Arrival — A Poem

Handholds worn smooth, an old boat rolls on the swell.

Black hair, tattoo-man gestures — the sound of surf 

and short, shaved-head man shouts something rough, 

stabs an ugly glance at everyone huddled looking back.

Above the boat, a quarter moon declines towards the sea

and a woman’s other life slips below that rim.



She knows why they wait — someone with a swinging torch 

must guide them and time passes this way a while 

until the men begin to whisper over the crate of guns.

Now only bleak contingencies present themselves, 

some already taken, most impossible to bear.

She straightens, lets the woollen blanket fall, 

throws down her shoes, runs across the tilting deck 

startled shouts ignored, to one unguarded gunnel, 

where she breathes and falls and ice water fills her ears, 

her breathless thrashes, weighed down clothes, 

and breaks a surface sheen to angry voices, 

a flashlight sweep that’s nowhere close. 

She chops and kicks

until a first foot brushes sand and eel grass grips her toes.

She ploughs on with heavy legs through lines of surf to dunes 

where marram, yellow poppies dissolve in mist — 

her sand-sugared feet edge further to a stand of trees, 

and a flood meadow thick with dandelions  

heads towards the hopeful spire, that frond of smoke.

But when they found her, slumped behind the station,

noting her meagre clothing, her lack of shoes,

there was nothing they could find to explain it —

they missed a pouch sewn securely inside her coat,

the picture it contained; two small girls on their mother’s lap, 

laughter lines evident on her smiling face.

ⓒ Adam Cairns

Originally published  Reach Poetry, 243, December 2018.