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Picture us, like one of your photographs
out on the high path, in the wind blown tall grass
sizzling like the fur above the shoulders
of a leaping hare. The dot, dot, dash
a curling line of geese; so close
that we could see the muscles in their chests,
hear the swish of air beneath their wings
as they tacked against the wind
their words like the creak of a garden hinge.
A mile of wilderness, between the old
shore and the new, the tall grass, muddy beds
and silver wind ribbed pools,
to a single line of dark flint walls, the low
sun glowing in the red brick of the windmill,
in its skeleton sails.
We were alive like a tumble of gulls
above the waves,
and our words were the shrieks
of a wild bird in the wind.
Picture us, at the orange door to your house
met by your sister’s wild auburn locks
the lines of her face
the kitchen fire in her cheeks
Our pockets full from the beach
where we walked
like wading birds,
flint pebbles marked with fossils
or holes, dried seagrass,
sea glass and shells.
Picture us, like the sitters for a painting
three mattresses on an iron bedframe,
an old print of a Rajasthani royal on the wall,
a full length mirror from a cupboard door.
Watching a heron drag in the dusk with the palm brush
of its wings, to the soft organ tones
of the lazy wind. As we slept with salt
on our skin and sand between our toes
our hair spread – in thick seaweed curls.
All night the ships moved like strange stars in the dark
and whenever we woke
we read the time by the creep of their lights.
And whenever we woke
we watched the yellow lights move like stars
in the glass, all night container ships crossed the dark,
and whenever we woke
we could tell the time by the creep of their lights
till dawn when they disappeared
like strange stars, in the blue grey blur of the clouds.
Waiting for you to finish in the shower
I looked at the black photographs
of your father by the fire;
a man in flat cap and jodhpurs,
at the top of the marsh, a gun
on his shoulder, a dog in the grass,
the year he got back from Burma,
and wanted to rediscover home;
all his paintings waiting in the hall:
‘the wet bones of an old boat –
in the sands of Holkham beach’,
‘Hannah’ of Cley,
‘Hopewell’ of Lynn,
‘The Duke of Wellington’.
Lighters, ketches, barques and brigs,
and my favourite
a red iron tug,
trailing smoke
across the wash
from Blakeney or Wells.
I imagined his thin clerk’s frame, bent
above the desk you filled with treasure
from the spit, ‘dried snake pipefish!’,
from the year they all came in,
a thousand salt-dry tubes, blown
into your soft pink hands.
You took your time.
I played – a stuffed goose on wires,
lifted the lid off the keys,
thought about the leaf fall of shoes
in the porch,
and the battered French car
on the verge.
All these things to make you think,
what did you see when you picked them up?
or was it nothing, lost
in the habits of home.
You had your routines.
I thought of the soap and the sponge.
Was he painting what had happened,
or what would? Like a map of all that was
to help us forwards by looking
to the past. The drizzle coating landmarks
the villages by the old bays
without lights, their churches – flint cathedrals
with gap toothed roofs, and bats in the eaves,
graveyard walls covered in rope scars,
of boats in the nave, the old
families asleep under brass, ‘Symmonds
of Cley’, and Agnes
laid to rest in a loose shroud, her long hair
tied back, leaving one breast exposed.
There was a brass rubbing in black wax
in a bedroom at my uncle’s farm,
and when the boys came to work in August,
they’d walk to the village phone box, dial
anxious mothers, speak first, and say:
‘don’t worry, everything’s fine; the work’s
going well; and I like sleeping with Agnes.’
All I can remember of the last dawn
are the tracks of distant container ships
beneath the blue grey of the clouds. Counting
telegraph poles come into focus, one
by one. Like a photograph in your hands:
‘first soak it in water, let the gelatine
swell, then add developer, so the image
turns silver, then in a stop-bath, diluted
acerbic acid, and finally the fixer…’
The darkening throng of the reeds; a heron
on its way to work as you said you thought
that summer should be our last, ‘there’s a world
out there’, as I muttered about the world here.

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