A slice of memoir poetry: Island gift

National Poetry Month is winding down, and while I haven’t posted each day here on the blog, I’ve written a poem every day in April for VerseLove on Ethical ELA.

April 22nd was Earth Day. Host Emily Cohn invited poets to “remember an island: real, fictional, ancestral, or otherwise… Imagine or describe a world there.”

I have a favorite childhood memory about an island. I wrote a post about it seven years ago (Breakfast Island); this week I returned to it and condensed it into a poem.

Two takeaways: 1) Rewriting IS writing and 2) Less is more. I find the original post far too wordy now.

Here’s the revision.


Island Gift

On a chilly gray dawn
my family piles into 
my uncle’s motorboat

we are all together
speeding over the Severn 

the grown-ups have decided
it would be fun to have 
breakfast on the beach

my uncle knows just the place
a little island where people
sometimes stop off

I shiver in the lifejacket
until my teeth chatter

I am starving 
how long
is this going to take?

turns out the island
is only a mound of sand
with a bit of scraggly brush
In the middle

I walk the entire edge of it
while the grown-ups
are building the fire

the sun is up, golden,
warming my cold skin

the gray Severn
is now sparking blue

What is this island’s name?
I ask my uncle
as sausage links begin sizzling
in a pan

It doesn’t have one
I have never heard of a place
not having a name

Why don’t the owners name it?
No one really owns this island…
it’s just a small place,
here in the river
I don’t know why
this makes me want
to cry

my uncle, turning the sausages,
squints up at me:
what is the matter?
It should belong to somebody
You’re right. I think
it should be you. 
You now own an island
my heart beats fast
because I know, right now,
that I want this island
to be mine forever

Do I have to pay for it?
my uncle laughs loud and long

(I will remember this
when the family
isn’t a family

Since there’s no other owner
it’s free

someone is frying apples
the aroma rises
like incense from an altar
in thin blue smoke
vanishing in the breeze

I tell the island I love it

it whispers 
that it loves me back

and I know
for this one morning
that I am the richest person
on Earth

I own an island

and it’s free

Photo: Paul VanDerWerf. CC BY


thanks to Emily Cohn for the island invitation on VerseLove at Ethical ELA

an to Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life sharing-place

12 thoughts on “A slice of memoir poetry: Island gift

  1. Fran, I enjoyed reading your Island Gift again today, and the original post that you gleaned it from. When I read your poem on Saturday, I didn’t remember pausing for the beauty of these lines:

    “someone is frying apples
    the aroma rises
    like incense from an altar
    in thin blue smoke
    vanishing in the breeze”

    They add so much to this sweet and holy moment when you and the island loved each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your lovely words, Denise. You’re a true encourager! I recall thinking those fried apples were about the best thing I’s ever smelled or tasted, at the time. There is a certain hallowedness in the remembering.


  2. Wonderful picture book manuscript right here. My husband before he was my husband went on a canoe trip with his brother and named an island for me. I’d forgotten all about it. How special. It may be near you because I think it was the Nantahala River.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How romantic, Margaret, to have an island named for you! The Nantahala is in the far western counties and I am in central NC – so, relatively near, in the scheme of things. I am delighted this memory resurfaced for you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was only a little sandbar really and not even my uncle’s to give – but I felt like a queen, at age six or seven or ever how old I was at the time. A truly beautiful place. I have wondered if it is still there.


  3. I had to nod my head at your observation of previous writing; I look back on some of my earlier Slices and wince. I tend to get wordy over passionate topics; you’ve convinced me to try poetry to keep those posts concise!
    This poem leaves nothing out. You’ve given us setting, plot, characters, emotions, and story arc. I could envision it as a StoryCorps animation!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved reading this. The descriptive words put me right there shivering in the boat with you, feeling the golden warmth of the sun, and smelling the fried apples! A wonderful capture of a precious memory.


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