England, low tide

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All the fuckin’ country 

is tense about some dead duck football game

tonight at 8 pm (or so I’m told).

The sea it slinked away but turned again

and stealthily manoeuvres to reclaim 

the mudflats populated by the clumsy

clumps of seals. They loiter, lolled 

 

like slack balloons, like lard

collapsing down to chip fat on the hob.

But we, we sit up straight: our sofa, stones

beneath a clay sea-cliff; our screen in the pub

a vista of England; our crowd noise, sobs

of seals who keen for that thing so desired

whose loss they bode in tortured groans.

 

We should return to England 

before the rising water bars the doorway,

snips the cord uniting Lindisfarne

to the mother nation and her stories.

But born again twice daily when the causeway’s

cut, this wailing castle-headed island

plays our heartstrings like a bairn

 

and we cannot take leave

so soon. We opt our own bloody-minded maroonment:

spectate as wraiths of haze blur England out -

the homeland of my soul, but now, this moment,

the mainland opaques to cobweb-swathed entombment 

and not an atom of me needs to grieve

the final shrouding-off of it.

 

Perched here on rocks - red rocks

with veins of quartz like fat through hunks of beef,

a purple mound of mallow flowers spilling

down a scar behind us where the teeth

of winter storms have gnawed - a summer breeze

soothes away all tension. We just watch 

the derring-do of swallows skimming

 

low along the bank

and now perceive the militant skriekings of terns

wardening a colony invisible in the blear.

We rise and amble off. Bladderwrack squirms

beneath our boots and ocean rounded stones

rattle to our progress as we track

towards the houses, mutineers

 

defying the consensus 

of every other tourist near the village

to make it home before the evening kick-off.

“Stuff the soddin’ soccer!” I envisage

the comedown; watch cars nose-to-tail in scrimmage

across the flooding mile; deplore their senseless 

mass retreat, but once they’ve fucked off

 

the Holy Island’s ours.

We promenade a placid tourist hub

transformed in half an hour from Tourist Hell;

stroll to the castle, lording on its bluff

of whinstone; take refreshment at the pub;

scour the dunes for novel native flowers;

stand frozen in a roebuck’s spell.

 

The sea engulfs the mud

and deftly moulds its ornate shoals anew.

Snouts of seals make molehills in the green.

Throughout my life I’ve loved how nature moves:

I’ve always fumbled over stitching my fealty to

the English flag with that great cross of blood

carved upon its pallid skin.

 

I know, behind the mist

my country’s rugged landscape has not changed

for all the love they net, this vibrant team.

Hope will hit the bar: a keen of rage

will reach us even here across the bay,

and throwing down their chips, supporters, miffed,

will quash with hiss of piss the dream.

 

But that is all to come.

Right now we drift in bliss through swathes

of orchids, placed ornate amongst the shorter

dune slack weeds. The highlight of our day’s

a strapping dolphin pod that sprints away,

silver fins all glinting in the sun,   

away in leaps, to deeper water.

EnglandfootballLindisfarneNorthumberlandnaturesealsdolphins

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Comments

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Stephen Atkinson

Tue 10th Aug 2021 23:14

I thought it was about the Sunderland game tonight...? Superb piece of writing!

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Greg Freeman

Tue 10th Aug 2021 11:28

I think important football matches have a lasting symbolism, Tim, so no worries about the date!

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Tim Ellis

Tue 10th Aug 2021 11:15

Thanks Greg. It’s taken a month to write it from some notes I scribbled down on Lindisfarne the weekend of the Euro’s final, but the problem with writing about contemporary events is your poem becomes out of date almost immediately, so I thought I’d better post it online somewhere pronto!

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Greg Freeman

Tue 10th Aug 2021 11:07

Tim, this is simply a magnificent, 'state of England' poem. I love it that it's about Lindisfarne, too. So many great lines ... 'I’ve always fumbled over stitching my fealty to / the English flag with that great cross of blood' ... 'hope will hit the bar' ... put together with Larkinesque craft, if I may so. And maybe an echo of Matthew Arnold, too. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

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