David Constantine of Scilly

Three poems by David Constantine
Something for the ghosts
Sorlingues (translation Yves Bichet)
The Quay at St Martin's, Scilly
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Keeps with its dead
Shows off by the bare facts of its dead
How hard it was
Living and how it triumphed and all winter
Among its own dead grizzle
Little moist lips of it go on muttering light.
It's the dead I've come for
Put in my naked hand among the spines and feel for
Anything springy I let be
To come on again and add its sparks to the rush of Easter and Whitsun
But the dead snaps off
There and then it can he broken up hearthsize
Lengths straight as flutes
Or curving open like welcomes
Or twirled like dance
For nothing burns like the limbs of gorse
So thoroughly dead
Twisted for breathing space
Drilled and cankered
Host to the hungers of other kinds of life
How they burn
All without fat and flesh and blood
Without dribble or mewling
So much flame in every stub of gorse
Millions of Easters and Whitsuns
The scent and yellow fume under blue skies
All that as flame
With the lights off
Rain and fog over the bit of terra firma
And on the hearthrug
Aquarius and Pisces



Mother has linen from the Minnehaha,
I bought the ship's bell for half a sovereign
From Stanley, our dumb man.
Everyone has something, a chair, a bit of brass

And nobody wakes hearing a wind blow
Who does not hope there'll be things come in
Worth having, but today
Was a quiet morning after a quiet night.


The bay was coloured in
With bobbing oranges. What silence
Till we pitched into it
Knee-deep the women holding out their skirts

And the men thrashing in boats
We made an easy killing
We took off multitudes
And mounded them in the cold sun.

When Matty halved one with his jack-knife
It was good right through, as red
As garnet, he gave the halves
His girls who sucked them out.


The beams we owe the sea
Are restless tonight but every home
Is lit with oranges. They were close,
She says, or else the salt

Had eaten them Whose popping eyes.
I wonder, saw them leave
Roaring like meteors
When the ship in a quiet night

Bled them and they climbed
Faster than rats in furious shining shoals
In firm bubbles and what
Will tumble in our broken bay tomorrow?


The launch is late, we wait on the hot quay.
Our farewell conversations are giving out.
That little shark from yesterday
How white it looks, how sad its mouth;

A team of crabs is operating on it.
Crabs are the stupidest among the living down there.
Netted with shrimps they never mind the net
But crunch like fun. You can haul them anywhere

On anything edible. Stag's littlest daughter
Is gouging a limpet out. End of the season,
They will be gone home soon. With his father,
The Drowner, mothers used to shush their children

And some still do, with him: his one eye,
His black appearance. Hunched in his tractor
He is thinking he will kiss that holiday woman goodbye
If she looks his way once more.

His girls have landed a crab on the hot concrete.
It sidles and fences, bubbles at a vent;
Black in the sun. They squeal for their bare feet.
Its scratchy legs pick at our nerve-ends.

The launch rounds the point like sudden death.
Clatter of starters, the tractors edge down.
We shall leave, we shall be over and done with.
Stag's girls are screaming, that crab has gone to ground

The last place it should: under his wheels
And he is on hands and knees searching the shadows
With his head's one eye and his hand crawls
Under the racket of the engine after the claws.

His shirt rucks up, we see his white backbone
And are glad when he surfaces, though the black lid
Over his eye has slipped. His hand has won.
He fits the crab snugly under the tractor's tread.

Oh, we have time enough to interfere
And look a fool. The crab merely waits
Folded between the concrete quay and the tyre
And nobody moves. We wait. I see its

Eye. Then Stag backs over the carapace.
His girls giggle. The woman, in tears,
Comes through the mêlée from her rightful place
And bruises his mouth with hers.

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