Steven Price: A Poem

Steven Price

Once on shore we shuddered to see it: like panic pouring over the dead
      shale, the shellfused
rockpools, it oozed
      its hooded head
under a barnacled block
      in a smooth crush
of coils, was flushed
      black-muscled back
through the cold flail
      of its beak, a soft vent
murking a current;
      then gulped a bell
of ink against the glassed
      surface and fell
still. Each slow gasp welled
      up strange to us
where we crouched. Smaller than
      we'd thought it, it
slewed, limbs knotted
      like knuckled hands
wrung white, a sight
      we saw and shrank from --
who had not come
      for this. The sea light
wimpled like banged steel
      in the beyond.
We rose. Reeled stunned
      in a reeking squall
of sandflies, saltburnt decay;
      then, like appalled
reflections of half-recalled
      lives, turned away.
"What was it?" asked
      one; "a fish?" "Not
a fish," we replied; "not
      that." And thought: ghost.
That soft horror pulsed
      on in its rockpool
like an ember
      of darkness; we left it
there. And, slow, trudged
      down the rock-ledge
our low craft lifted
      in the shadow of, lifted
and fell from. The light
      was failing. Our guide
hunched astern, hooded,
      knuckling white oars.
He lifted his face.
      It seemed we did
not know this place;
      and if we woke
we would remember
      none of this.

from Omens in the Year of the Ox, Brick Books 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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