“All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him
By inch-meal a disease!”
– The Tempest
Kicking through the rockpools,
the slick glumps of seaweed
beneath the tide line he uncovered
in the glomes and bloats,
the wreckage of a world
carried here by the oceanic drift.
Wait by a river and sooner or later
your enemy will float past, goes the saying.
Wait by the sea and the debris
of the whole drowned world will wash ashore.
A control panel of a plane
riddled with flak,
a metal lighter… flint long worn down,
an earthen bottle with the faint
wild mercury scent of poitin still clinging to it,
a marionette colonised by woodworm,
a concertina corkscrew with a cork still in it,
a cracked barometer compass pointing at Stormy,
a half moon whiskey flask,
a fishing reel with a knot tied in the gut,
an accordion full of holes
that wheezed and spluttered
like a tubercular sailor when pressed,
a rusted metal sign covered in kelp
warning of caution, too late,
and threatening prosecution,
a walking stick with a handle,
smooth and rounded like
the heel of a Lourdes saint.
The Library of Alexandria, the collected wisdom of the ancient world,
was burned to fuel the hot baths of soldiers for 6 months.
The fallen Colossus of Rhodes
was carried off for scrap metal by merchants.
Most could be salvaged.
Back at the house
he had a battered mahogany box camera
stamped Dr Adolf Hesekiel & Co Berlin
holding up a bookshelf,
he hung his wintercoats from the handles
of a sturdy oak wheel from a capsized ship.
He could just about see a fish-eyed view
of the distant headlands of the other islands
through a waterlogged telescope.
He’d sit and his mind
would drift off and orbit
the possible origins,
the histories that haunt the objects
the way meaning haunts words,
stories of shipwrecks, suicides,
cargo jettisoned to save lilting vessels,
people fallen overboard, people thrown.
A waistcoat button carved from walrus tooth
he imagined being shot off in a thunderous sea battle
a blast of grapeshot detonating in a captain’s ribcage
sending it spinning into the depths,
like a tossed coin.
A divers helmet abandoned
during a sudden catastrophic onset of The Bends
or when coastal erosion caused a seaside hotel
and its attic to crumble into the sea.
A child’s toy dropped at the beach
and washed out with tide.
Or on the pier a mother reaching into the backseat
to click her children’s seatbelts in
It took him longer each time
to trek back up the rocks,
almost losing his balance once or twice
on the precarious slipways and outcrops
before making it onto the relative safety of the road.
Shortness of breath echoed in his chest.
He opened the door, hung up his coat
washed his hands and sat in his chair.
He sat there and listened.
Seagulls swooping down,
plunging beneath the surface for errant fish.
Pale waves were splashing off the rocks.
He could hear the gyres of the ocean,
it’s mechanics, its vortexes.
The fridge shuddered and hummed into life.
Even the sun looked cold.
A white ship passed silently in the distance.