On February 19th my poem ‘Gulls in November’ came 3rd in Preston Poets’ Society’s competition for the McKenzie Trophy (you can read the other entries in the latest newsletter here). It is based on my ongoing fascination with the gulls who are a constant presence over the Ribble and at Riversway Dockland; great black-backed gulls with huge stomps of wings and commanding barks, black-headed gulls pealing across the skyline, gathering, watching, in knowing rows. Something in their voices calls to me from a far-off place. They tell me stories. This poem was one of them.
Gulls in November
bark at the sun that will not thaw
in spite of their promises to pull the boats
on braided ropes of finest cotton from the dockyard.
Where grey November’s ocean leaves
the coast to roar over the world’s edge,
what does that cold sun want?
A memorial of ships on the horizon?
A conversation with the captain who remembers
their first meeting on starvation’s salty brink?
Do the gulls woo that sun with kisses
because it was the one they met each dawn
with a prow slicing through sunlit water
and figurehead bold and bare breasted?
Because its blinding point (from which
they returned hungry and dry lipped,
longing to speak but unable to decipher
the crumbs) backlit their straining cargoes
with mythic significance against an oranging sea?
It is quiet at the dockyard now except for gulls
who share their apostasies with seafarers,
telling of a November day at high tide
when strong beaks remember intricate knots,
the boats are released, they pull them back
to their winter sun and there is silence.