DUNGENESS: EARLY 2000S
The lighthouse is some horn and the beach is big and sleeping and cold blooded;
grey sky grey sea black beach like reptile skin and the lighthouse is a horn.
There are the shells of ships turned over for winter and a royal coast guard tea shop.
I wonder who they go out to save and if it’s still cold through their yellow coats
and our tea comes in Styrofoam and why does Styrofoam sometimes send a stabbing pain
through teeth? Teeth are the same thing as horn and I don’t like to think of them jutting
into my wet mouth and the other end embedded in the skull which must be beneath
my skin. At the end of the beach the power station is breathing hard
sending its dirty breath into the dirty sky. I am beginning to think
about beauty. We come here on weekends like others go to church.
Who do the coastguards go out to save and do they want to be saved? Why do they leave
land for a place where they can’t see land and do they not know our teeth dig
into our skulls and our skin is only fragile and even the power station at the end
of the beach could cease breathing in an instant. The houses at the edge
of the shingles are barely more than beach huts and one of them belonged to an artist;
recently we watched Jarman’s Edward II at school, skin on skin and rippling gold sequinned
second skin like snakes’ scales, so much skin I had to move closer had to try to see under
the skin. Driftwood sometimes looks like snakes because humans are built
to watch for danger. In school we also learned of the director’s death
from AIDs how he spent time building sculptures with driftwood and flakes of beach-skin
knowing that living had killed him. If I press my fingers to my cheeks I can feel
the bones I can feel my teeth with my tongue. The beach is still so desolate,
it moves through me like the charge through the powerlines above us. I am just beginning
to think of poetry. I am just beginning to think about how the electricity must irritate the wires
and what it feels like to be one of the birds up there in rows like toys and how do they understand
to make a neat row or a murmuration that glimmers like a fish in half-light, and
what do they think of the beach? Do they see a skin, do they see something to rearrange
something pushed and pulled do they see the horn of the sleeping beast and the hulls like
shells like vaulted roofs and how the yellow lifeguard jackets shout against grey? Do they see the
artist’s house and know that it is different? Do birds have any kind of church?
an image of Derek Jarman, sick
The boy always smells like a cat at night.
Maybe he is turning into one—a twisting
feral rise of hot fur and backbone. He is coughing, damp,
not mine. I am trying to write a poem about a picture.
Ekphrasis becoming a helpful way to see. In the dark
of their spare room, the boy and I are black and white
and this picture is black and white and you can’t
hold someone and care for their ribcage, sweating skin,
heavy innards, salty feline tang, without love
which is a thing that comes in endless varieties
chosen, chosen daily, minute by minute, every inhale.
The child’s open mouth in sleep is disgusting
his wet flesh, tiny and perfect,
and his breath is a lapping tide,
a strange box of chocolates,
an acidified lake, and it is boring
lying here with him and thinking about the poem
I need to write about this picture.
The picture looks like this:
The room is full of light, probably. Muted
grey winter light right off the pebbles. It smells of antiseptic,
it smells close up of shampoo of thin human scalp skin.
A young man holds very tight.
Life slips and slides away, doesn’t it?
It’s always seaside wet. Brined. Hurts your eyes.
The thing is, what lies beside hope
isn’t despair, it is bright, scalding, toothache anger.
[first appeared in Poetry Birmingham]
Lotte Mitchell Reford
Lotte Mitchell Reford is a Glasgow-based poet writing about art, long roads, and sex, via London and Virginia. Her work has been published in lit mags on both sides of the Atlantic, including Hobart, The Moth, and Copper Nickel. Her first pamphlet, ‘and we were so far from the sea of course the hermit crabs were dead’ will be published by Broken Sleep Books in June 2021.