The gulls are everywhere
Filling the bright air
With their wheeling mystery.
Where do they go at night
Make nests, lay eggs
Rear their tea-stained young?
Does their quarrelsome clamour
Every bird for himself
Hide a fiercer loyalty?
And could an untempered appetite
Disguise a finer feeling
In matters of the heart?
I do not doubt
Some wise, observant soul
Could lay their whole life bare.
But out here, in their world
Of sand, wind and saltwater,
I am the stranger, and happy not to know.
The all-encircling fear
And jeopardy of haunted years
I want to stand here
On this smiling shore
Hand-in-hand with you, my love;
Gaze out on the rugged islands
And listen to the rising tide
Wash gently on the sand;
Knowing that, at last,
It is all over
And just about to start.
Ah, Brittany. Those bastards in Westminster might strip us of our freedom of movement, but they’ll never take our dream. No pasarán. N.
I have not stepped onto the dock
From the sea-swept deck
Of an Atlantic trawler
After a frozen, fearful night
Hauling nets from the jealous depths
Watching each wave, wondering
If my name is written
On its foam-streaked slopes.
But sitting warm, dram in hand,
I gaze out over heaving seas unseen
I crossed to reach this friendly, well-loved shore
And weigh the journey’s labour in my limbs;
Wonder at my own good fortune
And feel again the salt sting on my face.
I drafted this in Brittany, over a well-earned drop of single malt, as a piece of free verse: when I wrote it up back home, it turned itself into this experimental kind-of-a-sonnet. Basic structure is per the Shakespearean original (14 lines, octet/volta/sestet) but I’ve dispensed with iambic pentameter and rhyme. Thoughts? N.
A restless wind –
South-west, heavy with salt
And smells of seaweed, storm-stripped from far-off islands –
Sets my mind flapping like luffed sails,
Every thought straining at its shrouds. Holding, just.
One rogue gust
And all could be torn loose,
Sent madly swirling miles inland
To wind up wound around
The cracked, barbed boughs of a gale-wrought pine
Way out of reach
And shredded beyond repair.
Back from the wilds of north-west Brittany with a notebook full of rough drafts, and a car full of sand and baguette crumbs. Sure signs of a good trip. N.
In all its whispers, mutterings
And grand, emphatic outbursts
Had not one word for me.
So I quit the high cliff-path
Slipped off my shoes
And went to meet it:
A tentative diplomacy
On the shifting, lawless border
Where the flow tide sawed steadily at the sand.
I offered it my two feet.
It took another yard of beach
And chopped me off at the ankles.
We chuckled like schoolboys
And nudged each other playfully.
Then it showed me a pair of terns –
Black-capped, delicate as snowflakes, fierce as eagles –
And led me down a cut
Between sandbanks spread with stones
Like seeds on a granary loaf.
Waders took wing,
Their cries pinging from the rocks
In tiny ricochets.
I read the lines the ebb had written
In the silver sand,
Tuned into the wind
And traced the legends in the rocks.
And in the shallows
Way below the high-tide line
We found ourselves
Deep in conversation once again.
Not my close communion
With tree and leaf and soil
As cold was turned to freshness
And all that emptiness
This is my kind of road:
Except for agricultural vehicles
A gentle road, benevolent,
With its priorities exactly right –
A road on a human scale,
Where I might meet
Madame on her old Motobecane
With baguettes in her basket;
A tourist couple, side-by-side
Puffing, sweating on their shiny his-’n’-hers,
Or a quartet of ancient Anquetils,
Paunchy on immaculate Looks and Lapierres,
Trusting in cash and carbon-fibre
As specifics against the years.
A John Deere hauling big round bales;
A rusty Renault puttering home
With a couple of hundredweight of hay;
Dusty Axions, hot-running, gunning it at 30 k,
Ten-tonne loads of wheat and barley bucketing behind,
Or a Lexion, filling the lane from verge to verge,
All flashing lights and turbofans, a factory on wheels.
A thoroughfare of real life,
The traffic of an older, saner time
Where nothing’s moving faster
Than a decent horse can run,
And everyone is close to home.
A road that truly gets me
Where I want to go.
Another piece from Brittany. The fact that it’s in free verse (almost the first I’ve written all year) is a good clue that I was finally starting to relax by this stage of our holiday! N.
It does not speak to me, this sea. I find
No wisdom in the suck and swish of sand,
No music in the whining of the wind,
No conversation where it meets the land.
It is a thing half-known: a childhood friend
And playmate; now a stranger, grown apart.
I never dreamed those summer days would end,
Or guessed at this indifference in my heart.
Some men it calls to sail away: the weight
Of water and the world pull them. To go
Down to the sea in ships was not my fate:
The landsman’s life’s the only one I know.
I’ll breathe salt air and open up my ears
To catch a voice that calls across the years.
Back from three weeks on the beach in Brittany with notebooks stuffed with ideas, my head bursting with plans, and the car full of sand, seashells and baguette crumbs. The unmistakeable signs of a good, and much-needed, holiday. I started this piece the day after we arrived; I’ll post the follow-up I wrote a couple of weeks later in due course. N.
All that remains
The campsite is empty now:
The caravans and motorhomes are gone,
The tents and awnings are packed away.
All that remains is the sea.
The caravans and motorhomes are gone,
Across the Breton border, the Channel and the Rhine
Full of sand, baguette crumbs, and memories.
The tents and awnings are packed away,
Those magic spaces, homes that vanish so completely
We wonder they were ever there.
All that remains is the sea.
Indifferent to our human tide that flows in May
And, with October and summer’s end, quietly ebbs away.
My first attempt at a trimeric: thank you to Ina for inspiring me.
The words I seek
Don’t live in my town
But out here,
Shining, sea-wet, in the sand
Flying in skeins
Resting on rocks
Or perched in trees
Half-seen out at sea
Or round sudden bends in the narrow cliff-path.
With the poacher’s patience
And fisherman’s finesse
I can catch them
Hold them for a moment
Before they wriggle free
Leaving only their warmth behind.
And a single juicy one in the bag
Is all it takes to feed me.
Il fait du brouillard
The blinded lighthouse
Calls out in the gloom
Its foghorn telling the misty minutes
Like a doleful speaking clock.
There’s a Hebridean sting of salt
In the sea-smoke wrapped around the headland
Like a scarf; and the summer beaches
Are veiled and secret, empty, Arctic white.
The gulls and waders could tell me
Where I am; beneath the sky-cloak
They chatter heedless, brash and jeering,
Safe in their local knowledge.
Not that I’m asking. A dog, the dunes
And the distant booming of the surf
On the reefs far out are all the signs I need:
I am here. Now. And all is well.