When the Starfish Gathered

by John J. Williamson
PenShells
Second Place, August 2016
Judged by Lee Nash


I longed for the time of the deepening,
when a full spring tide rolled pebbles
and shells in Frenchman’s Bay. I was young
and lithe in those weed and kelp days
when boulders seemed lively with menace.

Low water urged me to probe and scramble
around the starfish pools, where limpets
and crab lurked like silent pirates
near the flowering red anemones.

I sensed ozone on the breeze,
watched as kittiwakes and fulmars competed
for the crannies, and still I climbed around
the starfish pools, where whelks
and winkles cruised like privateers
near the flowering red anemones.

The storms had taken their smuggled hoards
of rock, ruined arches and fractured stacks,
and piled them, against the bayhead cliffs, for winter
to grind. I watched sand stir in the currents,
bringing algae and slivers for the starfish
and flowering red anemones.

As the tide turned and the grey North Sea
swashed and gathered, I thought
of high tracks and the green, green leas,
where walkers and dogs strolled and loped,
untouched by salt and whispering spray.

The sun and sea were merciful
during those quiet weed and kelp days.
All Marsden was To Let, all Heaven For Rent,

and the memory of coves and beaches,
caves and cormorants and starfish pools
warmed me, as I took a shortcut home
through the allotments, past the rugby fields,
by the shadows and mansions of Westoe Village,
far away from the flowering red anemones.


In this beautiful and reflective mood piece, gentle rhythms accompany the imagery of the sea's currents and tides. We explore, then return to "the flowering red anemones," a visual anchor to the poet's wanderings. There is well-placed assonance throughout, and the line "All Marsden was To Let, all Heaven For Rent" is a deft touch which lifts the poem briefly out of the blustery physical realm to a place of peaceful retrospection. --Lee Nash

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