A poem. But first, a story. And a true one at that.
When I was studying to be an actor, I lived on a boat in the Bristol canal. A proper, Rosie and Jim narrow boat, I kid you not. I lived in the cutest little corridor on the water you ever did see. No TV, no Wifi, sometimes no fridge, and for the first year I wouldn’t turn the diesel heater on for fear I’d blow the boat up. And I basically didn’t write for two years while my body was broken down and rebuilt in the service of the arts.
Then one spring evening in my third year I started writing. I hadn’t planned to, and I didn’t know what I was expecting to get from it. It just felt like the right thing to do. And I kept doing it. I’d come home, cook something and then handwrite three A4 pages before I went to bed. I wasn’t filled with inspiration or anything like that – in fact sometimes it really sucked having to write three pages. I stacked up months worth of pages on my kitchen table, and it felt like all I was doing was charting my creative emptiness.
And then it was a dreamy late summer evening, and my boat was full of the perfume of tiny blue hyacinths just starting to bloom – a gift from my sixth form drama teacher, who had come to see me perform in a Brian Friel play. Jupiter and Mars had been dancing around each other in the sky for days, and that night they hung in the air like jewels under the moon as the sky purpled into night. And that night my daily scribbles morphed under my fingertips, and I found, for the first time in years, I was writing a poem. This poem marked a turning point for me – a moment of faith answered, a moment of coming back to something in me I thought might have been lost forever. I offer this to anyone struggling, for anyone who feels lost, creatively. Keep walking. Have faith. There is beautiful poetry waiting for you on the other side.
She steps aboard like she was always there,
And moves about me like some kind of dream.
The timbers creak and roll to take her weight,
And I have to re-learn to find my feet
Among the river tides I know so well.
She dips her feet in, dangling off the hull;
The water flares to silver pewter sun.
Her hands caress the lazy rippled tide,
And she sings to the river in lost tongues
That blur my mind and fill the air with spices
From distant lands, cut with a sea-salt tang;
The river rolls and rushes like a sigh.
She smells of sun-drenched pools in summer time,
Of ozone and the hot exhale of steam.
A memory lingers, lost deep in her hair,
Of salt-crust sand and sea birds on the wind.
Her eyes are burning lilies on a lake.
She moves like fire in water, and she is
So beautiful sometimes it hurts to look,
And sometimes hurts to have to look away.
And god, she is so irresistibly…
Yes – Arrogant; she wears her vanity;
It hangs around her heavy like perfume;
I sway; In weakness, I could worship her.
In idle moments, with her naked legs
Around my waist, and, on the edge of sleep,
She talks, abstract, of treasures of the deep:
Of skulls with ruby eyes and gilded teeth,
Already half-forgotten as she speaks.
She says she can give me what I desire;
I smile and nuzzle her breasts and agree,
And we both lie in silence, wondering
How much I’ve chosen to misunderstand.
I fall into her like surf on the beach;
Her body rolls and rushes like the tide;
My mind becomes the sunlight on the waves.
I wake to find her talking in her sleep,
A language I don’t know, but one I find
I understand, and I see murky deeps,
Seductive, full of lust and death and teeth;
I see freak storms, great chasms opening up
In once-calm water; wind-whipped waves that rent
And rip and tip and tear a boat apart,
Throwing the men to ravenous frothing waves.
The timbers groan in chorus to her cries;
She bucks and moans for salt-logged human flesh.
I hold her close until the dreams have passed,
And kiss her neck and gently stroke her hair.
I do not whisper in her ear to soothe her;
I cannot find the words that I should say.