The Wigtown Women

In 1685, two women were executed
at Wigtown, Galloway, for being
Both called Margaret,
they were 19 and 65 years old.
They were tied to stakes in the
harbour and drowned by the tide.
4 men, convicted of the same
offence, were hanged.


God’s tide is coming, Margaret.
God’s tide is coming.
These stakes they have driven
Into the foul slime

Between their dry sinful lives
And the eternal sea
Are here to hold us to our faith.
Stout ropes that wrench

Our wrists, keep us to our covenant
With Him, as did his
Nails. Regard not their cries.
They shame themselves.

The sea will not wash their sin
Away when our lives
Go to Him. We die as upright
Christians, they to fester

In their beds of fever or sullen
Age. No quick rising
Waters will cleanse their filth.
The cold will cling

To us, will cleave to our heart’s
Core, but His Fire there
Will burn harder than hate’s laws.
We are but women –

Bodies meant for pain and giving
Life. Men, who spent
Their days in fields or hammering
Their praise, they hang

In air, strangled, broken necked
Like crows on a wall.
Poor things to be so separate
From life in death.

We they do not torment so.
Hand back our bodies
To the Lord. Think on this
Margaret. Do not despair.

One given body, one that’s
Yet to yield. That’s all
We are, and coming to His love.
Forget the cold around

Your breast. Drink deep.
Our names are there.

August 1995

Republished June 2018

The poem implies the elder woman gave the younger courage. In fact she was drowned first, so that her death might change the mind of the younger woman. Young Margaret did not yield, and the Episcopalian executioners allowed her to drown when she would not break her oath.

A Classical Education

Dante and Beatrice [1883]
Henry Holiday [1839-1927]
Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

The things men want.
There are
the held high breasts of
Beatrice’s companion as she
arches backwards
to look at him –
this strange man
in velvet green whose orange red tights
match the lining of his gown, his hat,
probably his thoughts,
and her.

But colour-blind Dante wants
none of that
very attainable-looking stuff.
The girl in red
has a foot shaped
like a snake’s head.
At the triangular junction
of her legs and belly
a ripple of cloth gathers

But, Dante, his face
enclosed forever in a Florentine sneer
that would sour wine,
ignores the obvious,
put there by the painter
for his obvious ease,
and stares
at the rose
held like him
where satiny cloth billows
under Beatrice’s chin.

His left hand grips his ribs,
his gown, as if he has misplaced
his heart.
Beatrice decides wisely
to ignore this man.
Her shift clings to her legs
and her feet
are already dancing away.
Her body is for the birds,
and for horticulture.