Spice Island Looking Back

By Richard Williams


And nothing much has really changed:

before spinnakers

both concrete and canvas,

before outlet shopping centres

all these restaurant chains

with make-believe authenticity

from China, India, Italy, Americas

and everywhere in between,

before ro-ro ferries and banana boats,

before Hermes, Invincible and all the rest

out past the crowds South Atlantic bound

or Vanguard aground in the harbour mouth,

before arms races wars and disarmaments,

before Dreadnought before Warrior

wrought iron and polished wood

straddling steam and sail,

before cobbles, before tram-lines

with no-where left to go,

before press gangs and shanty songs

rowdy drunks and roustabouts

Jack-the-Painter and mutinous intent

slow cutters and floggings around the fleet,

before mudlarks and admirals,

before “England expects”

first-rate and third-rate and crossing the line,

before Mary Rose

overladen one last time,

before crescent and star

and “heaven’s light our guide”,

before city walls and battlements

isolated farms and Viking raids

and Roman galleys to Porchester,

before traders up and down the coast

fine cloth and spices and pottery goods,

before all of this and so much else

a child fetches water from the lips of a stream;


a trail of footprints

in tidal sand.


(Previously published in New Writers from Portsmouth anthology)