A (prose) poem for the day – At a Boat Burning

The tribulations of the local fishing industry have been in the media recently (anyone have a useful link?) and I was reminded of this prose poem, included in the same sequence as ‘Affshore‘ earlier in the month. In that context, it was simply titled ‘Portavogie, October 1993’ but it sometimes goes under the title I give it here.

At a Boat Burning

Families have come from miles around, and teeter on the very brink of the harbour. They remind me of the drowned fishermen in a story I was told by a schoolfriend from these parts: how water in their waders will drag them down, but keep them upright on the seabed, like a stand of oilskinned kelp. Nowadays submarines outnumber mackerel. A sub in its nets would drag one of these boats backwards for miles, or down to where the Antares lies in the silt like a macabre aquarium trinket. The way the people crane their necks, you’d think they were trying to peer down into the Irish Sea where their lost fathers and brothers sway. For when there’s no option, ceremony comes into its own torchlit and cathartic kingdom, its realm of Hallowe’en costume, Twelfth of July regalia, Viking ship burials, and now this flambeau tossed into the petrol-soaked hold. Within seconds the belly of the loved, named vessel is snapping and growling. Then it explodes bloodily through the cage of its timbers. Sparks shoal upward on a tide of hugely-amplified static, or drift like inflamed plankton through the lurid currents of smoke. From deep inside the unfathomable trench of heat, what sound like gunshots crack and pop. Firebrands, unidentifiable things, fall sputtering into the shallows to swap the camouflage of flame for a pelt of anonymous char. Soon the whole charred thing will slump onto its keel and sink into the scurf of ash at its bows, or be towed out, for the open sea to close the red eye of its embers with a far-off volcanic hiss. But for now, this floating bonfire is all there is: its hot breath on the children’s faces, its appetite and smithereens, the banner of burning oil that the waves unfurl and furl.

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