Sport 36: Winter 2008
How to live by the sea
Be like the terns crouched on the shore.
Still under an empty sky.
Stake your life on warnings.
The gulls will circle, shrieking, before rain.
Keep one craft at hand.
A kayak out back among nasturtiums.
The grey heron will haunt your letterbox.
The orca may pass by here again.
Settle for disorder.
All summer you will swim before you wake.
They knock at the glass door.
Put down shadows, like luggage,
across mosaic tiles.
I turn the handle
and they bustle in.
They like that I've kept
the plain white-wash.
Admire the water-gleam
of polished concrete in the hall.
One runs a felty foot
over the compass in the floor.
They've been living in gullies.
Found their way back
by the staggering hills
—not by the sea.
Voices gather. A Nor'wester
opens like a fan.
I put on the jug.
They start reckoning years.
How long was this a gambling house?
They argue the toss,
but money was lost and won here
while storm tides
sheeted up to the windows.
There was the old woman
who cooked over the fire.
The sooty hook still beckons in the fireplace.
The cooking pot outside
half full of rainwater.
Its notched handle marries to the hook.
There was my sister.
Sleepy kids under plaid blankets.
Bonfires on the beach.
Those first-thing sunrise swims.
Before them, who?
Who sat on the steps to pull on boots
when the sea
is all surface?
There are Mah Jong tiles
in the linen cupboard
and a note in the cutlery draw,
this knife is not to be used for
gutting fish! or cutting plastic!
Outside the window, the wind shakes
the sea, rattling its strange bones.
Seagulls tear the raggy sky.
So, this is not my house
or the old woman's
or my sister's.
It is a house to set your bearings by.
A kind and unkind fairy storypage 166
where someone picks up an accordion
another unhooks a small drum from the wall,
someone laughs, folding forward,
someone starts up an argument.
Where grandparents peel tinfoil
from a casserole
and, if the oven lacks a handle,
bind their hands with tea towels.
They leave slowly. The pebble path
clicks under their light feet.
My daughter sits on the doorstep
and with her thumb
rubs the compass, true North.