Open Mic: Coastal Sequence by Jess White
Originally from Hampshire, Jessica is a recent BA Hons Creative Writing graduate, with an interest in travel/nature, poetry and novel writing. She draws influence from her environment; her thoughts and feelings show through her work which revolve around place and time through the natural world.
The poems from her collection reflect the sights, smells and thoughts that Jessica experiences around coastal areas in Cornwall. She allows readers and listeners to imagine themselves by the coast, and hopes to inspire people to explore what nature has to offer.
Houses teeter on the edge,
clinging to the cliff like children
leaning over railings to catch a view.
They overlook the beach,
a million dollar balcony view onto
rich rocky shore.
Clamber over masses of smooth sand before
peaking over the man made dune top;
see the expanse of the beach for yourself.
Stones large and small scatter the wide beach;
many stones gather together as a pathway
for the strong river to course its way
down to the sea.
It flows fast, slithers down
snake-like over the weathered pebbles.
At the end, a splash of fresh meets salty connects
on the bed of greys, whites and browns.
Wellington boots let feet wander into water;
it climbs higher up the wader,
cleansing memories of mud and
sand from the soles. Stride in
higher and higher, the coursing water
battering against rubber
as each foot submerges into the deeper depths.
If I was a keen Hodad I’d imagine
striding in when surf’s up.
Along the coast the surfers are out en masse,
called out by the waves and the sun’s warmth
lingering in the air.
They sit on their decks, floating
like seals as they wait to wrangle a wave.
The range of waves here are off the hook,
drawing surfers in on their reel
from shore to sea.
The grass of the cliff is thin;
parts of the windswept coastal coat
is stripped of flesh, revealing
dark soil and stone.
Dark rocks slump below the main cliff face.
Sunk in the sand, they stare up at where
they might have once lived; now they are
clambered over at low tide
and submerged at high.
Birds perch and nest on the ledges,
plenty of well-beaten edge homes for all.
Two pigeons shuffle about
out of place in their hard new roost;
they coo and bob their heads
while gulls watch on.
The gulls squawk and groan
as the wind ruffles under their feathers;
the wind is picking up.
The cliff to the west, with its silhouetted face
lies cold, dark, away from the sun
that shines more favourably on the other cliff at this hour.
Its features mirror a man’s, a seafarer looking out
upon the vast expanse of water, weathered
by age and the salty air.
A gull lands on his nose, and looks skyward
at the pale blue hues and sparse wispy clouds.
Northwest of Gwithian lies the devil’s doorway,
Beelzebub’s own bite bitten out of the coastline.
Hell’s mouth cliff lips gape open in awe,
sucking the salty sea onto its sandy tongue.
The place is not for the faint hearted;
two hundred and ninety feet of empty air whistles noisily
between the brave soul who peers over the edge
and the watery grave below.
A sheer drop into the belly of the beast,
many rocks crumble into the sea;
erosion fuelled by the wind and waves, as they
reach into each crack and cavity, tearing limb from limb.
Waves crash into the hard broken teeth of the mouth;
the caves on the east side flood with Atlantic waters.
A guttural roar and loud booming noises sound from
the hollow holes as surging waves fill the space.
Two isolated stacks out to sea warn seafarers of
the mouth that looks to bite.
The rocky beach is inaccessible, forbidden for man
unless they seek to gamble their lives.
Along the coast from Deadman’s cove, life thrives here.
Sea birds make the cove, cliffs and high stacks home;
guillemots, fulmars, razorbills alike
fly on the empty breath of this gaping cliff mouth.
At a glance it looked like driftwood,
washed up, beaten and drying
under the grey Cornish sky.
It was ignored for a while;
there was no interest in a large piece of tree
that had found its way to the shingle shore.
Until the salty air couldn’t mask the true nature of this object.
Death mastered its way into my unsuspecting nostrils,
and the gases that seeped from the beast
engrained the putrid odour of decay into our senses.
The smell of death is hard to un-smell,
even after leaving the scene.
Although the stench of the rotting wretch
was enough to retreat,
it held my attention
and I was drawn away from the crashing waves
onto the decomposing corpse.
The carcass seeped into skeletorization;
its journey back into nature, with skin hung loose.
Some hung like ripped fabric.
Stones had fallen into where organs once filled
and functioned the mechanics of the creature;
the body was now open to the elements,
not the sheltered harbour of a shell it once was.
The skeletal structure was in sight
now the keel of the beast had decomposed.
Vertebrae and parts of the ribs shone
against the remnants of grey flesh and the concrete sea wall behind.
The ribs that once protected vital parts were now broken,
crumbling like the cliffs surrounding its place of rest.
The skull, stripped mostly of its once recognisable face,
Once it saw the wonders of the waves below,
but now lies unnaturally beached
for the sea to watch it decompose back into the land.
Soon it will be nothing but a memory of the stench and remains it was,
not the whole creature that once lived.
Two square-rig ships sit in dock,
still like the carcass on the beach.
Their bones are intact,
wooden boards smooth and afloat.
The waters they hang in are calm,
away from the brash sea that
splashes against the harbour wall.
Once tall ships dominated our view
if we looked upon the harbour long ago.
Today we replace seafarers
both admire the sea, but they stare out
from the safety of the harbour walls
for different reasons.
It’s a ghost town on a February afternoon.
The sun is high,
but smothered in the never-ending dull sky;
it blends into the choppy waters.
Any light that might shine down onto the harbour
has been veiled by grey;
the great sea walls stand bleak,
forlorn and empty of boats and people.
Here this harbour carcass is alive,
yet nobody wants to sit and admire the view
on the wall today.
The crunching of feet on the tiny shingle beach
is drowned in the sounds of the wind.
The air in this spot is fresh,
not filled with the fumes of decay.
Yet there is a silent decay,
one only locals know.
I noticed a post by the wall,
used for pulling cargo ashore.
It stood tall
by the sheltered water wall,
its wooden gibbet frame hanging
weathered by salt.
Now I’m here again,
I see it no more,
lost from the view.
All that’s left is the giant twisted mooring peg,
rusted and shrivelled,
rope upon rope wearing it down.
The sea is visible in shades of blue,
a merge of darks and lights
that hit the horizon and bleed into the sky.
on the fork of the path,
I’m on the cliff side;
I hide in the shell of my shadow.
For a moment I’m alone to enjoy the view,
and the light breeze flutters
the heather and gorse
that tickles my ankles.
The sun sits high behind me,
my back heated by the rays.
I dare not venture further down
nearer the edge;
my fear won’t let me.
The path is stony, and small pieces
crumble away with each
heavy boot that treads upon the ground.
The coastal path stays with you
By the dust that sticks to your shoes.
The sounds of buzzing bugs and birds chirping
as they hop and flutter amongst bushes
sound in my ears.
The shrubs adorn bright yellow flowers;
a gorse which on a grey day illuminates
the coast, replacing the sun.
The flies are having a party since the sun is out;
they circle about, dancing with each other,
twirling up and up.
A few fly onto me,
and as I reach to remove them from
their human perch, they flail away
at the thought of being touched.
Further up the cliff, a watch post stands.
With views reaching wide along the coast,
several people look on, surveying.
To my right
a long beach stretches out into the
distant curve of the island,
shining bright against the ocean and rugged land.
Three people sit on the “think rock”
of this stretch of Cornwall;
their feet dangle over the edge.
The rock juts out, pointing to the ocean.
Two walkers join the trio,
Each a brightly coloured beacon of
Pink, red and orange.
Their clothing scrunches as they pass.
A pot sits on the overhanging rock, yet none
of the walkers notice the unnatural object.
Ornaments just out of it,
one a spinning wheel, the other fuzzed out
from poor eyesight.
The continuous whoosh of water slowly drowns
what memory this ornament on the rock holds.
A big swell stews on a rock below; the water
is churned and chewed, sucked
down and up.
Waves crash against the coast,
battering, eroding and shaping the land.
White horses rear against the rocks, the foam
fizzing before receding.
Out in the sea, two rocks lie.
One little, one large, they stand
above the water
like blotches on a blue canvas.
They show off years of compressed rock types,
ringed in colours of sand, dirt and ore.
I watch a boat move out into the sea,
And my eyes now follow it
as it returns to shore.
Whether it carries the latest catch
or curious tourists,
it weaves its way back past these twin rocks,
churning a trail as it passes.
Nesting birds perch on the rocks,
guarding their homes and waiting
for their mates.
They look out to sea and the ley of the land
for signs of food and weather changes.
The gulls stand out, white specks of flapping
feathers, pin pricks in the seascape.
by Jess White