The Sea Takes Back Its Own

They say I’m not to be trusted. Maybe that’s because I’m changeable, but only on the surface. I change my dress with the seasons, with the weather, but so do you, so what’s new there? Silk for summer, so light the quietest breeze disturbs it. Shot taffeta for weekdays, crisp and such a colour and texture, much harder to the fingertips than you’d expect by the look of it. But it creases something terrible. Oil cloth for foul weather. Denim jeans are a favourite too, that indigo/white weave, bleaching in the salt and sun and wind and constant wear, the blue dye running in the wash. Always in the wash. Lace on my petticoats and cuffs. I’m a reluctant girly girl on the outside (all that blue) but it brims over sometimes, like my true nature. There is in me an innate tendency to spill out at the edges.

No matter what I’m wearing I’m always dirty these days. All that work on the land rubs off on me. A hard day’s toil down the docks, sewage works, waste disposal: it’s a filthy business. Grease stains and grime under the nails. Oil’s the hardest stain to get rid of. Even lazing around on the beach or pottering about in rockpools isn’t the cleanest way to spend your leisure time. And the sand gets everywhere. My bed’s full of the stuff: I’m always remaking it.

There are advantages though. Rain doesn’t bother me. The sun lights up my skin. I love the sun. I never burn. Sometimes I go a bit pink at the end of the day, when the rays are short and full of infra-red.

Then at night I lie back and watch the stars. The darkness brings out a glitter of imitation over my face like freckles revealed on skin in sunlight: an imitation not usually of my own making unless I’m feeling really calm and serene. Mostly my surface starlight’s red at port and green at starboard. A parasitic parody to their celestial counterparts.

Oh and I can’t vouch for my temper. You think I’m tameable and gentle today? Come back and see me tomorrow. My mood swings with the needle on the barometer; changes with the wind, the weather. I am the weather. Nor can I vouch for my constancy. I can rarely make my mind up about anything, to-ing and fro-ing all the time, plunging ahead and then withdrawing almost instantly. I admit I am a fickle mistress.  But I do keep my lovers true. Once you’ve met me you’ll never forget me. I will be there, in the back of your mind, in the dead of the night, in the silence. In the sound in the deep of the silence when all you hear is the beating of your own heart and the whining of your nervous system. And me.

Some never leave me. Some do and pine away, far from the sight of me, sound of me, smell of me. They can help it as much as I can, though, and they know as well as I do that I’d as soon kill them as kiss them, caress them. Or swallow them whole and digest them.

I am the bane of many lives. I’m not to be trusted, but I live by the rules I set as much as by yours. Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not kill, and Love thy neighbour you carve in stone, but carry on regardless. In this way I’m more trustworthy than you, because at least you can trust me to be untrustworthy, whereas you lot, who knows? Punishment? Fair judgement? You don’t know the meaning of these words you’ve invented. You’d even judge me, name me, assume to rule over me. And then you steal from me, and steal from me, poison me, taint me… and stare in horror at the comeback when you’ve stirred up trouble and I turn on my heels and take it all back. Yes I’ll take it all back.

You say I’m not to be trusted. But I only make good on my word.

More on this?

Click here to read or to listen to a recording of poet Judith Nicholls reading aloud her ‘Lord Neptune’ which is a lovely lyric poem (and a sort of ‘cautionary tale’) about a boy on the beach asking his father to build him a sandcastle. The poem is taken from Nicholls’ 1990 collection Dragonsfire from Faber and Faber.

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2 thoughts on “The Sea Takes Back Its Own

  1. Hhm, I can’t make my mind up about this! I think as a writing exercise its really well done, I think there’s a lot of thought behind it and you’ve really considered all possible angles. And its beautifully written. But I’m just not sure, there’s something odd about the sea speaking. Sorry, not trying to be negative, just trying to be constructive!

    1. No that’s much more helpful than just saying you like it or you don’t like it!

      Wasn’t sure what I made of it myself actually so was hoping for some feedback – dredged it up and re-jigged it from something bizarre I was thinking of developing about 10 years ago :-/

      I wonder whether if in context with the rest of what it was intended to be read with it would seem less odd that the sea was speaking?
      (Scrap that, I think it would have been worse. Partly why I decided to isolate it I think?)

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