An Artist Paints an Eroding Coast
for Julian Perry
There’s nothing to see here and that’s the point.
He came looking for the drama of the place,
found the odd brick submerged in sand to paint.
Mud-yellowed waves barely even hint, but
the mind’s eye sees what once stood in that space –
your grandma’s house gazing beyond the point.
He gives you back the smart red tiles, the glint
on leaded window where you used to wake,
he gives a raft of earth, made possible in paint.
Arriving in pyjamas that first night
and promised chips, you and your sister raced
to Crossways - gone now but that’s beside the point.
The silver birch went first, slid to its fate,
upended roots grasped at air for purchase.
What he wanted was to raise it up in paint,
and in the studio that’s the choice he made -
the undulating trunk back in the blue air place
where it grew up, its branches stretch beyond the point.
All that has fallen now ascends in paint.
Dispatch from the North Aral
Those were the last days we could swim, he says, showing a photo,
but our skin would prickle, later we’d be streaked with powder.
We grew melons, clover for our cattle,
then the water left and dust storms came, chemicals
got in our wells, they told us not to nurse our children.
Now he breeds camels, but the grass is tipped with salt,
they hit their heads against the earth and die.
At last, not far away the fish are back.
Imagine, there’ll be water here! Hotels, night clubs,
his grandson adds, and when the water comes I’ll swim!
Coastal Adaptation Policy
Yes, we have a long term future –
it may just be half a mile over there.
As they drop off the front
you help them build at the back, is the idea,
that way, in 50 years the place will still exist.
When the land’s so soft and the sea that hard,
you lose the land and we accept that.
Still, here we’re raising children
who want to play just like their parents did,
we’ve put in a zipwire and a pirate ship
after asking them what they would love.
Also a new car park and an earth ramp
so everybody can enjoy the beach
again, and when the time comes the car park
and the playground can simply be picked up
and dropped the far side of the toilet block.
We had letters from South Africa about the lighthouse.
During the war, for pilots flying back from Germany,
it was Happisburgh light - thank God, we’re home!
And despite your modern gizmos it still serves a purpose
for ships that pass, so we keep it going,
give it fresh red bands and fill the cracks,
though we don’t pretend that it’s forever.
Managed retreat is what they call
the policy for this stretch of the coast.
They’ve found million-year-old footprints here
from when we were one mass with Europe.
The sea rolls in and we’ll roll back with it.
In the end, we’re no different here from anywhere:
though nothing stands still, you hold onto what you can.
Winner of the Chesham Literary Festival poetry competition, Valerie Jack’s poems have been widely published. Her first collection, Educational (tall-lighthouse,) appeared in 2009. More recent poems, begun while living on a narrowboat, concern our human relationship with water. Her non-fiction book, Living with Death without God, is out now.