Poetry: A Reconsideration | clivejames.com
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A Reconsideration

Dawn-mist on the river;
then fog obscured both banks,
damp chill and green water
from a thousand leaks
in my rotting plywood hull
sluiced the cockpit planks
as I made for midstream, the screw
and bows fighting some resistance
as if the Thames had thickened
to ice, and I was an icebreaker
butting a passage through
to white and empty distance,
strafed by a single gull...

Time ran out, the tide ran
out, the river quickened
and all around the boat
I saw them in their thousands,
bobbing belly up, mouths
working, pleading with me,
blowing forlorn farewell kisses;
the silver-white heaps on the mud
of both banks flopped until
their gills had stopped
and they were still,
the mud was covered
and the air sickened...

How had I made this happen?
Perhaps someone I’d left
alone, in the lurch —
but I’d always been
the one to feel bereft!
If only I had thrown
back that little perch,
along with the foul-hooked
roach and dace, the bream
and gudgeon — no,
this might be a dream
but these deaths were real,
and when I looked

all eyes were focused on
a ‘little muddy reach’
where men in twos and threes,
dark-coated, stood around
the white blur of a corpse — a girl,
from the shape she made,
the tuft that shivered
slightly in the breeze,
stretched out for her photo-call,
a silver sheet behind her
and one of them hunched over
a tripod, an arc-light’s glare
enough to blind her...

I put in at Eel Pie Island,
the old-tea-room where
one hot Sunday afternoon
forty years before (two weeks?),
I had sent cups and saucers,
the whole table flying —
my father’s red-faced,
small gestures of repair,
my mother almost crying —
this time the scent of a wall
of roses knocked me sideways,
I went to pick one for her —
but who? She was half a world

away from me, from ‘Tideways’,
and my mother who’d loved
roses was long gone to ash
beneath a rosebush
in my sister’s gardens...
To go on or back? The flood
would bring its slew
of days like this one, of regret
for things done or undone;
the ebb a swirl
of regret for all I would not do.
I would wait there,
for the tide to reconsider.