The Smell of the Coast
After our games had ended
In squabbles and in kicks,
Our mouths raw and garish
From too many boiled sweets,
Once we’d spied A to Z
On registration plates
Over the blistered tarmac,
Then up we would pipe
From the back seat:
When shall we see the sea, Daddy
When shall we see the sea?
Through by-passes, fields, industrial estates
Lay-bys where we’d stop to pee, stretch legs,
And sip a thermos of milky plastic,
We’d hark for the cries
Of gulls overhead,
Desolate for the smell of the coast
And though they only wheeled
Over rubbish tips
Not five minutes passed
Before we begged:
When shall we reach the sea, Mummy?
How far is it to the sea?….
Hardly any closer, she’d say,
Since last time you asked. Or Dad:
The more you look forward
The longer it’ll take.
So we’d pipe down, tune to the radio news
Bulletins unchanged all afternoon,
Stare out the window
Unable to credit or count
How many seconds make up an hour
How many waysigns between here and there
And if it isn’t ages until we arrive
It won’t be forever until we leave.
But over every ridge
Behind the tree silhouettes
The sky seemed to ripple, brighten
With a marine light.
And soon there’d be bungalows
With portholes instead of windows,
Yachts on the curtains, toothpaste blue,
Shells in the pebbledash. The street
Would dip away
And between b&b’s, candy-floss, tar,
I see the sea. I see the sea. There it is.
Here we are.
What was it all about?
Two weeks to scour up and down the beach
Dodge turds bobbing by the outflow pipe
Lick sand off a molten ice-cream.
But nothing could defeat us,
Even at night
Sunburnt between the cool white sheets
We’d cup the shell
Of our ears to our heads
And drift off
To the waves milling the shingle
Tide rummaging the shore
Sounding like the ocean sounds