Susan Wicks ... Forgetting Hallsands
This poem comes from Night Toad: New and Selected Poems, by Susan Wicks, published
by Bloodaxe Books, 2003.
Hallsands was a small village on the coast of South Devon, washed away by the sea
between 1903 and 1917. Its sea defences had been weakened as a result of offshore
dredging of shingle.
It might have been early morning, it might have been evening
when she first saw the dredgers at work out in the bay.
Perhaps the ledge of shingle shifted slightly, polished
pebbles turning to gold on that ordinary day.
She listened for signs, sensing the sea-bed crumble,―
measuring time and tide-span against her hand,
but the echoes died in circles, criss-crossing,
and old waves crashed home on the old sand.
Was it a year later, was it much longer,
that the earth sank where the women used to walk?
Half the houses combed away, and half still standing,
scabby with seaweed, bladders drying on the dry stalk.
There were marks on the walls of buildings, warning the living;
where the shingle had reached the stones were black.
She felt the land fall, and the day turned over,
swirling at her heels, glinting, and sucked back.
It was in spring, that equinox, or was it October? ―
house after house cleaned on its stone slab,
words torn from mouths in the storm's doorway,
the corner cottage lifted, lurching like a crab.
There were two storms, surely, to crack the village open,
brittle bodies powdered for the sea's bones.
She still hears, turning it over and over,
one freak tide smoothing its bed of stones.
Now, tripping on ruins, plagued by the harsh breathing
of rocks in water, shingle under the rain,
she stops to take shelter in the wells of chimneys,
scanning the dark circle for a belated sign.