Rebecca Gethin – Five Poems


As though the sea took form –

boneless, muscled, neurons in each

tentacle with its furled nets of skin.

It reads rocks and reefs with suckers 

tasting whatever it touches.

It speaks in a scale of colours

from indigo to burgundy

from pale pink to mottled seabed.

Its blood is blue-green

and mirrors its cloaks of water and sky.

One heart rules the night

another the day while a third

prefers the dark of underrocks.

You mustn’t mention its name

lest you summon it up.

It has no plural.


Madeiran ‘baleiros’ once killed thousands 

for their oil and spermaceti.

We are bobbing in a rubber boat 

wearing high viz life jackets 

hunting down a sighting.

When the boatman lets down

a hydrophone into the water

it’s as if we’re tuning into 

communications between Atlanteans

whose syllables are morse. 

They’re right below us

thirty metres at least

munching giant squid and octopus.

They won’t need to breathe for an hour. 

He explains their hearts are twice the size

of humans’ and I wonder

 if they feel twice as much love

and if that is why when one of them – 

probably a youngster coming up for air – 

was harpooned the whole pod 

rose up quickly from down below

to form a marguerite around her

and were an easy target.  Useful

that their corpses don’t sink. 


but when he talked about love being like sea horses

I never imagined how they hang on

to vegetation because they only have one fin,

nor the little snap their skulls make

as they suck in morsels of prey. 

I never imagined they change colour

according to how they feel or to conceal themselves – 

I only thought of the upside-down violin scroll 

of their tails curling round one another, like a living ring

not that he’d bridle me, 

spur me roughshod, 

hammer nails into my feet.


He knew the significance of riplets

under a wave, the meanings of shadows

in the trough. He knew  

the speed needed to jump back inside

where the rooms are all curved

and the many stairs are in spirals

where walls make human sounds

shuddering and groaning.  He knew

the mineshaft smell of engine oil

and minerals, the dependence on the light,

the loneliness of three men

incarcerated on a storm-blasted rock

till relief might arrive every two months.


The sun was setting, going down

into the steady flames of itself,

the sky a long smear of blood

and we sat and waited to see

the white fingernail of sun

drawing itself down

to the other side of the world

when as it slipped into its slot

like the last drop of an infusion

through a tube into a port

came the green flash

(which we both saw

so we know it’s real)

and I thought perhaps

we will never live long enough

to see this together again. 

Rebecca Gethin Poems

Rebecca Gethin has written five poetry publications and has been a Hawthornden Fellow and a Poetry School tutor. Messages was a winner in the first Coast to Coast to Coast pamphlet competition.  Vanishings has just been published by Palewell Press. She blogs at

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