Birds squat on chimney pots, birds squat on chimney pots,
I chant, to keep the line in my head, in time to my steps.
Birds squat on chimney pots and bicker like old men.
The old men tell me about the fish they caught: eels
with teeth that thrash the deck of the boat (caught
on camera, the eel is a dragon, a slice of aqua green).
They bait the creels with mackerel, bought in,
sail out, lower and leave the creels. Birds scream
their hearts out as we talk. And lobsters: 20,000 washed up,
some dead, some limping on the shore with weak limbs:
old men. The men wear checked shirts, red against
the green-blue-green-blue-green-blue ropes of the creels:
their faces are roughened with salt, their voices crack with the sea.
One man has sea-eyes, faint blue, with small pupils
lit by laughter as he upbraids the English, his own voice
braiding and looping the air, as the creel ropes loop
against the sky. Sky and eyes, rope and twine.
The other man winds rope against a creel, fixing, patching,
holding his plastic tool in hand and winding, winding,
winding as the wind blows against our conversation,
winding and wending like the roads that loop through the town.
Knitting for men. The rope is slim against his fingers.
I walk on the beach, watch a man wade into the water,
board clutched against his hip. His head is a seal, hovering
above the thrash of waves. His hands are shovels for scooping
water. His eyes are bright points and his beard is rough.
See him, watch him, as he is knocked sideways by a wave,
as he continues to wade, as he walks, wobbles.
And now, see him! As his body, horizontal, flat
against the backdrop of pier and skyline,
rides swiftly to shore, caught in a rush of water, of froth.
And beneath my feet are a constellation of stones.
They pinpoint the strand: here, a bright orange one,
planetary, set off by a stone yellow and round.
A mussel shell. A fragment of a pot. Seaweed the colour
of a heart. Twigs, cracked razor shells. Scattered gems
of the ocean, thrown up in flashes of anger and beauty.
Offside, a dog. Black, darting, it runs into the field of my vision,
body hot and alive against the coolness of sand and stone.
I take a picture of the dog, catch his fur with my lens,
aim my camera further down the beach. Two figures,
booted, coated, ball-throwing device in hand.
They walk with heads bent to the ground, eyes flicking
upwards now and then to regard the quick, black dart of dog.
They hover against the wet sand, the sand that mirrors
the cathedral ruins in a shimmer of yellow: my town.
And two figures, now, on the pier, walking, holding hands.
They stop at the very tip, by the waves, holding each other
and looking down, bent over the side of the pier,
watching the waves as they rear and crash, reaching
ever upwards. They are dream figures, this pair, echoed
in the two gulls that pirouette above them in the sky
(are the gulls a dream? thoughts conjured by their love?)
The sea, the sea, carries on its crash-rush-crash as gulls surf
waves and air. And here: a cormorant. The fisherman tells me
its name as I tell of the loop of its neck, how I see it and how
suddenly, in a slick, wet dive, the cormorant is gone.
I search for it, salt in my eyes and nostrils, scan the surface
of the sea as it slides grey and slate and brown under my eyes.
No cormorant. I picture it moving below, neck outstretched,
keep my eyes glued to the same brown stretch of sea.
But here! The cormorant surfaces, metres away, a conjurer
of distance, neck coiled against the sky’s mist, eyes bright.
A slick dive, and again, gone. Sea, salt, brine, feathers.
The sea is in my throat, the sea is in my fingers, the sea
is in my voice as I sing the lines of a song to myself:
So you turn over / whisper into my shoulder /
and the sea lends its own whisper, here, quietly,
then here, loudly, as I bend my ear, turn my neck,
angle my hearing to its mosaic soundings.
The sea, the sea, the sea is in the stones, the sea
is in the feathers of weed, just as the sea was on my lips
when I swam yesterday by the castle, a thrashing of limbs,
a balancing of hips and legs, a rustle of feet over sand
and compacted stones. The sea was in my hair, my hair
was in the sea, trailing like weed. My speech was in the sea,
my cries, like seagulls, were in the air, my breath was in the mist,
my feet were in the water, the vein on my leg glowed like it was alive.
The sounds of my friends clattered and rose in the air.
Above us, on the winding castle road, a woman whooped
as we dived and plunged, wetting shoulders and faces,
returning, victorious, radiant, to land. Clutching each other
in hugs, rubbing wet face against wet face, bodies chilled
and alert. Cold pulsed through us, warming us,
reminding us of the hot blood running through our limbs.
Like seals, like selkies, like otters bonded through touch
and water, we strode, we shuddered, back up to the beach.