Jane Burn

The sea keeps company in caves and we have breakfast at Tonia’s


Rocky in his dirty red leather hat, face like a windfall apple –
skin baked a mahogany windburn tang, greasy denim jacket, bag full
of papers, one woolly looking thing, beard same as Santa. Eyes crinkled
cherry pips. Everything costs and you buy these things yes buy ha ha ha
you know you buy ha ha lads. We smile and say, yes, yes it does, yes?
He gurns up a pair of wet gums, turns to the invisible companion
at his table. I don’t know who he is talking to but they sure seem fun –
his hands are windmills, his fingers make bird beaks, yak-a-yak-a.
Ha ha. Fellers come in for the rubbish – buy coffee to go. Rocky is up,
karate chopping the air, clasping their backs, making his happy,
crack-split smile. They know him – well, it seems, what with the way
they ask him how his week has been. We cannot make out a word he says
in answer. Time to go! Time to go Rocky! The woman who owns the café
is all brisk bustle. Goodwomangoodwomangoood.Thjahsahujshduihfiuerh
jnerlknfpoha. Hahahahahahaha. See you tomorrow, Rocky. She thumbs
his retreating back. Local character. Lives in a cave, you know.
His choice, she tells my shocked O. His choice. Cave on the beach.


Fires on Blast Beach
dotted like frizzled spiders, scorched
spaghetti of metal, the plastic tears
of burned bottles, sooted tins.
Are they his? Are they Rocky’s fires,
or just some kids? Is this
where he cooks his tea? Is it beans
from a can with a hacked lid,
is it where he keeps warm?
Stones in a ring to stop
the flames escaping.


You would never come here for the weather.
The sun seems to avoid dispatching its rays below
the cliff’s edge, beach the shape of a scythe.
My hair is blown to tats, spits of wet in the face –
It could be rain or spray. Inclemency

is a certainty in this place, martian landscape
seething beneath the clifftop flora. Rocky.
Does he live here because he loves the sea?
This man who can’t live in a house – lived
in a tent, got evicted, lives in a cave. I realise

who he was talking to in that café. It’s me
that keeps him company says the creature
that is the waves. It ain’t your business, lovely.
Have a pebble.  He uses the speech of merfolk –
this is why I cannot fathom his conversation.

Whatever you want to believe, ducky.
Do you sing each other to sleep? Him is under
my eye. I be the lullaby. We talk as we see fit.
I suck the shores of the world. Te dua, jeg elsker dig,
mahal kita. Ha eh bak. I wanted to give

him money. They said not, said he had plenty.
His choice, his choice. What’s wrong with
that man, mam? Be kind, I say. Be kind –
there but for the Grace of God. God what?
Bring your thoughts back to the Earth.

She rewards me with a prefect gob of glass.


This is the place you come to sort out Bad Things,
nurse the burst ribcage of a marriage, talk about
the state of your brain. Easier to forgive the cracks
in the face of crumbled cliffs. They still stand, still
bear the rarity of orchids above them. Bees among
the buds, shaming the sand-flies and their grovelling
on crab death and turds. Everything here is unmasked,
whittled down to its raw – no pretty to fool the eye
or mind. A brass tacks, bottom of the pit place –
it will make you honest, it will make you afraid.
Do not look for pity. The blocked tunnels are blinded
eyes, stopped mouths. The dark soup of water holds
the breast of an occasional bird. Walk so far
that the children are as small as a fingernail, walk
back and they become the size of a thumb, a hand.
Back until they are big enough to fit in the clasp
of your arms. They taste of sea. Kiss their salty heads.


Water Babies, floating upwards, faces lit by stars.
The moon pipes each wave’s edge with light, makes
lacework, loops little fingers, spangles over stilled thighs.
The wet is where the souls go. Just because we splash
about a bit it does not make us spirits of the sea.
Mr Theyfuckingdiedtheydid will consider their stiff hands,
turn from the image of a ruched shirt and a bared back.

Mrs Plentywheretheycomefrom tuts at her copy of the Daily Hate
They killed themselves on purpose. Mr Sendemback will tell you
maybe now they will learn their lesson. I saw this bloke with EDL
tattooed on his neck. There it was, in front of my eyes on his pig-fat
neck and all I could think for the rest of the day was that there really
are people like this – they are right in front of you in buffet queues.
Letters wink from the flesh roll. Cheeks the colour of bricks.

There was this baby, nappy swollen. A girl in a pink dress. Shoes.
This water that is touching my feet, right now, it has touched them –
it is filled with their dying breaths. A glove, that at some point
had a hand inside it. It could be Rocky’s – my walk is a trespass
on his home. I am sure I can feel his eyes. And no one has a right
to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies
existing. The distant shouts of my children sound like bells.

And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen
no water babies existing. Quote taken from The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley. 



  1. This is my little town, I live here. I look out at the ships hove-to at anchor, saving their docking fees until the very last minute, and wonder, wonder. If all those cargo ships were full to the gunwales with Syrians, with hungry Eritreans, with Rohingans, those eyes deadened by cruelty and deep, deep hurt, faces longing for their mothers lives, what would we do?

    What would the people of Seaham do? Would we run to The Slope with our surfboards and dinghies? Would we relaunch the carefully polished George Elmy from its graveyard musem? Would we chase a flotilla of fishing boats, pleasure dinghies from our bright new marina? Would we open the church halls, the Welfare, the Knack? Would we? Would we find blankets and tea and cuddles for the babies, coats for the grandas?

    I’ve been thinking about this for days. I really don’t know.

    Liked by 3 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s