Countdown – 8

The Inaugural Baker Prize 2011 English Poetry Winner – Andy Jackson




In the eye-socket of the ocean loch,
divers in mock-rubber circle crusted hulks,
then drop into the dark to trace the rack
of ribs. I cross the strait to knock
the barnacles from clanging hulls, and talk
with comrades lying in their bottom bunks.

Even in the summertime the water’s chill
is on me like a kelpie’s grip. I feel
my way along the wrecks like reading Braille.
I dream of Caribbean dives, whose still,
warm shallows drift beyond my modest scale,
and so I shiver here among Norwegian krill.

In nightmares, bubbles pop and fizz inside
my veins. Limbs thrash against the tide,
my goggles bulge with rolling, sightless eyes
and pains that run as deep as I can dive.
Surfacing from sleep, I blink and drive
my lurching minibus down to the water’s side.

Later, office-bound and landlocked in a place
below the surface of myself, I appraise
conditions in the markets, far from peace
amid a storm of silt. Forecast says
visibility good, but most days
it is hard to see the hand before your face.

My fathers gathered up our islands in a cran
for centuries, trawling waters well beyond
the twelve-mile limit, gathering dominion
then watching as it dwindled and was gone.
But all fleets must one day go for scrap, or join
the scuttled cruisers at the bottom of the main.

As tickers show the fluctuating price of crude,
the glow from Flotta flickers on the tide,
lighting up a continent that lost its head,
the nations beached and lying on their side,
a crumbling archipelago imbued
with all the danger of an ocean bed.

The islands that are left are soused in brine,
stung by gales and stalked by submarine
and migrant whale. The great Atlantic stream
could drown me and not leave a sign,
but still I dive to shipwrecks I have never seen,
between the shoals of cod and contact mine.