'The Boathouse' by Judith Beveridge

ending on a line by John Burnside

No one on the boats, just cats – thin, furtive.
There’s the blown cry of terns and the wheedling
embarkations of crows, but you will not slip

the knot of your thoughts, what has brought you
to this harbour. Rain in the distance, the same
cold chant echoing in your steps, in the oars

and in the salt-encrusted timbers of the boats
pitching by the pier. The smell of diesel, rust,
bilge. A pelican hunkers down in the wind

near a tangle of broken nets, lines, seaweed,
an oily squalor of wash along the shore.
From the boathouse fishermen with voices

like spray looming through a blowhole,
their weather-knotted faces turning to leer at you.
One of them, stiff as old rope, dumps

a bucket of guts and fish heads on the boards
The cats come quickly, eyeing each other, hissing,
clearing the pylons of gulls. Below the pier,

a stingray’s slow, soothing undulations.
Now the cats slink away with the waste
and like a mass of flies your thoughts return –

blatant, insistent – back to when you’d walk
into cold spindrift, or on to the rocks from where
the whole rank harbour was visible, the boathouse

with its splintering boards, ruined paint, always
a man on the jetty peering into the water …
In the distance a sudden lance of sunlight reveals

the ambiguity of your coming and going;
how the stone’s throw of the past is still at your feet
and will not move, though now you walk away

from the pier. A sharp skreel – yacht-repair,
or the noise of returning gulls. Sand grains
blow as savagely as fish hooks against your legs.

A cat trails you, its pitiful cry mingling with
the stink of dreck and rotting weed … both of you
homing in on something – the urgency of elsewhere.

Judith Beveridge


Judith Beveridge’s new collection, Sun Music: New and selected poems, is forthcoming.

Published in April 2018, no. 400