Married as we were to your brown

untourist beaches, unconcerned

with the many shores you touched,

as children, we thought that you, Atlantic,

belonged to us, your below-sea-level offspring.

 

See us playing cricket,

turn-down bucket making wicket –

ball a spin-off of empire –

lost in the applauding waves for six.

At Easter, to mark the ascent of Christ,

see us raising a carnival of butterflying kites.

 

Yet we know that playfulness is not your nature

that ships sink in you like matchsticks

that small boys daring to dive from the jetty’s edge,

sometimes never surface –

from your majestic, magnetic depths.

 

So from the seawall’s Dutch-built safety,

we watched your changing moods

your glimmers and your gloom.

 

Atlantic – now sleeping in the distance

peaceful as a dog glossed by the morning sun.

Atlantic – now churning up an army of wild horses,

white manes threatening a biblical leaping

or brooding on the ships that bruised your memory –

the nameless bones on the sea-shelves of your history.

 

Still, at dusk, we love to sit in the evenings’ calm

hearing the wash of your voice over rocks and sand –

watching the small emergence of a blue-back crab.

Me thinking that is you, Atlantic, who give birth

in the nascent dark, to the coming-on stars.

from the collection Passport to Here and There (Bloodaxe Books, £9.95)

 

Grace Nichols was born in Guyana and has lived in Britain since 1977. Her first collection, I is a Long Memoried Woman (1983) won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Her later poetry collections, published by Virago, include The Fat Black Woman’s Poems (1984), Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Woman (1989), Sunris (1996), winner of the Guyana Prize, and Startling the Flying Fish(2006), along with several poetry books for younger readers, including Come on into My Tropical Garden (1988), Give Yourself a Hug (1994), Everybody Got a Gift (2005) and Cosmic Disco (2013). Passport to Here and There, a 2020 Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, is her fourth book with Bloodaxe, after Picasso, I Want My Face Back (2009), I Have Crossed an Ocean: Selected Poems (2010) and The Insomnia Poems (2017). She lives in Sussex with the poet John Agard and their family.
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Author portrait © Mike Park

Cover artwork: Detail from Dub Factor: White Christmas I (2008–9) by Victor Davson

Read Grace Nichols’ preface to Passport to Here and There

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