I Cannot Imagine

This is linked through Poetry Jam in response to the prompt to write a tribute to someone.  I immediately thought of my grandfather on my father's side, who came to this country from Newfoundland as a young man starting his new family and a new chapter of life.
I actually wrote two.  So take your pick.  I worked on these simultaneously - I don't know what that says about me - perhaps I am ADD?  They just had to both be done, and now I'm not sure that I'm finished.  There is something nagging at me about them, but I don't know what yet.  There may be another poem in me that is trying to work its way through my brain.  Could get painful!

The seal my grandfather kept on a shelf in the living room.

I cannot imagine
the cold
the fear
the determination
of setting foot on a floating world
of raising a club
to kill a seal
when you were yet a boy
but you knew
your family needed you
to put good bread on the table
to heat the cold house
to keep out the wild winds

you made your father proud
though he never said
and warmed your mother’s heart
though it could not have
quelled her fears

I cannot imagine
the bravery
the vision
the pilgrim heart
suppressing doubts
to transport your new family
to this country
a beginning

thank you
for always being
than we
could ever

My grandfather, living in Pouch (pronounced "pooch") Cove, Newfoundland, was sent out on a sealing ship when he was somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12 to work on the ice floes in the North Atlantic.  Children were sent out at an early age to help provide for those at home. His family was large, and they needed the income from the sealing industry to support them.  He hated this job, but there was no alternative.  He never spoke of this to us, his grandchildren, so all I ever learned of it was through my parents later.  Most of his relatives eventually made it to the Boston area and moved out from there, with my grandparents ending up in Maine and then Florida.
Childhood.  It can be so different for different people.  Lifestyles, life trials.  Again so many stories, some told, some still untold.
I've included a few more bits of information here that help to round out his story a bit.
My grandfather's brother, Zack Thistle, was on the Viking when they were filming a movie, White Thunder, later named The Viking in 1931 that needed extras for the sealing crew on the ship.  He went and was one of the cast members that was killed during the production off the coast of Newfoundland near the Horse Islands.

To My Grandfather:

When I knew you
As a child
I did not know you
Your story filed
Inside you

I only knew you
Old and grown
I did not know
The life not shown

When only young
The sea you sailed
Hopped on icebergs
Wild winds wailed
Around you

The sealing life
You long endured
But when you married
You were lured

Away from home
And family
Away from the island
But not the sea
Within you

You brought your wife
And brand new daughter
To a new life
Across the water

Then came two sons
Soon after that
To your new home
A city flat
Not for you

Your wife was strong
And knew your needs
For home on cliffs
Beside the seas

The salty spray
In your heart and veins
Hidden from view
Eternally retains
Contains you.


  1. Great tributes to your grandfather, Dona! It must have been very hard to be sent working on those sealing ships at such an early age. The working conditions sound terrifying. I am not surprised your grandfather hated his job.

  2. wow...that is some life...in doing what you have to...killing a seal to feed your own family...leaving one land for another...hard things indeed...

  3. What a fascinating glimpse into a life so unfamiliar to me. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. This is excellent, what courage and iron your grandfather had, what a great testament and tribute. Well Done.

  5. what a courageous grandfather you had. Lovely poems- both!

  6. Wow, what an exciting but difficult life this must have been. I am glad you are writing these poems though, as they preserve some of these stories in poetry form for the NEXT generation. I am sure the sealing life stayed with your grandfather even after he stopped sealing. I am sure the salty spray stayed in his veins!

  7. People had it so hard back then. What an amazing life he lives. I am glad he got to live by the sea, for once it is in your blood one is never happy away from it. A fantastic post!

  8. Thank you for sharing your grandfather's story with us. It's nice to know about the unsung heroes in our families. i like both poems and if there's a third, well your grandfather deserves to have as much tribute as you can produce. He certainly is inspirational.

  9. Both lovely tributes... oh, to have lived back then.

  10. Sorry that I'm a little behind in replying to comments - I like to reply individually. Thank you all for reading this. I appreciate every comment!
    I truly cannot imagine what it would have been like to have lived then!

  11. Donna what a inconceivable life for a child. What q strong man and great tribute! I know what you mean about never feeling quite finished. I liked both versions :-)


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