The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Moira Linehan

Widow’s Walks

They had to have climbed—the wives of sea captains, ships’

first mates and on down the line, the wives, the betrothed

of harpooners and deck hands, climbed belfries above

where they worshipped, climbed to the roofs where they lived, up

dark narrow stairways, steep ladder-like steps, ladders

themselves, ascending, holding on to railings or rungs,          

rope lines or walls, heading straight up by the chimney

or winding around the tower, each the need to see

for herself, my need now, up Nantucket’s First

Congregational Tower, how much closer to him

could she get, I get, than this horizon so vast,

so empty, that glorious many-masted vessel

long gone. Not returning. No, not widow’s walks,

says the church member I meet at the top. Just walks,

those white railed platforms around or next to a home’s

central chimney, where they checked for the build-up of pitch,

pine the wood they burned, kept burning, where they stored buckets

of sand to throw on fires started so easily.

Likewise the librarian insists walks, not widow’s

walks. Okay, not widow’s walks, romantic term

a journalist coined decades later. But I say

they had to have climbed. Right there in front of them

and all that longing to look beyond, long her refusal

to believe he would not return, longer yet

her longing for him, how it rolls in and over

without warning, like fog, then the inevitable

climb back down, the pitching forward, having to hold

myself back, hands out to hold onto anything,

still descending down, down, when does it end—that walk?

[I am grateful to the Nantucket Historical Association Research Library for the materials it allowed me to read.]

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