Clem Henricson – Three Poems

Clem Henricson is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is a writer and philosopher and has directed a public policy institute advising international government. Widely published, her most recent works include Morality and Public Policy and Making Space for Melancholy. She is the daughter of a Swedish father and an English mother; following their divorce she led an itinerant childhood between Sweden and England crossing the rough waters of the  North Sea. Her experiences on board ship had a strong influence on her life and she has written a North Sea Memoir.

Beached hull

A beached hull swelling up into the frothy miasma
in the clamp of its wet suit

lunging, plunging
trembling in its barnacled case

grotesque salted time 
a replica of a shape that once was

I swallow myself into the bulge
for a repeat sight of this body 

it’s space displacing water and weed
blindingly familiar and blindingly peculiar

reflecting that once I lay, enjoyed linen sheets
in the belly of a descendant ship;

the inhabitants of this old sarcophagus were of tougher stuff 
with their hair shirts, tooth breaking infested biscuits 

but they heaved, as I heaved 

with the swell of the water
protected by the flimsiest, now skeletal walls 

until pickled dead in the deep
tossed up on occasion with the hulk 
to the lip of the sea and sky 

memento mori
memento perpetua

The Ship at Night

Light is beginning to drop
edging to pin pricks of white peep
show stars; an x-rayed moon 
with cancerous shade in its belly
shoots distressed fog beams 
flooding  waves, rivulets, froth;
there is a sinister flushing of a cave 
where bats of clouds hang;
the ship slides its hellish ride 
and at the portholes voyeurs
watch cooped at each spherical window;
there is a charge between flesh, 
glass and sea as the moon
distributes its’ largesse in the dark,
glass that mediates between
the eyes’ warm fluids 
and savage seas,
eyes that are awash with terror,
but absurdly held in trust
by  translucent, delicate
fifteen hundred degrees
fire blasted windows.
One window cracks 
like a mirror in a thriller
splitting a reflected face in two
and a trickle appears between the halves.

North Sea Funeral

a hoard
a stash of silver –
daggers spikes ladles 
knives forks spoons
of every shape, devising
for every aggressive 
civilising urge
the intention to stab 
break bread chatter
so much in a single blade
shinning in the light

– lumpen grey in a suitcase jumble

this suitcase of shabby hardboard weighing a ton even empty
the loot bearing down on a twenty year old slip of a thin muscle girl 
who lost a father

a girl who dragged the burden of his silver through the corridors of a ship
to its rest in the hold
locked in a cabin
for the funeral voyage 

and, dislodged from her curved spine,
a sack of photos and letters 
laid to rest on a bunk
scrutinised into the night
the black and white of life –
images, scrawl and stuttering type
the stick and paste of telegrams
official stamps, declarations
of love grief and the rest

flesh into collage 
printed on the retina in the early hours
wrung out salt water
from eyes into the sea 

bleary, stretched, the watch ends
she goes to the bathroom to wash looking through droplets
at the gilt mirror as cold hits steam and through the haze sees
her face cut – one life
into another; eyes
harden to wipe the face
clean – rite of passage done
another day afloat and the silver, photographs, letters
will disembark to their burial ground
living with her
on the other side of the North Sea.


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