Here is a scary New Year’s treat – a poem from Suzannah V Evans written during the mass die-off of North Sea creatures during the Beast from the East storm in March 2018. I love the way the poem takes on the rhythm of the song it quotes and becomes a dance.. of death. The song’s fridge is transformed into a metaphor for the upturned sea: strange and very apt. I was in St Andrews for StAnza too and found walking on the beach deeply unsettling. Impossible not to take the set of phenomena – storm, sudden extreme sea-temperature inversion, heaps of washed-up sea life mixed with weed – as a harbinger of unnatural things to come. Suzannah’s photos bring back things I’d forgotten too, like tide-patterns made by the debris’ dark grit overlaying pale sand. Maybe she was the woman on the beach or maybe it was me. One thing for sure: the gulls and crows had a feast. FM
Catherine Opens a Window / Crustacean
by Suzannah V Evans
I remember when cancer was just a constellation /
a starry-eyed crustacean, he sang, drawing the words out into the air,
hovering on crustacean. And there they were, on West Sands, crabs
shucked to shore (or did they leave the sea, scrambling
to reach some idea of heat, when the temperatures plunged several degrees
below the winter average?). Crabs, crabs, crabs. Starfish, starfish.
Well, it’s one, two, three / Steps in the cul-de-sac
and one, two, three steps upon the beach, feet crunching over
razor shells, fragments of shell, half shells, shell splinters.
A dead bird lies in a tangle of weed: an eerie still life, une nature morte.
A fish, sand-covered, mouth unhinged in a pose of disbelief.
A wing, stick-tangled, stone-weighted.
I remember Maxwell / I remember his mum too /
Her hands in the cool drawer of the fridge
and the sea, too, like a fridge, with its layers and shelves,
its sudden cooling, the forced evacuation of its benthic inhabitants.
Their tangle of legs, now, on the beach, their sudden intimacy with seaweed.
I remember Michaela / I remember her last name /
I know she could dance, I know she could hide, and that she won
a netball game. Starfish discs like coins in the sand, like tiny CDs.
Starfish arms stretching, curling, fine fronds disturbing the sand.
A woman, stooping, taking photographs. Staring into the bird-scattered sky.
A desolation of starfish. The whole of the sky on the shore.
This poem uses lines from Hamish Hawk’s song ‘Catherine Opens a Window’
These ragged lines were written in St Andrews, close to West Sands, during StAnza poetry festival in March 2018. The festival opened with a performance by the musician Hamish Hawk, and the words of his tender, haunting song ‘Catherine Opens a Window’ mingled in my mind with scenes of devastation on the town’s beaches, which had been struck by recent storms. On West Sands, strands of seaweed were laid out like ribbons, and brittle stars, razor clams, and crabs formed strange still lives on the sand. The French term for ‘still life’, with its emphasis on death, seemed particularly relevant in the context of climate change. This poem has passed through many drafts, but I have returned it to its first, imperfect form in celebration of the moment of its creation.