In Another Place

Facing America, or Newfoundland, stand Gormley’s men.
Gender defying, bronzed with the wisdom of rust,
they solemn see through any looker’s thought.

So let us go for: new life free of poverty;
the grasp of lords and land denied; the chance
to grow seed in soil swept of tyranny
and of native folk. Where potatoes do not rot;
where bellies fill with pride; where God can set
a chosen people in their simple prejudice. Due
west then, with all that sunset blah-di-blah.

And yet they pull the heart. There is no kneeling
to a pot of wine or bread; no feudal shackle wearing
ankle deep in blood. Just hope, caught in a tide.

On our coast, facing east, there are no journeys to unpack.
No one set sail from here. Here are receivers only.
Here other iron men came amongst the Celts and Romans,
the Saxons clinging to their Cuthbert and his bones,
with scriptural flourishes and calf-hide history of the world
made flesh. These brought their helmets and their ships to fear,
their Nordic gods, their hunger. The local craftsmen
with their gold and timid monks, no match for them.

Churches burned, open to the sun. Places surrendered
land and names. Danelaw cracked the skulls
of words, but made a grammar everyone could read.

An invader’s coast. Huge beaches dry for miles,
their hourglass sands, awaiting seas that always come.
The rocks reward the careless navigators, and their cargoes.
but mainly these are gentle shelves for longships,
or for barges packed with Wehrmacht, and salutes.

Or so we thought. That new hordes might come
inspired our fear so lately purged of baresark screams.
New legacies of concrete blocks were sown across the dunes,
and plans to stall the onrush of field grey drawn up.

They never came. We practice-bombed the scrapyard
trucks we’d lined along the sand. Blockhouses with their
glassless windows still watch out to judge the aim
of boys with bombs. They’ll get a listing, sometime,
along with abbeys, castles, and Martello towers.

Meanwhile, on this day, breeze takes on the empty
shore between the tides. At the water’s edge, waves
practice being tough and mighty, stands Gormleylike
a naked man, hands held out in wait. He faces out
the nibbling surf, stretches left and right, throws
care into the plucking, rasping sea. His clothing
piles beyond its grasp. What destinations, or what
threats await his nudity who knows. Does he hope
for gods, or men in ships? Dolphins pass, yards from
where he stands. Perhaps he would be of their number,
heading south. We set our phones to panoroma, take it in.


2 thoughts on “In Another Place

  1. Try ‘Bombing the Scrapyard’, John.

    The lines,

    ‘We practice-bombed the scrapyard
    trucks we’d lined along the sand. Blockhouses with their
    glassless windows still watch out to judge the aim
    of boys with bombs.’

    are vivid and add vitality to the meditation that draws out the history of the coastline. A poem inspired by Gormley’s men is one art from (poetry) commenting on another art form ( sculpture) and ends up almost feebly asking ‘ What destinations or what threats…who knows?”


  2. Just when you think you are approaching the end of a superbly descriptive, reflective piece evoking both landscape and history so effectively, there is the surprise, which, for me, is very much a surely-not surprise, not least because of the prevailing temperatures over there in the east!

    The closing lines that begin ‘What destinations…’ are magnificent in their timeless imagery and sentiment – and the last sentence, rich in bathos and social observation, puts them in their proper ironic place.


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