From The Sea of Affliction

Rosemarie Rowley


I had been sent to banishment
For haughty airs, and the beach
And the seaweed were a desert.

Lovers in the paradise lost
Now found themselves totally free
And hated it, as they had feared hatred,
And loved it, as they had not desired loving.

A heron close to the shore
Tore our tawdry eye
He wept we were unclean
Looking at the riverbed
Where fish were expiring
Tails lifting, thumping, dying
And cried all those who have sworn
Against a sacred will shall share this fate
Of desertry and desolation.

Children were asking
Mammy, would you take the nails out of my hand
If I were on the cross?
Did God have no mother or father?
And they breathed air that was dead and full of lead.



Here is the plectrum's imbroglio,

The empty torso of a man sinking
On the vacant sea of the living

And you are the bearer
Of a womb attended by dragons

And you are the earth
Holding the womb that will not be still.

The sea is accident-prone
And the womb is prisoner like a pink diamond

A tourmaline dredging blood
A peridot snaffling its centre.

The whole earth clams shut
But a light in your mouth
Makes you thunder of silence

Trembling you enervate the string
A wish escaping from your wooden body


(for Linda Hill)

It makes no difference what the scientists say
The hand of God that drew night and day
Out of the mysterious void so we could be
Said "Let there be light." The He conceived the Sea.

So God made nature, His bride and artifact,
Who must be joined to man to be exact
Solicitous, creative, her form adored—
But men are treacherous, and she gets bored.

The sea bows out, so has a neat acquittal
But a woman has to hang on, it's marital
Defined by her childbearing propensity
He ignores her intellectual intensity,

That exclamation mark on feminine creation,
The seahorse, is father and mother of a nation
Bearing his eggs, his body all erect
Indicates Genesis to be unfinished tract.

The clam, the flagellate, the urchin and the crab
Outride the nighttime fancy of Queen Mab
What finger initialing in the sand
Would be seahorse in the middle of that band?

I, said the mother, who would die of thirst
Rather than be considered first
The protozoa and the doughty trilobite
Having precedence in this unseemly fight.
So, the wedding's done, the guests have gone to seed
To celebrate necessity and greed
Who in her bridal gown of plangent seaweed
Can sing the sadness of a broken reed?



The ship of state, she was a frozen image
Grown out of bloodshed, murder, adage,
Inward gazing brought her short of hysteria
And banished her writers to outer Siberia
Hocked soul, spirit, and mind for foreign exchange
Swallowed ideas, till they grew a mange
Advertisement, sugar stick of seduction
Ground her on the rock of destruction.

The shores polluted, the rivers stinking, rotten
Show how a less than modern state is begotten
The air is full of fumes from motor cars
The smoke of heating up of little Czars
The sea cogitates, warning starfish
To assume the form of anguish.



It is the way I keep on, regardless
Past the ice blocks on the crust of time
With winter set in and the sea at my back
Frozen like a long echo

Pledges you had made in warmer climes
Now prove worthless as a translation of hope
They have diminished into raucous laughter
There's some fun in exquisite joke

That keeps me going, past the time
With the vision of your hands fading,
The beauty of the country of your body,
Immobile, presaged this ice age.

It seems we had exchanged blood,
Hearts, lights, kidneys, minds
But not kindness. We had vitriol
Violence, virulence and pestilence

In the dark green summer. I see
It imprisoned in a block of ice
Unable to hurt or heal, just prick the skin
With a fleeting irritation not like a wound.

I keep going past the dead, entombed
For ever in a glacial calm
Vegetation has long since left the path
There are only stones left, scarring the ice.


(a poem on Sellafield, the British Nuclear Reactor — in an advertisement in the London Observer in the 'eighties, they invited the public to come and look at their clean nuclear power station)

No compass, lodestar nor muted caulborn child
Could have taken away our chancery
So much, nor in the abandoned wild
Of seafarers' destinies, scrawled this history
On faces chiseled by the sea, to doom
Of blood and breath. Sea thrift, a waste
Of what the verb to be, means. Boom
Of nefarious husbandry, they will reap
From the spendthrift sea a wreck of haggards
Scratch on the sand a white, deformed defeat
And the advertising in the paper, braggarts
That what is only visible is meat
For enterprise where maiden wombs will shape
Children born to die of master rape.


(for Margaret Shore)

Once he possessed her in the yellow plain,
A field of corn gave her the first madrigal
And she wrote with green reeds the alien rain
With nature, understanding, and grew magical
Child and garden. For her flowing tears
He invented the clear confine of glass
And the blood-urge in his thought slew the fears
That she would leave the house, and pass
Through the silk doors of life to find them close
In his over-awed skill like a dream of heaven
Gone by. She went to the forest, as a tree knows
That only truth and nature are a leaven
Which flows like the spirit of the sea
But he had spoiled it, with her lost infinity.



He taught her to listen to herself. He was indifferent
To the schooled hearts of sealed wonder, who were stopped
In the anchor of discovery. So, seeing affection
Bold in her face, he trifled with her sex and lopped
Her head off. Language was unused to these themes
So she rested with the memory of her true lover
As she knelt on the shore of broken promises and dreams
Naked in the sand, where she could find no cover.

Experience me. Love is real. I am destruction
The annihilation of your soul in proof-positive lore.
A capitalist rip-off, a counterfeit seduction,
That having used your profitably, now calls you whore.
And in that pain, you buy essential conscience
Keep this treasure, the pearl of your silence.



The battlements she raised have left her keep thrown
On an idle space—where breathings of the story
Blaze in the evening papers. So clear the loan
And interest on abuse, maternal glory
Is anodyne to stop public wound and pleasure
And cut it in the icy icon of the eye
Where women freeze hope. The loot and treasure
Of journeying is borrowed time to why.

A child will trace in the ochre sand
Like the crab nebula, the explosion of his birth
His mother's history written on his hand
Clenched on coloured glass. The ocean's girth
Is like the deep swell in his curious mind
And intricate as the dream that made her blind.



His word set a tombstone on my heart
Impelled the knife's silhouette into my side
The brown speck on his eye was a part
Of beauty's fungus, a leprosy of pride.
Still in the whited paling of my soul
I let this dark transparency take root
To drive into the earth of my whole
Spring, fantasy's festering shoot.
Envy's gratuitous mockery of the just
The grudging, tetchy, mimicry in the skull
Will sail with death, and at last, a gull
Stifled in the world's windpipe, is torn
Out of some quiet bay, a raucous horn.



The blighted hope that struck upon the reef
Of generous neglect, has tied the dreams
Of things which vouchsafe integrity's demeanour
Such is the boat heaving on the tide.

Not necessary for the claim to ponder
Which strikes the heart direct.
No to that. Yes to prevarication
The wealth of nations rests upon a quibble

Of the self and others, need versus greed,
The aspirant's wages, the market's interplay
Hung on the straddled stupor of the age
The trees, struck down with sickness, cannot rage.

Woman, the precious ornament of time
Is in her old age, the memory of a crime.



Spoilage may be man's destiny, though he wills,
He cannot birth new being into the world,
Involuntary spasm soon translates what thrills
Can bear aloneness, as seed is hurled
With millions into the matrix of matter
With the other half, to show an eye an age.
Fatherhood is such remove, may be a tatter
Of mystery which fills his heart with rage.

So imitate that which gives offence,
The miracle of birth. So sacrifice,
Make bloody entrance into absence
And marry intellect and lust. A paradise
Of muted birds, then, pollute with hate
Her broken dreams, like her sea in spate.