Two great ships
Dominate this reach of London’s flow,
Stranded on an Island
That is not an island.
They are connected to the low cloud
By smoke-stacks so tall
These vessels would turn turtle
Released from moorings.
From a break-line in the grey canopy
Failing light draws down
Making of these hulks grim
Shadows of cold power.
Do they soak up and transform the energy,
Extracting the life
From the sands they straddle?
Lesser trade surge beneath,
Their thousands of tons
Reduced to scale on the water.
How small then are the oystercatchers of men
Foraging this Essex fore-shore?
Fourteen at a glance, bent double,
Connected to the mud by silhouettes of shovels.
Is it only oysters they treasure,
Or scallops, or kelp or any of these,
Or the daily small-time endeavour
That pretends to make them more real?
Powering the city
The turbines drone unheard,
Undisturbed at this distance
By the caddis-fly scavengers
Of this oft-drained shore;
Knowing of purpose,
Safe in function.
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For those in peril
Today the wind is like the sea,
The sea is like the wind:
Hear in that rushing green of tree
Breaker break and motion blend
Where sea to land is daily led
By lantern pilots passing by;
The sea fills up the ocean bed:
The wind fills up the sky.
When wild the fields of barley grass
Are churning like the waves,
A world seen through a looking glass,
The trawler, tractor gale-force braves,
Land is surface, wind-sea's skin,
The blue of heav'n the deep;
When safely to the shore they win
The harvest of all tides they keep.
And torn sky-wrack
Like bladdered weed, to tangle screw,
Or plankton bloom, to cloud and feed,
And jet stream current bowling through:
The gleaming liners' cold fast track,
With flotsam vapour trails in tow;
And all the creatures of the sea,
Up above or down below,
Equals in their different depth,
While fish that fly and birds that swim
Cross borders without meaning.
But in this pond of sky
And in this space of ocean,
Both mediums of sound,
And on the ocean bed
And in the furrowed ground,
I am surprised to find
At source a common echo
That sea to wind to me will bind.
For my ears, before my eyes,
Their ancient fingers pick a strain
To make me shiver at the touch:
Percussive chords, a lost refrain,
The essence of the wind, the sea,
This mighty music will explain
A deadly immortality.
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It is a linear progression:
they will never be a tide
these sporadic wanderers,
dog attached or not.
Some few, bold, stride out,
take exercise; others, less so,
take refuge in the accepted
mechanic of throw and fetch;
take refuge – their eyes refuse to
engage, they chase from estuary mud
to passing gull, to some unfocussed
point in the distance.
A nearly-woman, confirmation-white gloves and frock,
flounces from shore to path, her undirected
smile flickers, I spy her climb
and crouch above inner defences.
For the Canvey shoreline is hard:
a concrete wall in snaking
proximity to the oily Thames,
shouldered above our heads;
a defence raised-up by talismans
of monomaniac colour, disregarded
signatures and protestations
of love or desire or Saturday allegiance,
and brought-down by a litany of spite:
THE VIRGIN MARY
in great, white brutal letters,
applied with a brush, and then in black:
ALICE STANTON IS A BABY MURDERER
Some pair of desperate hands
has failed to scrub out:
The not-still-a-girl flits ahead
leading me on to
CANVEY IS ENGLANDS LOURDES and
THE VIRGIN LIVES IN RUGGELY AVE
back to white but ever the same
There will never be a tide
to wash away these sigils of hate:
looking-close it is easy to see
they have been renewed over and again.
The daily borderline-wanderers,
having held their tongues,
seek out that vanishing point;
I look for the white dress
- the child has gone.
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