[ai] dry [ɪ] stiff [ʌ/ ʊ] could [ɒ] pocks [i:] between [əʊ] go [e/ eə:] bent

[ɑ:] far [ei] bay [ɜː] firm [ʊə/ u/ u:] dunes [au] round [æ] sand [ɔː/ ɔɪ ] shore


Shore Woman

Man to the hills, woman to the shore.

Gaelic proverb


I have crossed the dunes with their whistling bent
Where dry loose sand was riddling round the air
And l’m walking the firm margin. White pocks

Of cockle, blanched roofs of clam and oyster
Hoard the moonlight, woven and unwoven

Off the bay. At the far rocks

A pale sud comes and goes.


Under boards the mackerel slapped to death
Yet still we took them in at every cast,

Stiff flails of cold convulsed with their first breath.

My line plumbed certainly the undertow,
Loaded against me once I went to draw

And flashed and fattened up towards the light.
He was all business in the stern. I called

'This is so easy that it's hardly right,'

But he unhooked and coped with frantic fish

Without speaking. Then suddenly it lulled,

We'd crossed where they were running, the line rose
Like a let-down and I was conscious

How far we'd drifted out beyond the head.
'Count them up at your end,' was all he said
Before I saw the porpoises' thick backs
Cartwheeling like the flywheels of the tide,
Soapy and shining. To have seen a hill

Splitting the water could not have numbed me more
Than the close irruption of that school,

Tight viscous muscle, hooped from tail to snout,

Each one revealed complete as it bowled out
And under.

They will attack a boat.

I knew it and I asked him to put in

But he would not, declared it was a yarn

My people had been fooled by far too long

And he would prove it now and settle it.

Maybe he shrank when those sloped oily backs
Propelled towards us: I lay and screamed

Under plashed brine in an open rocking boat
Feeling each dunt and slither through the timber,
Sick at their huge pleasures in the water.


I sometimes walk this strand for thanksgiving
Or maybe it's to get away from him

Skittering his spit across the stove. Here

Is the taste of safety, the shelving sand

Harbours no worse than razor-shell or crab -
Though my father recalls carcasses of whales
Collapsed and gasping, right up to the dunes.
But to-night such moving sinewed dreams lie out
In darker fathoms, far beyond the head.

Astray upon a debris of scrubbed shells

Between parched dunes and salivating wave,

I have rights on this fallow avenue,

A membrane between moonlight and my shadow.