Strata


for Geraldine Monk

 

1

 

Steers is the stage you land    beneath the ridge

and between two nabs    one cut like a knife

 

scar-wake words    in a cleft    or ledge

to pull and scramble

 

tightly wound shells    a ribbed curl

or something vanished    with astro-claws

 

blue-hearted rock    beneath yellow

 

it is not easy    it is not

 

the yield for folk who know    fire and ice traces

 

lead to light    like an outlaw prism

 

a beck in the glen    sides downthrowing

 

a memory pulse

 

2      

 

Scetune at Domesday    in mizzle

where mermaids were gaoled    and fled    with a curse

 

cottages squeezed South    facing wind-arrows

from the North

 

red tiles shake    over bonnets and granzies

 

herring, cod and turbot    (when did you last . . . ?)

fished from sharp bows or square stern

 

if the catch    over months    is bad

kill a pigeon, remove its heart    stick it full of pins

and burn    over a charcoal fire

 

3

 

Cook, the boy, handles cloth    but the yarn he wants

is all of whales    sliding beneath    the ocean’s skin

 

clicks, buzzes, squeaks    a song in deep sleepscape

 

his course    to sound and mark    straits, islands, strands

through shrill cries    heavy squalls

a cask lashed    with stuff to keep health

 

by telescope and plumb    to answer mindcraves

then warping nearer shore

in skirts of a wood    to find    the naked native

 

who is the wiser    and placed elemental

rank reversed    as you turn a grocer’s list

 

bread fruit    cocoa-nuts    salt mud creatures

 

4

 

                     a call    unexpected

       at high tide    the bowsprit of a coble

           sprung    through    the window

                  of the Cob and Lobster

 

              something more than a pint

                     or a pipe of tobacco

 

                       fierce in the flood

 

5

 

                        a fish skin purse

                packed with    silver    coin

                       run    or rolled for

                by a man or boy    in a sack

 

              festival sports    in a war year

              when you might    be pressed

 

6

 

jet earrings    on the dinosaur coast    glistening night

 

a small sign that ties    a world to a body

 

suspended

 

as gulls screech    ah-wa-a-ah   

 

do they say owt    by step, fret and key

 

over ruby dulse    a taste of anchovy or Marmite

 

—range it with sailors    from floor-head to main mast

 

a jig line    sea-bed to rugged peak

 

7

 

no need to scribble a formula    up high

as a chained task    unless it’s a spell    to summon spirits

or ward off    bone-break    or soul-peck

 

town lass    by a circle    of tawny grisettes

and a rotting log

 

then at head level    a cowl clinging to a trunk

phosphorescent orange

 

you tread back    like the lost crew

 

through peaty runnels    and salt-bitten grass

to doorway    and hearth

 

where the pages come    thrawn and (com)pounded

 

or lightly drawn    a whole tone

the roots chant

 

soundseared    through the scratch of a needle

tick-tick waves    in onion layers

to spark pictures

 

O second self    O gate   koeeo-aadi    getting

a stone from the moon

 

to pass from brig of dread    either is other

history    has it to do    letters & press

 

spores    able to spin    a question you question

 

lifetalk in deathtalk    when each can see

   

a face picked out    by a candle

yesterday    or sevens also

 

the name is never    insistence

but    a phrase or stanza between shows

 

unfolds the cell

 

——

 

 

Note: I did not encounter Geraldine Monk until the early 1980s when I was seeking material for an anthology of contemporary British poetry. At that time she was still living in Staithes, which I had visited several times during the five-year period, documented in Azimuth, when I lived in North Yorkshire. Unknowingly, our paths may have crossed. ‘Steers’ is a local pronunciation of the place name.

 

[Gavin Selerie’s books include Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016)—all long sequences with linked units. Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 was published in 2009 and Collected Sonnets in 2019 (both from Shearsman). Landscape, with its historical layers, is a frequent point of focus in his work. Letters from Geraldine Monk are included in the correspondence section of his archive at Lincoln College, Oxford.]

 

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