|The Splurgy Shore
The tide was out, so they say, the day he sidled into town along the
shore. The car paused a little too long for the average passer-by. We didnt trust
him from the start.
The boys and I were skimming stones across the ocean
when we saw him clamber out of his car to fill his lungs with our crisp fresh air. With
his hands deep in his trench coat pockets he leaned into the breeze with a Cheshire grin.
Here was a man who clearly understood the mechanics of poesy abound. He stood in a
lingering pose as we eyed him warily. Most folk didnt take this coast road and few
stopped to take the air; after all, what was our rock-cluttered wee inlet to him? The
water here is dull and grey, the sky too. Not to mention the incessant rain. All in all
its a drab affair that might only incite grown men like ourselves to give up
unemployment and swim for dear life or else take to the road with a knapsack and a batch
loaf. Most men here have a faint dream of reinventing themselves as a charming city
So what was this fella doing here?
He took to an amble away from his car then stepped
down onto the beach. He kicked his way through the seaweed and nameless debris, picking up
certain rocks and palming them in fascination, like he held a gold nugget rather than a
grey slab. From time to time he closed his eyes and smelt the air, or seemed to listen as
if the wind whispered confidences in his ears. As he passed by us we noticed the bizarre
benign expression on his face; he had a regal air about him to be sure. No, we didnt
trust him from the start. His cheeks were flushed, a healthy boozer we surmised. Tousled
grey hair and unsheared chops. Clothes of good stock but nothing too outlandish. He
scribbled in a notebook, an old red-covered jotter. We followed him as he moved. Pace for
pace. We peered out when he peered. We leaned back as he leaned back. We crouched as he
crouched. All the time we wondered, what was this fella up to?
Hefty clouds sat above. The sea sat broodily
outwards. Our small shallows are of modest size, home to a few moored boats, the odd
jutting rock. A couple of seals were showing their heads in awkward curiosity. Not much to
mutter about considering they say in the city there are buildings hundreds of stories
high, massive cineplexes covering 700 acres, not to forget the long-legged women that wear
skirts not much bigger than belts and have vices for morals. Surely that would be a view
and an atmosphere to inspire creativity or at least make you grin like a Cheshire cat.
Some young ones skimmed stones in front of him, a
local pastime. As they threw them they shouted the country the stone was aimed for: The
States! . . . Atlantis! . . . Iceland! . . .
The stranger seemed to be intrigued by this and penned
a note down, tilted his head back, reassumed his regal air and sauntered off back to his
car. We saw him talk to old fella Brinnie by the car. Odd they looked. Like a pair of
puppets in the breeze.
Old Brinnie was a wizened chap dependent on a cane.
The wind seemed to be a knot shy of whisking him down the road and out of town never to be
seen again. The stranger shouted in his ear for a while and Brinnie nodded, pointed in a
few different directions and shouted back in the strangers ear. The stranger shook
his hand and jumped into his car where he sat for a few minutes, no more than ten anyhow,
and then he sped away along the coast road, away out of sight and our lives, so we well
Time paddled on and the days strung themselves together as they tend to
do. Only the weather set them apart as sometimes it rained before lunchtime, sometimes
after, but to use the term rain is ignorant enough as the old fellas proclaim over pints
at night "The Eskimos have forty words for snow, well sure we fair
folkve got a hundred and one for rain." So in actual fact sometimes it piddled
before lunchtime, lowered to a spit, and then
it lashed, bucketed and
pissed down afterwards. Otherwise it drizzled, rained cats and dogs, downpoured. Clouds
burst, overturned. The heavens opened. And so on.
And on one of those days of weather, a misty one, when
the tide was in on the road, we were, I remember clearly, sitting with our pints and
snuggling up to the bar. Old O Dea was talking reassuringly, telling us "Tis no
day for skimming stones boys, were in the right place." Just then big
burly Bill Dooley came oafishly in to the bar, gasping for breath and a pint of the good
stuff. He blurted out between slurps and panting that hed just come back from the
city where hed struck up a conversation of considerable proportions.
"With a woman."
The boys wished him well, cursed his luck and praised
his bravery. City women are notorious shrews, though attractive and slender enough.
"No! We were talking of origins and homelands and
when I told her where I came from she put her hand upon my knee
We raised our glasses and toasted the lascivious city
women, belts for skirts, vices for morals, no doubt she sought a bit of country in the
bedroom, a bit of the good stuff. We goaded him to spill the sordid details.
"No! She put her hand on me knee and
We leaned forward.
Have you read Prunchisso Muruchus
poem about The Splurgy Shore? Its based on your home town!"
We sat back and searched for a knowing look amongst
each other but not a soul had a notion what he was on about. After some confusion and
repetition we established that a poem had been writ about our good shore itself and we all
collectively remembered the stranger and his jotter.
"The sly fox, whats he writ?" spat the
Bill scrambled through his pockets and pulled out a
crumpled piece of paper cut from a magazine and passed it to the old fellas who perused it
with cautious looks and trepidations as if the poem spoke of a curse or an innate evil.
ODea, the eldest of the elderlies fit for talking, looked down his spectacled nose
and read out some of the lines in a sceptical tone, like the poem was a review of the town
to be scorned and discredited.
The North wind gusts and scoops,
The weather afar conceals its next identity
The splurgy-shore sea, sure surly it sits
Where the young folk slide buffeted upon that clutterd plate
Facing the ocean, a wishful destination is summoned
For little does keep the young folks hearts here ...
We could scarcely believe our ears.
That sneaky city highbrow had gone and written about our own shore. What did he know about
the poesy of our beloved shore? Or the essence that reigns mysteriously amongst us? How
could an outsider dare to think he could put it down in words?
"Didnt even get out of his car,"
muttered one fellow.
"Stopped for a minute and no more," muttered
"What does splurgy mean?"
"Who does he think he is swooping past and
rattling off a few stanzas like that?"
"To think he thinks hes captured the
essence of the splurgy shore, well its our bloody splurgy shore!"
"City folk be damned!"
The man, we found out bit by bit, was an award-winning
poet. A highly esteemed one at that and regarded and revered in all departments of high
poesy. A mini-biography feature we salvaged from a Sunday magazine spoke of his earthly
qualities, his poor miserable upbringing in rural parts and his natural genius, his
scholarly endeavours in Oxbridge.
"He writes with fellowship regalia, mud in his
nails," the magazine proclaimed. "He is a man who gazes and sees into the soil
and feels the soul within. The earthly sentiment weighs upon him. Though he writes on a
laptop or with a biro, it may as well be a plough or a hoe. He is the pride of rural
communities, whose hardship and history he celebrates and immortalizes."
"Bollocks!" said one.
"Charlatan," said another.
"Heads up their own arses these poety
types," rejoined the first.
Indignant, but forgetful, we slowly toddled on with
our lives on the shore. Skimming stones to the middle of the ocean, scooping pints into
our bellies and huddling together for banter and a semblance of human contact. Days
drifted and bitterness faded.
Once again, though, on one of those days, when the
rain pitter-pattered down against the windows of the bar, big burly Bill Dooley burst the
door open and in the waft of a draft he panted, "Youll never guess what. .
The bar leaned forward in expectation of some city
tale of smut and near happiness. "That poet fellow is coming back to write an Anthology.
He says the shore holds a key that unlocks his Passions, inspires true poesy and
releases his lyrical spirit. Hes going to stay for an indefinite period, and
hes renting out the Oak Lodge."
We swivelled on our stools to spot old fella
Considine, the proprietor of the Oak Lodge. He sat on the far side of the bar, legs
crossed, cigarette in the ashtray, his eyes in their corners, moving left to right, as if
contemplating whether he should take a sip from his pint of the good stuff or
alternatively his wifes hot port. Like he always did.
"What are you letting that shady bard stay for?
Hell be snooping around not leaving a stone unturned for want of his precious
poesy," someone shouted to Considine.
"What?" he scowled. "Am I supposed to
turn business away?"
Nobody answered. We couldnt. How could he not
breathe a word to us? We never trusted that poet fella from the start. Considine drank his
drink back in one and walked to the door.
"Yes might just learn something from this
fella, something about yourselves, at that."
He paused as he swung the door open, "Look at
yourselves, a pack of good-for-nothings! And youll be remembered for nothing."
The door slowly closed behind him with the vacuum of
breeze that had circled the room.
If I remember correctly nobody spoke for a while. His
wife scurried out when she thought no one was looking.
I I I
There was certainly no parade or flourish for the poets
arrival. In fact we barely noticed him. He kept himself to himself in the Oak Lodge save
for the odd evening stroll he took to consume and digest the shores inherent poesy.
Wed see him in the distance strolling at
leisure. Eyeing the universe, taking the air and mulling over the days thoughts, perhaps
struggling with a rhyme sequence or an appropriate alliteration. "Ah!" hed
suddenly exclaim. "Yes! Thats the ticket." And off hed totter away.
Back to his typewriter. Back to his vanity. Forging his immortality. Setting himself down
in History. Laying down works for the Almighty to comprehend and despair. Wed shake
our heads and stroll off to the pub with our hands in our pockets muttering contempt.
Yet he of course, being human, had to eat. In the
grocers hed purchase the necessaries. So we quizzed the grocers husband
on what this big-brained know-it-all was cooking and consuming.
"Bread, spuds and veg."
"And did he make small talk?"
"Something about the weather."
"What did he say of it?"
"That its true that theres a hundred
and one ways of describing the weather around these shores. Hes quite a charmer. And
a poetic one at that."
Such was the lack of evidence of subterfuge and
scandal, or at least peculiarity, people soon worked up their own opinions, which they
grumbled to each other.
"Hermits! Men of that age wandering about minus
dependants. What else have they to be doing but penning poems? Answer me that!"
"Takes to the bottle I reckon."
"Aye! The hooked red nose on him. Never
"A dark horse Id say."
"Wouldnt leave your girlfriend with that
"Well I think hes rather alluring
actually. . ."
The voice came from aside. It was a womans
voice. The word alluring hung oddly in the air. Possibly as it had never been uttered
before in town, at least not in public. The whole tone of the sentence hung at odds with
the usual trivialities we speak of. A vague feeling of wistfulness, a sense of dreaminess,
and the word actually at the end of the sentence placed like a chime.
"Yes, theres something sweet to his modest
"Mrs. OBrien says hes a gentleman and
"And witty . . ."
" . . . and evocative"
"I reckon hes a bit of a looker."
"Girls get out of that nonsense. Hes a
chancer. Hes only after something he didnt bring with him."
"And whats wrong with that? Its human
nature. Its genetics. A man should look for a bride and mother, or least attempt a
full-dress rehearsal once in a while."
"That would be the icing on the cake," young
Considine moaned. "Hes stolen a part of our shore, sold it to the world for
high profits. Hes using our shores to inspire his so-called Anthology
and now hes sweeping the womenfolk right off their clunky feet."
"Well. Were here for the sweeping!"
"Dont be desperate."
"Desperate! Desperate! A successful
award-winning acclaimed poet, his veins throbbing with passion and romance against the
likes of ye! A pack of moping bachelors! Useless layabout louts!"
That was that. The schism was formed, the gauntlet
thrown down. He was the Bard Almighty and we were layabout louts. The community had become
divided. An unblooded civil war began. A pitched battle of petulant looks and incredulity.
A skirmish of dinners in the fridge and cutting remarks. A head-to-head of
envy, desire, hatred and the exotic-terrifying unwritten word. The poet was untouchable,
semi-deified and destined for anthologies, eulogies and students history books. We
were dispensable as we are merely bystanders, onlookers at the sweep of humanity and
existence, yet none of its glory; in fact, all that sweeps through our town is the wind.
We are not even worthy of footnotes, we will be recorded solely by the sporadic state
census. We loathed him. We eyed him viciously across the road. The women delivered him
flowers and fresh sandwiches. The men threatened to throw rocks at his windows. The women
talked of how wonderful it would be to see the capitals of the world with such a man. The
men said poetry is for girls and homosexuals. The women walked the shore with their hair
down, and at a slower pace than usual. The men didnt bother to shave and drank even
Then, after several bitter weeks had passed, on a night when the moon was on the
wane and one and all sat by a pair of drinks - even the Father, for where better to hear
confessions - the door swung open and who should stride in but the émigré bard himself,
the poesy-thieving scoundrel.
"A pint of the good stuff when youre right,
Polite, modest and a local phrase included.
Conversation searched to start again but nobody could speak up. The sound of a pint being
poured seemed louder than usual. The poet stood smiling happily by the bar like he was
waiting to strike up a conversation. Still nobody spoke as his pint settled. Still he
smiled, as if to say dont be shy, I wont bite, whos ready for chit-chat,
The barman placed the drink before him and blurted out
a pleasantry almost nervously. "Fierce night out."
"Hmm!" the poet smiled, weighing the
statement up thoughtfully, "well its worse somewhere in the world and the way
the mist drops in slow-falling tingles makes me weep. You dont know how lucky you
are. I feel so refreshed. So calm . . ."
A fresh hell unfolded before us. The womenfolk put
their knees together, arched their backs and leaned forward as if an apple was peeling
itself on a plate before them. We stared at the tops of our drinks as if we were reading a
script backwards, such was the perplexity of our gapes.
The barman smiled and crossed the great divide.
"Yeah, youre right yknow, the way the moonlight mixes with the shore air
sets me right for the night. I always sleep with the curtains open and dream sweet dreams
on nights such as these and wake to a skip no matter what the weather be."
Not for the first time could we believe our ears.
Wed never even heard Jeffie speak more than four words in a row since the late
eighties and here he was waxing lyrical while polishing his glasses, and he continued:
"Id like my wedding night to be on a night like this one" he said, his
eyes to heaven above, a queer wantoness spread across his face.
The poet placed his drink carefully on the bar and
smiled once more. "Id say young fella that your wedding night will make the
weather sweet and unforgettable whether it rains, hails or snows, for the inviting arms of
your beautiful bride is what youll remember rather than a blue moon or shooting
stars." His voice was a delicate lilt; it held strength, tenderness, magnetism and
warmth, the kind of voice that would make you stroke your wireless while listening to a
The women were close to rioting in ecstasy. The
mens shoulders drooped out of impotence. The women were ready to place themselves on
a platter and peel themselves for consumption. We were ready to digress into a grumbling
alcoholic malaise. A woman spoke: "Im sorry to be sycophantic but . . .(whats
that mean?) I read your poem on our very own shore (She said this with a hand on
her chest, her eyes fluttering; he smiled like a man whod been praised by lessers
before, we thought) and I just thought how wondrous a thing it is and I felt silly,
yknow, to think that we all live here and have done for years and no one could put
it down in words what beauty it possesses and, well, we had to wait for you to,
fortunately pass by
well, immortalise it
"Well perhaps if you were to pen something on my
home town youd surprise me. If you hark from the city a soft padded-country ramble
through the fields will stand clearer in your mind than it does for the farmer who tramps
across the same field everyday."
The women sat in a row beaming like adoring teenagers.
The men stubbed out cigarettes and lit cigarettes between drinks. The night continued in
this fashion. As the womenfolk were being wooed like never before and fought for his
attention, we listened in dejected horror to the barman map out his new plans to sell the
bar and travel the world, see Asia, find a wife perchance. A wee little thing who would
comb her hair over a bowl in the morning humming an old traditional tune, rear seven
healthy children without batting an eyelid and attend to his hopeless manly needs.
The men had plainly seen and heard enough. "That
whore has overstayed his welcome if you ask me."
"Youd think being a Master Poet hed
have finished this dratted anthology long ago."
"Aye! He scribbled out the poem in a minute, how
long is an anthology?"
"How long is a piece of string?"
"By my calculations it should only take him four
and a half hours to write a 270-line poem."
"Hes been here for months now."
"Unofficial Poet Laureate of the people be
damned! Hes a fake and a fecker. . ."
. . . "Something must be done" . . .
"Powers of persuasion are needed" . . . "If someone were to have a word in
his shell" . . . "Set things straight!" . . . "Clarify the odd
thing" . . . "Youd have to be careful" . . . "Hed outsmart
us all" . . . "Set you back to front" . . . "Make you invite him back
for drinks" . . . "Weedle his way into the hearts of your family" . . .
"Best be a blunt dialogue" . . . "A straightforward imperative" . . .
"Someone with a bit of size" . . . "One of the young fellas" . . .
"Something must be done"
The old fellas finished their drinks and for the first
time in history left before their wives. They patted me on the back as they left.
"Our finest asset, these young fellas." Soon after, the women trickled away as
well, tasting the sea air and glancing at the sliced moon as they walked. The room had
emptied. Finally I stood alone at the bar with the barman. Then the bard himself stepped
up for a nightcap.
"Give us a dram of the local distilled for the
road, one for yourself laddie?"
" . . ."
"Good man, I feel like celebrating, Ive
nearly finished my work here and a man should drink to these things, shouldnt
" . . ."
"Cat got your tongue laddie?"
" . . ."
"Im not usually a talker myself to tell the
truth, Im rather a stony-faced chap at the best of times, they say that our country
folk have a gift of the blab but going on what Ive heard Id say the city folk
have more to talk about
(Women with belts for skirts and vices for morals,
who could be silent?)
" . . ."
"Well. I best be off, thanks, matters to attend
to, ts to be crossed, and so on."
" . . ."
"Slan leat agus abhaile!"
I finished my drink and moved behind him. I watched him as he strolled along the
shore, inhaling deep breaths of the local air. The poesy-wrenching thief. He stepped down
on to the shingle and stones. He leaned over and picked up a choice stone and skimmed it
out across the ocean. To Atlantis! he cried and laughed aloud as the stone
plopped once and once only. To never-never land! he cried again.
I moved stealthfully, without thought, skulking
almost, drawing closer. Soon I was right beside him as he skimmed happily. He sensed me
"Oh! Do you care to join me for a skim,
I held a rock in my hand; he stared searchingly on my
face as if my answer was handwritten across it. I spoke: "From here you can see all
the unreachable stars that have died long before we can ever see them."
"Yes, youre right, youre right and
what of the sea, laddie?"
"The sea? Why they say that the tide comes and
goes but its only because the earth is spinning that the ocean water tilts and sways
against these shores."
"Yes, yes, youre right, laddie, youre
right, and the wind?"
"The wind rolls by as if it knows everything that
has ever passed."
He smiled. The thief was no doubt recording every
word, keeping them in his jotters for a rainy day when he sits like a monk scribing out
his poesy, grinding his way to immortality, ensuring his place in History. Hell
dwell in every Anthology. With mud in his nails and poesy in his pen, theyll say he
spoke for his countrymen in his Fellowship Regalia. Nobody will say that he robbed them
too, or that he was a barefaced bandit.
I gently raised my hand, the rock aloft, clutched
within my fingers. He stared out across the oceans, mulling and musing, his eyes twinkling
and either I or he, or perhaps the shore itself, whispered It will all outlive us
I dropped my arm and struck his head atop his
poesy-teeming brain. His body fell lumberly to the ground, a brief bump and scratch on the
stones. Then silence. Just the splurgy shores waves moved. The thick line on his
head widened in his grey foppish hair. The blood gorged and thickened, gently overflowed
and seeped onto the rocks and stones. A wave flushed past his body and my feet. It
trundled past and then slipped back in respectful expectation of the next. The blood
wisped away in the seawater. A poetic death if ever there was one.
I tied up his legs and dragged him out to sea. I
plonked him in a moored boat, tied his feet with a deep knot, and rowed out. The waves
bobbed the boat as I slipped the body over. Then I, too, slipped over and swam back to the
rocks, setting the boat adrift. The currents would take care of the rest. The world tilted
as I swam to shore. The breeze rolled knowingly past. The shore itself seemed to turn a
I know people will come looking for him. The relatives, the police, the Norton Anthology
editor and all his estranged lovers. Well say he had been drunk and in high spirits,
and he had attempted to swim in the poesy of the shore such was his elation and lust to
immerse himself in its immortality. Theyll look for a while. Well even
help. But, alas, nowt will be recovered. The sea covers most of its mystery. His lovers
will weep on shoulders, move back to their station wagons, wipe their tears away and scoot
back to the city.
The papers will read that Muruchu, 42,
award-winning poet has been presumed dead after searches failed to discover his body since
his disappearance ten days previously. Local and police search parties have exhausted all
locations and themselves. Muruchu had, according to locals, been inebriated and in
ebullient form and attempted a midnight swim. The shore is a notoriously dangerous place
for swimmers unfamiliar with the local currents.
Life will return to normal eventually, it always
does. Well drink our drinks and our women will settle for our meagre passions. Life
will be nothing more, nothing less.
No doubt some arts council from the city will make a
proposal for a commissioned sculpture of the High Bard. A bronze chiselling of him
standing in the shores salty breeze, soaking up its innate poesy. Well see it
for what it is, a last-dash attempt at immortality from beyond the grave. Over our dead
Therell be a rumour and a whisper in the academic circles that perhaps his death
was no accident, close friends will shake their heads, where were his shoes if he went
for a swim? Theyll claim the police didnt do enough, that there were too
many questions left unanswered. So then Ill be a little anonymous mystery in the
footnotes of history. Why, thats more than enough for me.