Friday, 22 May 2009


Peninnis Head
(St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly)

Inside this knifeblock huddle of granite, castle-huge,
in the runnels far above the sea’s suck and churn,
there is, my father said, the grave of a sailor.

In a winter storm in 1894, flung a hundred feet high
and already a corpse riding a cannonball of water,
the fists of the sea and its snarl pounded him

into a crevice above us here. He was so wedged, such a mass
of mangled salt-soaked flesh, that no one suggested
moving him from beneath the shrieking gulls

shooing the horizon out to sea. So they sealed him in,
squeezing through the labyrinth of rock and sea-thrift with trowels
and buckets of concrete, hands over their noses, tamping it in,

tamping it down, mercury packing an unspeakable filling.
On the smooth, drying face, only the date and RIP: An Unknown
Sailor. I was too timid to go in search of the hidden tomb

in the pleated, mica-glittering rocks. But my little brother
clambered through, lithe and bold as a monkey
and disappeared. I waited: in the sun, pushing away thoughts

of the storm whirr of the stone blades, a drill bit hungry
for flesh and bone, awaiting only the sea’s current.
After a long while, he came back, quiet.

It is there, yes, he told us.

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