Low tide. Light breeze.
To the north
Deal pier waddles seawards
a concrete centipede on rigid legs
straddling the falling tide
On the pebbled beach
white gulls watch,
production line inspectors
for rhythmic rippling silk,
which ends its dove-grey journey
in white lace frills
on the shushing, singing shingle
Rising tide. North wind.
Now the sea runs back from France
seeking shelter in the Downs.
Grey becomes grey-green,
the frills are farther out.
These white-tufted choppers
as they mow the Goodwin Sands.
Dark craft loom
anonymous on the horizon,
shadows in the shipping lane
and ominously motionless.
To the south
the sea is silvered by a secret sun.
A pregnant cloud droops luminosity,
suspending gloom, suspending rain.
Tonight the pier is gaudy. Its orange sodium lights
are giddy in the off-shore breeze. They look all set
for hours of rollicking and roistering.
Alas, the new café is closed.
With golden shimmers in dark sky over France
modern commerce mimics ancient battlefields.
The amber necklace of the Channel ports is fizzing
up the Belgian coast-line like a firework fuse.
Anchored centre stage, all Son et Lumière,
a vessel in the guise of a rococo barque,
with stippled light on fore and aft accommodation,
swings swags of lights along its gunwales.
Blue-white halogen flashlights weave erratically
as anglers set up camp on the shingle.
White-lighthouses on the Cote d’Opale flash
out of time with one another, out of time
with white-lightships moored by the Goodwin Sands.
Equally unwilling to keep time,
lighted ferries sneak out of our field of vision.
A single red light on an inshore buoy
attempts to regiment this visual cacophony,
by beating strictly march time,
but without success.
Above some shifting stars, an absent moon.
Only Venus to the east seems constant.
Just for tonight?
Even though the sun is warming up its pathway
the sea is shivering as it rolls to shore.
At the far end of the hammer-headed pier.
seagulls form a dole queue on the café roof.
It is too cold for them to fish, too cold for fish to rise.
Cold colours rise in strata,
dark grey tarmac and dirty off-white kerb
are stacked below the pale beige pavement;
beyond, the nearer pebbles are surprised
white-frosted on the beach.
Frost washed off, colours start to warm.
The amber, garnet shingle shines,
tumbles under white-frilled waves
which trim the trembling blue-grey sea.
Gold-glinting breakers on the Goodwin Sands
underscore the butter-pink horizon
which melts upwards into a sky
whose blueness hardens into steel
as it stretches to its zenith.
Knobbled waves in rows
knit one, drop one, cast one on,
as they purl, plain, purl their way,
moss-stitching to the shore.
Ferries slash this grey-blue knitting,
dragging huge white quills behind
which slowly moss back into stitches.
The knitting’s top edge, bound in darker grey,
gives a soupçon of French style.
Above, oblivious to graft and beauty,
cumulus clouds chug along importantly,
itching to destroy this work
with tiny hail- and rain-seeds.
The window frames are white
and form nine silent rectangles
of double-glazed double-greyness.
No sea-sound, no whirr of wind.
In the lower left-hand corner of this silent seascape
mist-mizzle and seaspray have drenched
Deal pier’s wood and concrete,
etching dark graffiti
across swathes of grey sea and grey sky.
From time to time a herring gull
slices through the greyness,
lemon bill mouthing sour mews,
a dumbshow for drizzle-driven windows.
Apart from these small interruptions,
the picture is Mark Rothko in Grey and Grey
viewed through nine silenced rectangles of double-glazing.
The sea is hammered to a blue steel pan.
A scattering of snippets from the moon
slither on its shiny metal surface,
playing the pan like a snare drum
stroked by a soft brush.
Hissing ceaselessly, a silver snake
slithers on its path towards me.
Its scales glitter out a warning
to shipping lights on the horizon,
which slink away.
Earlier this afternoon,
near the marshes lying outside town
it had snowed tiny cauliflowers
onto fields where green cabbages
were already fighting to be seen.
Now, from the east
a trail of Barbie-pink puff-clouds begins,
drifting nonchalant as summer candyfloss
against the backcloth of a sky
which drops, air-force blue,
to a sea of sheen like a magpie’s wing.
A parabolic cloud conceals a focus
from which soft lines of light
radiate at equal angles,
imposing a protractor on the sky.
This hidden light-source puckers up the sea,
gilds the hollows of ellipses
flowing in kinetic motion
diagonally towards the point
where x (the pier) meets y (the shore).
A silver horizontal bar is scored,
division line with sky the upper integer,
and sea the lower one.
A sum to which there’s no solution.
As the weight of the falling sun
plummets behind the day’s-end town,
the shadows of the Timeball Tower
and the great houses on the front
slither out to sea.
Like giant black piano keys they extend,
along the pebbled beach,
playing a pentatonic waltz,
lusting for the shining cliffs of France
and the techniques of Debussy.
The sunny white keys in between
catch the frisk of the onshore breeze
in the thinning evening light.
The air goes demob happy,
casts off the burden of the heat
and, skipping along to Beach Street,
whisks at skirts, teases headgear,
skids lolly litter into the gutter,
and sashays into the bar at the Royal Hotel.