Commended - 2019 Tower Poetry Competition, 'Underwater'


Sleeping Swimmer

As a girl you would wake, drenched, in the night:
mouth black with kelp, half-mad with gull sounds.
That you grew out of.

(And yet here you are, coughing up fishbones.)
The sea is not maternal, it does not ask for you,
but you extend to it a hurting limb

as if it might claim you as its own.
O frail peninsula, uncurling
your purpled rage to a cry

arrowing down through the fatty strata
of foam, belly-up, thickening to a choke
and then the blood-shock of quiet.

So drop and follow down,
drowning lady with the hair
as red as washer-women’s hands;

draw yourself back from the sun,
pinned like a brooch, a still point
in the slow-turning green.

The sea has no fingers and no eyes
but is wet as tenderness,
plying flesh with salt;

blubber-soft, all-swallowing,
your pearled breath is accepted
dulled to silt;

even the light harpooning down
is unable to catch your skirts,
the sodden weight of hair and cloth,

which had kicked and billowed, now loosening -
it drops its capture of silver air
to the slack blue tongue, along with

the punctured woman, falling, deflated,
eyelid-heavy to the mild sleep
of the treacle dark.