Dark Sand - a poem to remember victims of the sea

Dark sands - art by Aimée Lister

How far out does the sand go?

I’m sure across the bay,

obscured by the rich blue haze

of the space between us,

is the other-worldly landscape

I used to play in.

I squint against the bright sun,

imaging great craters,

topped with grasses,

worn into dark sand;

meandering ravines

wandering out to sea.

Spaces to jump across,

hide within, some broad rivers

though always shallow, welcoming.

How far out does the sand go?

All the way across, all the way…

it’s all sand as far as you can see, Isley.

I returned the other year,

only to find it gone.

I wish I hadn’t, as soon as we stopped

I knew we should turn around.

I’m sure it was here, I said,

I’m sure it was right here…

All the way out to the broken jetty,

rotting wood splintering,

piece by piece,

into the rising tides of the bay.

The bank we stood on

fell away sharply into the flat

expanse of mud and sand.

We stayed for a while

(before crossing back over the train tracks)

but there was nothing left to explore.

The edges of the bay erode

with more urgency now great waves

crash against them.

Change creeps in rapidly when your back is turned.

All the way across…

Yes, people even walk from here

over to the other side.

It’s dangerous, too dangerous to go alone,

only with a guide…

a guide who knows

the convoluted routes the tide takes

as it floods up the estuary,

towards the mountains and lakes.

Why’s it so dangerous?

It comes in more rapidly

than you or I could even run.

And not in a linear path,

instead following worn routes,

desire paths carved in sand

similar to my lost landscape.

It follows its own courses

so while you may think

you have your eye on it

instead the sand around

is a mirage, an island,

you believe you’re safe

yet already it approaches on all sides.

We worm our bare toes

into the wet sand left patterned

by the receding seawater,

both mesmerised by the textures,

the smoothness, and soon our movement

makes the sand around us loose,

first glimpses of quick sand,

the irrational fear of childhoods.

What are you thinking, Isley?

Quite a few things…

We move back onto firmer ground.

We aren’t far from the shoreline,

keen to keep our parents, our sister,

in sight on the stone bank.

Between us and them lies

small hillocks, and rocks with motes

forgotten as the tide pulled away.

What like?

Well, what kind of stones or shells I want to find

and who I’d give them to if I found the perfect one

and why they don’t just swim if they get cut off by the tide…

It’s not as easy as that,

it isn’t like swimming in a calm pool

or even one of the lakes.

Here the current buffets

and pulls as it courses past.

I heard it described as angry once,

‘the angry northern sea’,

I wanted to spit the words out

from between my teeth;

it rises and falls, as it always does,

as it will for my lifetime, for many.

If one day people are among it,

trapped out in the empty night

the sea is not to blame in that story.

Twenty three people drowned by the sea

but killed by those who drove them into it,

collecting cockles in the darkness

for fear of what awaited them at the shore.

I met a man who was there, that night,

he cannot forget it, move on, to this day.

He pulled someone from the water

and his life ended too.

Did they catch the bad people?

The people who made them do it?

I don’t think so, I don’t know if those to blame even cared.

Well they should…

Did you decide who to give your shell to?

Not yet…

We stand in shallow pools,

washing away the dark sand

coating our bare feet.

The water is welcoming, warm,

heated all afternoon by

an unseasonably hot sun.

The murmurs of conversation

reach us from the shore

but we stand too far out

-isolated in the flat expanse-

to hear what they say.

I picture myself sat once more

on the train that crosses the bay,

again in search of cities, people,

and yet I am certain

-clearer than the buildings and the streets-

the moment on the bridge

(where the water rushes to the sky

and a lone island breaks the expanse

of silver, embraced by hidden currents)

will stay with me until I return.

This piece was inspired by the memory of the Morecambe Bay Tragedy of 2004 and its impact on the region's collective memory.

By Louder Than The Storm writer Mel Galley.


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