Poem on Bartra Beach
A “tombolo” is a sand spit that joins an island to the mainland and is largely, if not entirely, the creation of the sea itself and then the wind and vegetation and wildlife and it all becomes holistic and part of the mystery of Gaia herself. Like Gaia it is vulnerable to change but under stable conditions it can be self-regulating. It is a feature of Earth ecology though that reminds me of change, destruction and decay and of the temporary nature of things. Shakespeare has a beautiful sonnet on this theme:
“When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment…”
I have visited Bartra Beach, near Westport, County Mayo, Ireland many times. On parts of it the swimming used to be very good and it had a Blue Flag and in the summer a lifeguard. There are sand dunes full of rabbits and the odd skylark’s nest, wild flowers in Spring and Summer, and a variety of seabirds. The View out to sea into Clew Bay and Clare island can be spectacular and then if this were not enough you have Croagh Patrick’s pyramidal dark image watching over it all. So the desire to write a deeply spiritual poem about the sacredness of place has always been strong for me: but “th’ attempt and not the deed / Confounds us.” I have tried several times and failed and then a few weeks ago while there again with my dear friends Rolf and Vikki I wrote what follows below. It’s full of anxiety about change and about the destructive power of the sea in relation to the land. Cruel and vengeful Poseidon just waiting to attempt to drown poor Odysseus again. And in 2014 there was one such storm that almost destroyed the beach, in fact cut the spit in half, I think the County Council spent some money on restoring it. During our walk we took some photos, as one does, so here is the poem:
Tombolo, Bartra Beach, County Mayo.
We sit on this thin spit of sand and pebble
old and trusted friends
a curving line of sea-wrack
just below us marks the recent tide
the wind blows in our faces
as we eat and strain to see the sheep
across the swift race of the sea
that separates us
from one of many islands.
Drumlins, not risen volcanic
but glacial and like the wrack
brought here from somewhere else
like wraiths and phantoms
as when the Atlantic mist lifts
and deems to show them.
And the pebbled beach and sand
(we take a photo-shot upon)
made by the strong current’s
builder and destroyer,
not the land’s edge
but the land’s wedge waiting
on the coming of the perfect storm
for its destruction.
We are safe here for a while
together above the tide’s reach,
we look out to the cloud lit sky
but are anxious,
strangely insecure here,
more than ready
for the rock strewn walk
back to the car.
Leaving the sea-walled
Fortress of the car park
thoughtful in traffic
and the fair weather changing to storm
I feel the sea rising within me
and sense a people moving,
Emma’s “huddled masses”,
but now looking for higher ground.