“Harbour’s Mouth” and other poems by Annette Skade


I know why the sea churns.

A woman gets the news,
drops to the chair, floor – further,
the quick in her bleeds out.
She is liquid now, leaching away,
this hour, this day, day-on-day.
At the back of her eyes
a face ebbs and flows:
his lop-sided smile makes room
for her touch,
the tilt of his head
calling drinks at the bar,
wide arms swinging his kit,
their young child,
onto working-man shoulders.

Can God breathe underwater?

Each year a sacrifice:
the man in blue overalls,
flower-blue eyes, who loved his wife
at first sight; the ready-laugh man
collecting glasses in the pub
in off times; the dancer
bending into sound like a squall;
the dare-devil larking about
first night back, caught up
in the dizziness of breathing;
the ones who tread water, the ones
who don’t know what hit them,
the ones dragged down
in sight of shore. All lost.

They slipped from sight
like water through our hands;
our hands are empty of them,
our mouths are empty of them,
our chests are hollow,
our eyes are expanses
to search.

Fishermen search. Mates, fathers,
brothers, in-laws, cousins,
make late night calculations
where the body might wash up,
rake inlets and coves
along this torn coastline,
fishboxes are body blows,
spars are pins in their eyes.
On stormy days they are too big
for their own kitchens,
too restless for the hearth,
gaze ever on horizon,
for a break in the weather
to renew the search.

What else is there?

Bringing in the Washing

Rain whips window
like flex,
we break mid-sentence,
head out.
At the side the washing line
takes off
in wild geese formation,
the prop
tethers and leads
the V.

Hands snatch at
shirt flaps
grown strong against grey sea,
shape shifters
we pin by one cuff:
blue cliff,
chough’s wing,
white strand,
creased headland,
tattered island.

We fold them fast into us,
tuck away,
the bundle swells under elbow,
And in before they’re soaked,
pile all
on the chair while we finish
our tea.
I take my leave of you -as usual,
arms full.

Harbour’s Mouth

There are people here so much part
of the place that they are named after
headlands. They have the look
of the raw-boned earth about them,
hair the colour of dillisk, eyes taking on
the changing shades of the sea.

The rich morning sun draws us out.
We check the storm’s leavings: pebbles
salt the boreen, bladder wrack drapes
the harbour wall, gobs of sea-spume
float in the air. The Lough is still choppy,
made into peaks by the wind’s flat blade.

Neighbours untie shed doors, clamber
into tractors, hammer fence posts.
The fisherman has been up for hours,
meets me at the pier, a coiled rope in hand.
We talk of the weather, face away from
each other, watching the harbour’s mouth.

Between sheer sides of rock, a glass dam
is piled with boiling layers of saltwater.
Lines of blue and white snap and curl,
lash some high invisible wall,
threatening to shatter whatever power
holds them back. He tells how once

a great wave came thundering, crested
over this broken ring of hills. Came
in the night − 1966 it was − they all heard
the roar of it. He points to a spot up the hill,
a field away, the place where a boat was hurled
that time, hefted by the force of the Atlantic.


The gulf stream makes
a micro-climate here,
nurtures palm trees
and New Zealand ferns.

The current is born
in the isthmus of Mexico,
awash with the energy
of two great Oceans

almost meeting. It leaves
us with a deep-rooted thrill,
like the quick intake
at the glimpse of a lover,

flip in the gut as hands nearly touch,
breath exchanged between mouths.

Meeting William Blake in the Library 1980

Unfinished. I hold
the weight of paper,
the lightest sketch,
a man in a crown,
clown’s hat,
hair streaming.

Wonder came first.
The tip of the brush
found its place,
dropped wild yellow
to leap from the head
over pencil strokes,

onto page after page
on this serviceable desk,
to skim along roads,
cover the sleeping child,
charge the muscles of man,
stars and moon.

A grain of colour
rubs off on my hand,
passes over time
into bloodstream,
works its way up
slowly to my soul.


Annette Skade is from Manchester and has lived on the Beara peninsula, West Cork, Ireland for many years. She is currently in her final year of a PhD on the work of Canadian poet Anne Carson at Dublin City University. Her poetry collection Thimblerig was published following her receipt of the Cork Review Literary Manuscript prize in 2012. She has been published in various magazines in Ireland, the U.K., the U.S. and Australia and has won and been placed in several international poetry competitions.

⊗Annette Skade