Sea poems – a submission

Just occasionally, I write poems. I have always loved reading poetry and, as a teacher, working with it, but it’s only recently that I’ve tried to write myself. This week, I wrote three poems, all based on experiences, of which I have told in both literal and rather more allegorical terms, in Pembrokeshire, which is where my family is from.

These poems were for a submission to an anthology of poems on ‘The Sea’. I was thinking, in the first, about  how landscape, water and journeys can rejuvenate a tired soul; the first line recalls both The Odyssey and Louis MacNeice’s poem ‘Thalassa’, which is a favourite of mine.

In the second poem, I was thinking of forbidden journeys and how one person’s adventure is not another person’s; also, about how the sea is both dangerous and beautiful and how it calls to one. (The title recalls a phrase of Dylan Thomas and, more broadly, is a nod to his syntax – which I love and feel in my bones.)

The third poem looks at a particular place, my grandmother’s house, on the Cleddau estuary. I was thinking about how I wanted things and people back, about the multiple bereavements I have experienced, how I wished I could have shown her more of the world, gone out to sea with her (and she was, I remember, not one for the sea, preferring the creek and the estuary and the waves from a distance) and how I sometimes feel sad that places I have known all my life get their rougher edges polished off and prettied up, just so.

Sea Poems 
‘Cast out, my broken comrades’
St Justinian at dawn; the boat,
Its clenched hull scowling,
As braced against the swell,
Collected errant figures – all
Adrift, so lost on land, and sad.
We reached out, emptied souls,
To Ramsey Sound; the island
Siren-called us, brought us home
To sea: to stay afloat a while
And find our shipwrecked selves.
It wasn’t in the landing of our craft,
Against the crashing deck of shore,
But somewhere in between the rock
And rock, that melancholy came to rest –
And tumbled down through navy depths
And we were free, unbroken: still.
‘My heart unbroken, then, by fish- frozen sea.’
‘Oh never fill your heart with trawlermen’:
My Nanny told, then told: ‘You want
A man with both feet on the ground –
A man with roughened nails, from
Dirt and labour on the land,
Not brined and drenched through by the Sea.’
But Nanny never knew the sound
Of oilskin slipped on clover bank;
Of danger in the stolen hull,
Of silver, limned above your head,
While thwart hands toiled through the night,
And washed me up and brought me home.
I wouldn’t learn: I dreamed of pearls, full fathom five;
I sang of gales, the tang of salt,
The storied depths of sea and sea –
Limb-frozen journeys, far from home
With yellow light on midnight crests.
But Nanny told, then told, ‘You want
A man with bone-dry shoes, inland;
Your sailors leave you high and dry,
They catch and throw and pack in ice
The keenist heart that you can toss.’
But Nanny never knew the song
Of siren journeys way out there,
Of labour stoked by heat and loss –
She didn’t feel the azure pull,
The mermaid kiss, the tongues that spoke;
She died a desiccated death, in clod
That choked, while primrose mocked.
Still, out at sea, I rocked and bobbed:
We drew the finest catch that day.

 

 ‘My grandmother: the Madonna of the Cleddau’

The sea coast was too far for you;
To keep inland was your advice,
Away from Jack Tar, foreign folk:
Stay cloistered on this estuary.
Madonna of the Cleddau, come:
Square jaw, dark eyes and, counterpoint,
Retroussé  nose and powdered cheeks:
And born of earth, not briny downs.
You birthed eleven, stood back up,
With apron on and sleeves rolled high,
Delivered livestock, lipstick on,
With plaintive songs of field delight.
But, round the wall, the sea began,
Spoke not to you: you had no thought
To jump and best a warmer wave;
A voyage out was lost on you.
What did you care for them or theirs?
Madonna’s night world of the quay
Had supernatural force: the owls,
The rustle of the hawk, black elms,
The screech and call and elsewhere sound.
Such pale wings drew on navy sky
As you looked out across the flats
And thought that this was world enough,
The kelp, the wrack was only stench.
I’ve seen it now, your home; your hearth:
The summer quay was bunting dressed,
The village pub all polished up,
No gossip, snarling by the bar.
A ‘Country Living’ August snap,
All cleansed of snuff or pewter cup,
Sent gentry, as you might have said.
And rag and bone man, gone to dust.
Madonna of the Cleddau, mine:
I sing to you from farther shores:
I wish that you had gone to sea –
We could have basked there, you and I.
It never changed, waves’ thunderous moods
Could not be altered, made anew.
I look at Cresswell now and wish
The sea would roar and cry and break
The tidy walls, the altered beds,
Bring wrack and shells to grace the walls
Where mortar tidily restrains.
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