Coastlines

1. Stillwater Bay, South Africa, 2001

 

Troubled with the world

I went down to the sea to find some peace

 

Day breaks at Stillwater before sunrise

inside, thatch still yawns bundled in sleepiness,

beyond whitewashed walls a shallow river

stretches to sea while knee-deep in mist and glint

of first light two fishermen in waders

cast soft into ripples and wait, wait in hush

 

Over beyond reeds a row boat clasps three figures

jacketed in its pod, their small talk

gruff and bent as baited hooks, they float

towards the patch of weeds that flanks

and wait, wait in renewed hush

 

Up the coast leaders are discussing racism,

the legacy of slavery, attacking each other,

shouting, walking out. Representatives are demanding

apologies, reparations. There is no peace here

 

On a rock close by river’s lap, an oily cormorant

stands akimbo, proud as a statue, drying off his wings

beaked gaze turned oceanward— close by, three gulls

all trim as new haircuts in black and white on pencil legs

share the remains of a small fish in quick-billed tugs—

no competition here—generous sweep of shoal, shimmer

and ceaseless surf beyond, hold food enough for all

 

Daybreak!

a sudden commotion breaks silence into jagged shrieks

as on a nearby asphalt strip curving up to hills, a bright red and black

motorized bug appears racing along on full power, goggled

and flapping, her head against his back, arms around

his leather chest, defying hush, river, fences and fields

they roar up road, take bend all angled against the black

and then they’re gone— tar returns to loneliness

its yellow and white stripes and lines empty again

 

Daybreak at Stillwater Bay— an angler has caught a fish

it gleams silver from outstretched arm

he carries it by tail towards his vehicle behind some trees,

boat has disappeared beyond a bend, gulls flap off long-legged

into salt breeze— only cormorant and I remain

staring, senses and wings outstretched to catch

a last soft red of rising sun

 

 

1. Clogherhead, Ireland, 2005

 

Troubled with the world

I went down to the sea to find some peace

 

The tide was out at Clogherhead,

down past the scrub and sand flowers

the flattened epidermis of shore

lay exposed, bared by the scalpel of an invisible moon

two gray trousered boys were fighting over ownership

of a ball, splashing across rock pools

the receding tide a magnet to jettisoned wreckage of the sea

 

Across the beach men o’ war sailed in—

floating to harbor in sand

beyond, sand flats fled moistly away

to where white wavelets fringed them

like lace on a dancer’s bodice

 

Wetly undressed, the beach revealed its secrets—

scuttled crab carcasses, fragile as sucked eggs

castles of sea-worm dribbles, homes of dark muddy mystery—

close by the waving fronds of one-legged crustaceans

like ballerinas upended in sand beckoned

to pluck or dig them out to discover where

or why they bury their heads

 

Far out along the mossy rock line a crowd of gulls gathered

white customers at a popular sea food takeaway
squabbling to be served— behind long necked and dignified
a cormorant stepped carefully across backdrops of waves—

as I approach gulls flew off in a shower of wings

leaving the cormorant, a deserted monarch, to survey

his emptied court strewn with abandoned treasures—

spiraled shells with music in their ears,

pebbles, their histories etched like signatures

on underwater treaties, polished by centuries

of currents to multicolored perfection

 

Far off, across the waves the prime minister and the

president were discussing peace again

perhaps north and south could finally swear off violence

the cormorant dethroned, stretched its wings and body

flew off over deeper shoals where predators roamed

 

 

3.  Apollo Bay, Australia, February 2009

 

Troubled with the world

I went down to the sea to find some peace

 

Shop fronts linger in mist, deserted—

breakers chase endlessly over beach like escalators

to the village.  No one gets off, not even a seagull

 

Holiday makers have gone home— pinched-faced,

flickering, they sit before their television screens

watching news about the bush fires, illness of economy

paling into yesterday before raging flames

bellowing over hills, leaping and lapping into sky

 

Entire villages disappear, swallowed by roaring fires—

blackened timbers, carcasses of cars, skeletons of eucalypts

swarthing from torn roots upwards, gasping final resin

into smoke-filled air.  Families are burnt alive, confusion,

crashing into each other’s cars trying to escape, blinded by smoke

 

A lone attendant in filling station store counts dollars in his till

watched by rows of candy bars.  Over ocean’s horizons we see
troop movements of a new president's vision.  Attendant presses

remote— a dictator eats lobster in Africa, views his burgeoning

bank account in Switzerland, his country impoverished by unemployment and AIDS; another button-press away missiles explode in playgrounds

hosts of wasp aircraft bomb buildings in retaliation

 

Another button press— a cricket match is in progress

bowler runs up to crease, ball too fast for camera

but batsman wields weapon and fielder falls to grass

arms outstretched.   A strip of moving text underneath the

scoreboard shows a death count of 173 and rising

 

President signs bail out plan — tanks stop firing to vote in election

attendant counts dollars, it's been a meager day

black clouds drizzle, holiday makers stay home

attendant hopes that rain may help put out some fires,

the breakers continue their white march, row after row after row

tides rise and fall, swallow flames, wars, garbage, greed

all is cleansed by their white chewing teeth

 

The lone cormorant standing on the beach— eyes facing waves,

does not notice how one small screen splutters before it dies

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© Johnmichael Simon

2009

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