For many years I travelled on business by air, often driving to the airport while the early Shipping Forecast was being transmitted. I still hear its echoes from time to time and I used this resonance in this poem. For a period of time I investigated nineteenth century Portsmouth and tried to imagine the life of some of its residents and visitors, adding some ideas about one lady who may have been around then.
Dogger, Fisher, German Bight
Humber, Thames, Portland, Wight.
Wight, where is Portsmouth by the sea.
It has good people professing temperance and abstinence
but there are docks and pubs and whores.
Marina welcomes men; she makes her living from the sea.
From the seven seas she’s seven sprats,
each a sailor’s son, given his father’s name.
Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea,
Shannon, Rockall, Hebrides.
Shannon. Where little Paddy’s dad was from.
Rakesh’s Lascar father served the Empire,
served Marina, then returned to his wife.
Marina’s mother of mankind; she’s
Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Sikh, Hindu, voodoo, Muslim, Greek
who profits from prophets and forgives men their sins.
Viking, Cromarty, Forties, Forth,
South Utshire and Utshire North
Viking. There’s little Olaf, who came from a Dane
with thick blond hair, but Solomon is dark as pitch
or coffee beans or the tar in a seaman’s pigtail.
Marina’s trade is old and soft and caring;
she is a port for men seafaring
and their many salted children she loves.
Biscay, Trafalgar, Finistere
Portland, Plymouth; everywhere.
Trafalgar. Where Nelson saved us from the Dons
but didn’t stop Rafa’s papá who came in peace,
and left behind his Spanish eyes.
Marina meets them on the Quay.
For a while she’s friend, lover, wife,
then the sea calls and they leave on the tide.
Forties, Cromarty, Forth and Tyne
Malin, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes.
Pharaoh? Well, Egyptian anyway, who gave her Omar
who likes to play with the boy with the olive skin;
Marina can’t remember who fathered him.
Coal ships, spice ships, ships of the line, trawlers, drifters, coasters.
Merchant men, navy men, fishers and crew.
England expects… and they do.