This week’s poem is from Emily Hinshelwood’s second collection, On Becoming a Fish, published in 2012.
Emily Hinshelwood’s On Becoming a Fish was inspired by a series of walks around the 186 mile Pembrokeshire coastal path in West Wales, known for its spectacular views from cliffside paths skirting the Irish sea and the Bristol Channel. Deeply engaged with environmental issues through her work in community energy and climate change, the author is also a keen observer of human nature in the context of this beautiful coastline.
The poems feature: ghosts, quarries, shipwrecks, pirates, fishermen, sailors; the remnants of industrial industry as well as monuments from the past: neolithic burial sites, forts, caves, graves, memorials. Also present are characters conjured from history such as the ‘four hundred Welsh Women wearing stovepipe hats’ who foiled the last invasion of Britain at Carregwastad in 1797, as well as contemporary encounters: a retired fisherman, lifeboat crew, a lighthouse keeper and a skinny dipper.
The author says: “This collection explores ‘what happens at the boundary’ – not just the topographical boundary of sea meeting land – but the concept of boundary in itself: political borders, social barriers, environmental limits, historical divisions; the boundary between fact and fiction, between you and I.”
On Becoming a Fish
Tales of the sea didn’t prepare me for this.
It all seemed so Jack Sparrow, so Barti Du,
perhaps a mermaid flung on a rock,
You know what I mean.
Even the fish stall with its ice trays
and neat lines of flat eyes, even he spins yarns
as he slices heads into a bucket.
When you stop coming up for air,
when your lungs implode to a stillness
all that talking ceases.
All that endless talking.
And you half-remember poking
at a lobster with rubberbanded claws
noting how prehistoric it was
and someone said something about the future.
Sounds now are just noise
against my body.
This is my story.
I keep telling it over and over.
For it’s just me
The swish of my tail
It’s starting to feel like I’m dancing.