(The River Mersey)
I am moving house. I am in the process of opening boxes intending to sort through them, but find myself cross-legged on the floor, reading through old letters and cards, sifting through the treasures that accumulate in a life. Next week, I will be closing the door on this house, for the last time. I will be leaving the city it stands in, twenty years after I first arrived as a wide-eyed, 18 year old student. I am moving to Suffolk, where I grew up. I’m pleased to be going back there. I’m excited about the new start for my family, but I’m emotional about leaving the unique, friendly, inspirational city that is Liverpool.
One of the many things I will miss is the river. I’ve been lucky to live close to part of the river Mersey’s seventy mile stretch, for the past fourteen years. I’ve seen it almost every day during that time. That’s the wonderful thing about Liverpool, you are never very far from water. Growing up in the Suffolk countryside, I was used to flat, open spaces. The patchwork expanse of crops, with brilliant yellow squares of oil-seed rape. Liverpool was an enormous leap into the ‘urban’ for me, but I never felt I had moved to a claustrophobic place. It was so easy to get to the river and see a long distance. It granted you a feeling of release. The Mersey has a widest point of three miles. You can see the Welsh mountains.
Some friends who are writers in Liverpool, tell me they live and work here because of the river. Being by water is an essential part of their creative life. Reading through proofs of my next collection recently, I realised that water and the river play an important part in the book. Babies swim like dolphins searching for perfect hearts, a lantern is lit to float across that ‘fluvial division’, grief takes hold on the river’s promenade. The Suffolk coast features in the book too. Husband and wife wade in to the North Sea, carrying their young, excited child. Good news is announced there. Ashes are scattered there. A new stretch of water waits for me now.
In Memory of John Ernest Goss 1920 – 2011
‘I want to be cremated and my ashes thrown in the air. Straight from the flames to the winds, and let that be that.’
– the closing lines of Akenfield, by Ronald Blythe.
As you wobble the length of our hall, hand fiercely tight
in mine, your great-grandfather is letting go.
His seven stones of bone barely dent the bed. His lips kept wet
by a nurse’s sponge, his hand held warm by his son.
I consider the efforts of your respective breaths –
his faint, yours eager – as you pad small steps,
adopt a penguin’s gait. Between you, a gap of ninety years,
storing its wars and discoveries, far reaching
as the moon he lived beneath. In the little arable kingdom
he chose for home, he married, raised a boy in sunken lanes;
stayed rooted in its loamy soils, grew as ancient as its woods.
You pick up pace and race towards the mirror. If there was time,
this news of your early steps would be recorded, folded,
delivered overnight. Hand-written word from his kin, he loved
the language of lives elsewhere. He has a wish to star the air
on a stretch of Suffolk coast and we will take him, in the throng
of family he has sprung. For now, I watch you in the glass,
behind us see the hall, the pram, how far we’ve come.
little arable kingdom – Blythe’s description of East Anglia
Highly Commended in the Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition (Suffolk Poetry Society), 2012. Taken from Her Birth, by Rebecca Goss, Carcanet/Northern House (July 2013).