Into the Distance

by Anna Lewis

I used to bring my boys here, I tell him,

back when the sea was further from the village

than it is now, and they used to run into the

garden of the b&b early each morning to scramble

down the bramble-clogged bank at the back

onto the narrow beach. Even in the rain,

pearls of water flying from the thorns they

never slowed, but dashed to meet the moon-cooled

new tide each day, carrying their footprints

to the grey waves.

 

Thanks, I say, as he places another pint

on the table. I suppose their footprints may

still be there, beneath the water – one morning

the tide must have climbed the beach and

never fallen, never taken the imprints of

my boys back to the ocean – it’s a slower

process than that, he says as though he were

a geologist, not merely a hoar-bearded man

growing stout drinking out his last years in

a dark damp inn by the sea.

 

Maybe, I consider, I in fact quite like the

thought of the current dragging their footsteps

backwards to float beneath the waves –

the old echoes of my boys’ feet drifting in the

sea, stamping from here to Cape Horn – maybe,

watching on the southern shore, I’ll see them walking

past someday –

 

– maybe, he says. His seaman’s eyes, flat and

grey, stare beyond me as though already

tired. Who wants a woman who can only

talk of motherhood’s slow erosion, I suppose,

when one lives here? When the cold

ocean creeps to your threshold each night,

beckoning you from your worn-down years into

the waves chill path, their slow territorial

yawnings swallowing churches and

graveyards, silencing bells and sowing ice along

the streets? Perhaps he sees footprints in the

pock-marks down my cheeks. It hardly

matters – already he turns from me, as though

I drag him too fast into the distance, faster

than the subtle ebb that pulls him

closer to the low sky each year.
‘Into the Distance’ was also the overall winner of the Christopher Tower Prize for 2002, and is reproduced by permission of the Christopher Tower Poetry Prizes, Christ Church, Oxford.