East Coast

It’s summer. I go down to the beach
where swimmers shiver in the grey waves
and children open like anemones in sudden sunlight.
Glimmering behind uncertain lines
of cloud, time creeps in with the tide
and beneath my feet crunch stone and shell.

At the harbour mouth fisherman shell
their catch of lobster and crab from beach
washed pots as they wait for the next tide,
hoping weather and waves
will be kind to their lines,
strung tight in the weak sunlight.

But they do not know if the sunlight
will last. Or if the shellfish
will be there when they gather their lines.
They watch from the beach
and notice how the wild waves
crash in with the spring tide.

The oldest of them knows the tide
will be fierce and that the weak sunlight
will be swallowed by waves
that pound stone and shell
to sand and, when the tide turns, the beach
will have re-formed along new lines.

The patient fishwives have new lines
on faces set like ancient stone as the morning tide
takes their men and boys far from the beach.
They pray without hope for the sunlight
to last and for the fragile shell
ships to stay safe in the waves.

Men drown in the wild waves.
Tangled in fishing lines,
they sink to the depths where shell,
stone and weed mingle with the tide.
Never again will they see sunlight
or summer on the East Coast beach.

Beneath the waves the tide-tangled
lines weave patterns far from the sunlight
while bones and shells are washed up on the beach.

A sestina by Liz McPherson

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