Poetry Map of Scotland, poem no 283

Cowrie Cove

The cowrie gatherers - a mismatched pair
bundled in cast-off clothes -
bend down to scan the shingle,
ignoring glints of glass salted by years at sea,
flecks of shell, cartilage splinters,
old fragments of ship shrapnel,
garlands cast for the drowned,
rusted things once useful,
barnacles’ dust, amber rocks,
stones scored with arteries,
mollusc speckles, iridescent slivers,
squat cochleae polished by tides.
They edge forwards - stand up - stoop again -
imprisoned between work and hope
and the conflicting scale of the horizon.
Have they found the right curve of the bay,
the very crook of Lothian land
between Eyemouth and the Head,
that legendary place where year on year
the cowries gather?
Grey waves slurp the red rocks
promising, promising
small shells pocketed as labour’s solace:
eroded fingerprints, lost seven-years’ skin.

Nancy Campbell

This poem previously appeared in Painted, Spoken

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