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The Sea At The Door (London: Secker & Warburg Limited, 1985)

Translated into the Italian as Il mare alla porta: poesie by Simonetta Zappalà (Forlì, Italy: Forum / Quinta Generazione, 1991).

Water-Colours, Cornwall
Night Crossing
Bride Ship
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You grow dependent on the weather’s moods,
living by courtesy of wind and water
between constraining seas, although sometimes,
in summer, it seems you could slide out easily
across the line where the light blue thickens,
like a colour-wash, before you’re beaten back
to shelter by squalls of rain spreading a grey
stain inland. In such weather the peninsula
holds you in small focus. It is a place
for mannikins – their salty, patchwork fields,
their bent shrubs and squat houses huddle away
from the sea’s edge, although some stragglers stick
it out too long on sand-cliffs which crumble bit
by bit, under assault, and leave them hanging,
flimsy in the wind like empty matchboxes
until, another day, there’s no trace left –
as when a painter thinks maybe he’d rather
not have any hint of humans even half-
way in the picture, and moves the sea up
by an inch or two, to wipe them off.



I caught the boat just once
by some strange mismanagement
and stood as it slid out of harbour
silently, unpiloted.
There were no people waving on the shore.
And up and down from end to end
the passengers sat stiff in rows.
None of them had any kind of luggage
or newspapers. They stared at air.
I could have gone on easily with them
but for the drumming in my smuggled suitcase.
Someone tugged the long communication cord.
I still don’t know whose noisy heart
reminded me to stop the boat
and moonstep across the strip of marshland
just in time to catch the last train
back here from the border,
or whether there is any point
in sailing out in order to come back
on tracks that disappear under
a smooth, unwinding sheet of blank water.



    The Sailor cannot see the North, but knows
        the Needle can     (Emily Dickinson)

I do not envy you your voyage through the silent
and austere solemnity of empty spaces
towards those other, unlocated Capes
which have no shores, or shadows, and are featureless –
like no New England capes or Rock of Ages cleft
to hide your clear eyes from the undivided light.

As wilderness gives way to wilderness I see your slight
form staunch and upright at the helm in bride-white,
your hair parted straight down the middle,
unswerving, trusting nothing but the needle
and the endless Artic winter of the bone,
singing Thine for ever! but utterly alone.

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© Sylvia Kantaris
Last updated: 01 March, 2015