North Sea Travelogue


Exhausted, feeling hemmed in,
I took the first northbound train.
Making notes in a moleskine pad
I wrote down everything good I had:
girlfriend, sister, one or two friends,
some skill with words, funds,
historical sense, a musical ear,
a basic working body, an idea.

Past Derby the hedgerows thin.
At Sheffield I felt the light pour in
and old men suddenly garrulous.
But travelling back is a curse.
We’re infants intoxicated by the dust
that furs the photos of the past.
Where the railway skirted the Tyne
I wondered which house was mine.

From Edinburgh I came back
along the North Sea coastal track.
A pebbledash council house, a mine,
limestone, socialism, rainbows, rain:
how can you live without this shoal
of earth, this silting of the soul?
At Berwick I sat on a bench and tried
to remember how my parents died.

Because our great taboo is death
life has become a spectral path,
and mourning screams to be let out
of every glazed object, every route
is blocked by a ruin that isn’t home.
Sadness sits in the frozen form
of jumbled heirlooms we ritualise
and love with antique dealers’ eyes.

I’m tired of hunting. Every week
a new camp and a brief break
and back on the interminable march
to the private castle on the beach.
What better ceremony do we have?
The world happens on the grave
of so much beauty, but the ground
is gouged and distributed to the wind.

Looking for a kingdom by the sea
in Alnmouth I paid for a B&B,
and lay among the shower caps
dreaming of living there perhaps.
This is the way we turn to stone:
glutted on visions of living alone.
I found a private corner by the bar,
read Tennyson, downed a beer.

Later, walking on the sand, I turned
to face the ocean, stood, listened.
The roar of the tide was a mother:
You have nothing left to gather.
The mere fact of your verticality
is enough. Leave this privacy
behind and wander into the future:
remember, love, smash the camera.