Lesley Harrison

Saint Cuthbert (c. 634 – 687) spent his last years in seclusionin a cell on the Northumbrian island of Inner Farne.

a cloud lifts, the island resolving
in a turn of ocean

the sparkling clink of waves on sand
sound, a living matter
sound illumined

a wave swallowing a rock pool,
the gulls, their sharp words
repeated and repeated

the god of my childhood
in the grey white sea noise
in the screech of seabirds.


Spring tide.
I walk into the sea's cold bloom,
its heft, its anonymity.

I trace my entire belief
in the viscera of salt and wind,
the natural fall of cloud.

here is only everything:
the secular ocean,
the crush and crush of new waves;

its motion brings peace,
the beach, its privacy and darkness
a relief from psalmody.


a round hull
knocking into hollows

the eider,
their broody pots of down

this bright space,
its salutary emptiness.


a stone cell
hunkered on a rock.
quiet vacancy.


in the green light of dawn

eider croon in the
hollows between waves

their white defined by
the darkness of the water

conscious points
in this inexhaustible space.


to dwell outside myself,
to live in the lived world
among snails and grasses

in ordinary daylight
growing old, neither man nor woman
fasting in silence.


the dune slacks. beds of neat helleborine
watercress and elder.
the milk vetch, tight lipped.


otters pry in bedrock
puddling the sand, then vanishing completely
in the heavy green.

I love the disappearance —
the free power of waves,
the world that ends at the surface

the presences of stars in daylight.
the thin white moon.
the gannets, their slow ovation.





In light of the Coronavirus crisis, Poetry Daily has started an impromptu series, What Keeps Us.
For the rest of March, we will post poems to sustain and uplift through trying times. Each poem is accompanied with an image by author-illustrator Juana Medina We thank you for reading and hope that you will share poems with your friends and neighbors. Please be well.

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Lesley Harrison grew up in Dundee, Scotland. She has lived and worked in Istanbul, West Africa, Mongolia, and in Orkney, on Scotland’s northern coastline. Her poems have been published in Poetry Ireland Review, the Antigonish Review, Ice Floe, Magma, the Island Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry pamphlets include Ecstatics: a language of birds (Brae Editions, 2011), a collaboration with Orkney artist Laura Drever which won the 2012 National Library of Scotland pamphlet competition, and One Bird Flying (Mariscat, 2009), a response to the journals of Marco Polo. She has held writing residencies in Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard. She now lives on Scotland’s Angus coastline. Blue Pearl was her most recent publication, from New Directions, New York (2017).

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Disappearance is Lesley Harrison’s first full-length collection, bringing together new work which examines the coastline and our uneasy, unresolved relationship with the waters that surround us. Around the northern North Sea rim, the coastal margin is constantly being made and unmade by vast weather systems and currents that begin thousands of miles away. Drawing from archives, folk myth and cultural memory, these poems make real our sense of living at the edge of an older, sub-polar world, and the ongoing human process of negotiation with, of giving meaning and scale to, this unstable and ultimately unknowable space.

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