We used to take an old black sit-up car
down to the sea, some forty miles, to catch the sun
and lace our hair with sand and run
into wake-up waves that cried all day
we’re after you; and always either pushed us in,
face first, as they crashed down on our backs
or tripped us as the sucking ebb backtracked.
And father, still young, before his ravaged bones
would cripple him, before any middle-age spread,
he’d act the sand monster, raised from the dead,
as he emerged from the tomb we’d piled on his body,
allowed only holes to breathe and to see
which child was where, who to chase out there;
who to take captive and lock in his lair.
The world’s edge was as far as we could see
(not yet told, in Geography and History, all about
the drift and split of continents or the rush to mount
invasions from many other shores, which happened
quite regularly) – the sand monster was the only enemy.
Grown-up seaside thoughts now hold sway
(save in the case of sun-soaked popinjays).
We soon understood that, at water’s edge,
we were near foreign parts (take, perhaps,
our dislike of the slippery bladderwrack,
washed up, we guessed, from far off lands. All quite
irrational: these things are just as national as
chicken tikka marsala). But I digress on trivial things:
I want words to silence and make eyes sting.
I sit on the beach, not yet summer, so
cold for a moment – though cold’s really good
when heads need theories and trees need woods;
and I smile at the thought of the Earth lying flat,
with a single small island surrounded by sea.
Most of us know, when the sun’s light has gone,
it leaves our domain to visit another one.
The sand monster never made any news;
he released all his prisoners, bought ice cream for tea –
sweet times, a few summers, way back in the Sixties.
For the rest he toiled hard, far from beaches and harbours,
with their vinegary smells of winkles and chips,
of fish crates and fuel in sputtering blue fishing boats,
the salty sea-breeze sighing the lower notes
of sea shanties sung by ghosts of sailors,
by father’s kind too, who try hard to grin
in the daylight, to weep when the night sets in.
Perhaps they’re too far from the fenceless seas – do they
forget they’re there, for them, for the sad ones, for free?
Our playtime sand monster never answered their call –
but the wind caught his dust, a captive no more.