I set off walking south on the shoulders Of these high cliffs, through kissing gates and over stiles, when summer Was a crude suggestion yet among the broom and gorse. The winter That did not want to end was hedging The heath, and the geology beneath it was heroic—its syntax Tortured, its story lines long and unsettled by tides And asides, its attitudes violent, Its voicing portentous—and reading it was as difficult, the going as slowing, as Beowulf In the ancient tongue. The promontory that shields The town from the sky was stricken With bracken and blighted with daffodils, and it stood as gaunt and lichened And slant as a headstone in a churchyard. In my overcoat, Which flapped and yawed In the heartbroken wind, I felt like an eight-year old girl Lost inside her mother's dress. Below me, though, the sea was loosing Perfect sets against the Secret Seven shore—Foxhole, Raven's Beak, Cleave Strand, Hallett's Shoot, Smugglers' Run, Tremoutha Haven, Clambeak, The Northern Door, The Strangles—and the wind kept up its perpetual complaint. The birds—blue tits, wagtails, jackdaws in their jaunty Rat-packs, choughs waking rough, magpies flying kites, a raven or two and everywhere The plangent gulls—were telling fast the same story the rocks tell Slow, and in between the sea, Marbled exactly the same way the rock is strung with alabaster, Peddled and piped and played like an organ in a chapel—Bach, Wesley, Handel, Parry, and Harris's "Flourish For an Occasion"—and this day was Occasion enough. The wind, a faithful elder Of the parish, long ago decrypted the flinty geomorphology of the shoreline and punched holes Through High Church flanges and installed windows there In the greater glory of the God. The farm buildings And mills of the old dispensation, when I came among them, crouching in the lee, Cradled in the stench of silage and the baked bread odour Of ploughed fields, were as different From the ground they stood on as a rock is from a stone, or land is From landscape. The shingle roofs of Trevigue, for instance, ran a warp as wild As the strangled strata of the scarp behind the strand Beneath its feet. House torques The same way home torques here, each dwelling the same telling as the stones. And I walked My name down to its bones that day In the glamour of the sunshine and in the clamour of the shade, But I have no idea if what I felt as I closed in on my beginning again was the ecstasy Of exhaustion, or arrival. My name lives here, but I do not. There's a song Going on as long as the sea, and I am the words It's forgotten. Home is the ground the distance sometimes makes up On me. And crossing the bridge at the end of that homespun myth of an afternoon Of the world, I startled a kingfisher dipping the skinny brook and she Dropped her book and flew down- River, stark in her sly grog blue and white clogs, and her flight was a race the same shifting shape As the tongue-twisting bed she'd been singing.
Mark Tredinnick is an Australian poet, essayist, and teacher. His many books include A Gathered Distance, Bluewren Cantos, and Fire Diary. He has taught poetry and expressive writing at the University of Sydney for over twenty-five years, and in 2020, was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to literature and education. He won the Montreal International Poetry Prize in 2011 for his poem “Walking Underwater.”