winning poem in the competition for Southwark Poet of the Year 2005
Sand of the Thames
The sand of
the Thames is a fine,
fur-coloured sand, in beaches a stride
or two wide, below the high-water lines;
deep wads in which the heels sink
fringing the mud, the rubble
and tar-black misshapen shoe-soles
more generally strewn on the shore.
sorts its content somehow: over a few yards
the shards of crockery, fronds and crests,
a tea-cup handle are most collected.
Nearby are the knee-joints of cows,
porous cones of marrowbone,
a medley of chipped brick, pipe and tile.
mingle with the flint
strap, clip, top, flat bottles, half a toy
then for ten further steps, driftwood drying,
planks and ply, with sticks
and oddments of branches. A bed, barely,
a bolster of chalk juts out
and the bank beyond is coated in sea-coal.
And here, under the
whose weed, raked by the low sun,
shines a jewel-like and startling green,
the river has hoarded its finest materials.
The sand has no inkling of life,
tatters of wrack, cockleshell, papery claw,
but is London milled to its conclusion.
One handful comprehends
The grains are greyish, lenticular, anonymous,
softly heaped in a pocket resort
ignored by the people whose feet,
as numerous as these, pass overhead.
Now through that press, at last,
I can feel
my way by a thread,
the wide stream stringing
running low, showing the shoals
that ridge it, or full and glittering,
within a hands reach, seemingly,
pulsive, restless steel;
can find the place to heal, and sanctuary
which tides accumulate and cancel.
John Gibbens, from The Promise
to the present