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The 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.

Diligent encyclopaedia, the current
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.

Incoherent plastics 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 embankment wall
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 history.
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 its debris,
running low, showing the shoals
that ridge it, or full and glittering,
within a hand’s reach, seemingly,
pulsive, restless steel;
can find the place to heal, and sanctuary
which tides accumulate and cancel.

John Gibbens, from The Promise

Go to the Trading Post
to buy The Promise



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