ready

sunlight on an empty vessel
in the deserted house along the shore

only when I am like that empty vessel
will I be ready
for my guest to call

when the wind and the sea and all the landscape
know me and recognise me
as one belonging

then – only then
will I be ready

for the coming

the old coast road

and there were many buildings and temples
and who is to say which is false and which true
so I kept going along the old coast road
in the hope that I may find a way through

for once more would I visit my father’s garden
and stand among the olives and the vines
even though I am old and weary
what is his is surely mine

so I keep going
where there are many paths down to the sea

for along this old coast road
there is one
that may be recognised by me

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]