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The Harrington Breakwall
for Robert Adamson
With a long-finned pike awash in a sealed bucket,
aerated and drugged from the walk, the light
from my headlantern isolating fox and catprints
like moulds for knobbed shells in the sand,
I stop for breath by a fed lake
to watch mullet sipping starlight from the shallows.
The protective calls of little terns rise
from pockets of dune grass to be lost
in the loud construction of a thunderhead
blooming south over the Manning. Flood and wind-
crafted sand has filled deep fissures
on the breakwall’s land-bound tail, leaving
a stone spine capped with shadows. In a thin beam,
on shifting granite, I tread like a mine-sweeper
forgetting his trade, the bucket water slapping
as if more than a dying pike were there contained,
beneath the aerator’s drone.
I count to seven – each second a mile
dividing a lavender flush of lightning
and thunder’s pulse-displacing roll.
What began as one cloud over the river,
its lit dome stalled like the dubious miracle
of a risen man-o’-war, is now a fleet
of electric pavilions trailing indigo guy ropes,
moving fast as tidewater without borders.
At the end of the wall I lift the pike
from its glitter of scales and perfumed slime,
ease a hook through pewter-coloured skin, and cast it
flexing like a length of animated pipe
to dark water. Where it lands, the splash
is a brief, inverted cloudburst, or an entry point
from which no diving bird emerges.
There is no rain in this crackling parade.

I could be staring at a wire mesh ceiling
the tail-stems of bumper cars trace, the sparks
dying out in the hair of attendant riders.
Above me, the tall outlined iron of a disused light pole.
In my hands, a twelve foot beach rod –
its line runners, reel and oxidised winch
all good conductors. Now lightning forks
and flares without pause, its colours changing
like the mantle of a threatened squid.
Dangers begins with an irritating warmth
under the skin on my arms and neck, then
each follicle breaks into flameless fire
as static strafes the wall, fizzing over
trace metals in the rock, the pole, the rod’s length.
I climb away, leaving a clatter
of carbon fibre, the pole charged
with an audible veneer, the headlantern
flying free to go out on a stone.
My footing gone, I fall through to a rank,
black space furious with rats
and blown bait bags, where I watch the sky
come apart, with thunder locating
the smallest of my bones
and a slide show of heads and tails
forming and reforming at my shoes.
When the storm swings inland
to black out Harrington, I leave the bunker
and return to the rod and gear. I find nothing
but crabs clicking under their helmets
on a shelf of stone. When I stand
and look back at the town, the hotel lights
are still burning, while on the beach,
as if a marker buoy had been grounded,
its one globe describing slow arcs in the wind,
someone is swinging a lantern
with no sense of urgency or alarm.