain and Ireland.
What were the odds that I would meet here, half a world away from home,
one who knew an Irish great-aunt of mine, dead before I was born,
a nun of the same Order?
It was a felicity most hospitable
to know so close to the island of the lovely Cuthbert
such a coincidence.
Oh I remember her, she was a very old lady when I lived with her.
She was a kind soul.
It seemed a salutary way to be named after forty years,
by a woman now herself elderly and also, by the look of her,
The tide denied me the goal I had sought,
but the morning was, after all, not devoid of epiphany,
and as I turned from the shrouded island and the disappearing road,
heading back to sea-safe ground,
and on to the highway again northbound,
I put my hand into the brim of the tide
and took with me a clutch of tiny cockle shells
to remember the meetings