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.
SPERM WHALE FACTORY
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.
AS THEY HAVE NO LEGS I SHOULD HAVE GUESSED
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.
BEFORE TREATMENT BEGINS
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 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 http://www.rebeccagethin.wordpress.com