the exile

tell me about the sea
and what it means
and what the weather’s like in Brindisi
where my people come from
who I never met

I know more about the sea
and what it means
than I do of those who made me
and summoned me from sleep

tell me about the sky
and what that means

and what it means
to live without regret

I spend my days collecting meanings
and haven’t found one yet

Three Sea Tales

1. The Death of Gulls

Like hail they fell,
in numbers uncountable,
leaving no one left to wail but me,
Godless upon an iron sea.

After the storm I was cut adrift,
me a mid-shipman,
ten days out to sea,
and never a sight of land for me,
nor woman’s touch,
but her dark eyes
swam before me all the way
to the whirlpool at the end of days
where under a glowering sky,
still beardless,
I died the death of gulls.

This sea-tale I recount,
by way of settlement
to the God that has deserted me
this seventeenth day of May,
Seventeen hundred and fifty three.

Now the Devil take me.

2. The Last Island

The storm levelled the house
and I raised sail;
made for the last island of all.

Seven days have now passed,
my boat lies broken on the beach
and I lay dying of love.

In my own blood I write this scrawl
and face my God alone:
my maker,
and my unmaker,

Lord of the Last Island.

3. The Voyage Out

On the voyage out, we were becalmed
for seven days and nights,
one for each decade of an old soak’s life.
Untouched by either current or breeze,
by degrees, I grew mad
so that when the wind did whisper to me,
it was in sea dreams I could not read;
strange alphabet, strange tongue,
not known to me, or anyone,
hieroglyphs on the pavements of a seaside town,
out of season all year round.

And there I was delayed,
incanting, have remained,
casting back these stones into the sea,
words formed in extremity,
holding back the one thing I could read:
“Oh why hast Thou forsaken me?”

the jar

I found an old jar in her kitchen
that for long had remained unused

it was like one I remembered from childhood
that I used to cling on to

the trees in my mother’s garden were many and beautiful
though she lived in a small apartment
by the sea

of the silent guest at her table
she would talk to her family

yes the trees in my mother’s garden were beautiful
but the jar
I threw into the sea

of the silent guest at her table
the sea has no memory

nocturne 

strands interwoven at twilight
amber at eve in a braid

we used to tell stories at bedtime
impossible stories we made

such a strange dance we were dancing
a dance we were taught by the sea

to whom do you wave on the shoreline
to whom do you wave if not me

navigation 

when conversation became difficult
I made for the shelter of the trees
looking back across the sun-bleached field
to where the party was in full swing
appreciating the amplitude of tall silences
that I could navigate more easily

from there I could see you slowly circling
coming to rest
before finally heading out

navigation

ascertaining a position
calculating the most favourable route
between one point and another

even when there is no point at all

navigation

just moving around

it takes skill

practice

finesse

when even gentle waters
can seem treacherous

safer amid trees

they don’t move around

at least don’t appear to

I whispered a quiet thank you
and plotted a course back

theft at Lyme Regis

four glass coasters
bought at Lyme Regis
when the children were young
and life was easy

life was never easy

photographing them now in sunlight
they seem fabulous beyond compare
blue from another ocean
I never knew existed 
where sea urchins devour whales
amid bubbles of aquamarine
and half-formed monsters
guard a pirate treasure hardly seen
at the time

joy passes too quickly for us to grasp
life is a bauble
a theft
don’t expect miracles
when the miracle has already passed 

lost in a sea
preserved in glass

dark island

the waters around the little bay
are wild and inhospitable

always I sail away again
beaten by the currents

yet always I return to my beloved shore

my rock

my continent

my dark island

[first posted 20 March 2015]

the welcome guest

on the second night we sang songs of abandonment
and on the third night
and the fourth
and on every night
until the welcome guest said to us

why do you sing these songs to me
for these are the songs sung by the sea
and sung by the wind that shakes the trees

sing again that song you sang before
for that is the most terrible
and beautiful of all

but none of us could recall
any song that came before

from another ocean 

tales were told at table

that night
and when it came to my turn

I said
why is it always my turn

and the answer came back
you’re the only one

here
so I recounted the days of my

youth
which I missed grievously

and told
of sorrows and lost loves

and worse things
wearing my heart wide open

recalling
the story of the whale mother

singing
to her stolen calf unceasingly

even
from another ocean