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‘This is not the island I was expecting’

I learned to swim, but never mastered breathing
underwater.

Pebbles, the twirly insides of worn-down shells,
bubbles of lugworms I could squidge and pat.
Anything the sea brought me, that I didn’t
have to dive for, I was grateful.

Now the sea brings other things
to my attention:
a tide of children; puddles of stickiness
and sometimes, sick.

Breathing looks easy,
but nothing prepares you for that first wave,
the surprise mouthful as the surf grabs your legs and
flips you up-side. When your feet are bobbing
in the sky above you, nothing is ever the same again.

I am no longer cautious – No! I threw my caution to the wind
and the wind brought me other people’s washing:
washing for a hundred rotary dryers
(and extra pants to hang on radiators.)
I tell my neighbour that the flood of unmatched socks
has reached spring tide mark on my washing pole.
She says that underneath the water,
my garden must be “blooming”.

I am grateful.
Each day I am grateful to be dragged by the swash
and backwash, held back by groynes
that are there for my own good, to stop me from drifting.
I could pile up
and no-one would even notice.

Today I am chewing on gritty sandwiches, waiting for a sign.
The Ice Cream Man has heard a prophesy:
he says the seventh wave is coming, and a million
wise grandmothers will ride in on ironing boards,
singing the theme tune to Hawaii-Five-O.

It’s only Tuesday.
Tomorrow I shall search for sea glass on my doorstep.

Nichola May discovered poetry during an Oxford University Creative Writing Diploma, thanks to poets such as Jenny Lewis. In the final year of the course, she was fortunate to be selected to be mentored by Helena Nelson at HappenStance Press.

“This poem was written for an assignment about islands, and in response to Christie Williamson’s prompt, “What does the water bring you?” It seems that the water on my ‘island’ brought me a lot of things I didn’t expect! One of the group members suggested I change the title from ‘Gratitude’ to ‘This is not the island I was expecting’, and it stuck.”

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