Major Oak by Major Hayman Rooke 1970
Major Oak by Major Hayman Rooke, 1970

Grace Darling at Alnwick Castle – after the Forfarshire

by Kathleen Bell

‘And there was no more sea.’

Inland tastes of chaff and honey.

The earth is rich with grain.
Pigs, sheep are humble. Silent, the soft-eyed calves
tender their docile necks to the farmer’s knife
and streams run sweet.

By night the seals swim close
pushing through nightmare in a moment’s grace
till they slide, laugh, clap – bloated mistakes
disturbing dreams.

The taste of salt is gone.
I am made soft as soil. My task is set:
obey the ladies, watch, give answer to their
endless questions.

‘Books and my father schooled me –
I learned the Bible, sermons, tales of peoples,
countries elsewhere.’
Read polish clean write cipher –
oceans and words.

‘Always busy at home,
we harvest the sea. Cormorant, sea-weed, eggs
are good for food.’
Seals we must skin and salt,
which we take, eat.

The woman flapped like a bird
when we rowed to Harcar. ‘Spray was fierce, hit hard’
at her closed and stone-dead sons whom we took, laid
limp on black rock.

‘But surely suffering saves?’
Riches do not ennoble. I have been carried
far from my work and set among ladies –
dull, indolent, useless,
wicked as seals.

Writer’s bio:

Kathleen Bell’s recent pamphlet at the memory exchange (Oystercatcher, 2014), was  short-listed for the Saboteur awards. She has poems in the current issues of New Walk, PN Review and Under the Radar, and has recently been included in the anthology A Speaking Silence, literary magazine Hearing Voices and the on-line poetry magazines The Stare’s Nest and Litter. She writes fiction as well as poetry, and teaches Creative Writing at De Montfort University.