issue 40: January - February 2004 

 | author bio

The Splurgy Shore
Connla Stokes

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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 it’s 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 debauchee. 
      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 didn’t 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 stranger’s 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 imagined.


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 folk’ve 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, we’re 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 he’d just come back from the city where he’d 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 said…"
      We leaned forward.
      "… Have you read Prunchisso Muruchu’s poem about The Splurgy Shore? It’s 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, what’s he writ?" spat the old fellas.
      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. O’Dea, 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 it’s next identity
The splurgy-shore sea, sure surly it sits
Where the young folk slide buffeted upon that clutter’d plate
Facing the ocean, a wishful destination is summoned
For little does keep the young folk’s 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?
      "Didn’t even get out of his car," muttered one fellow.
      "Stopped for a minute and no more," muttered another.
      "What does splurgy mean?"
      "Who does he think he is swooping past and rattling off a few stanzas like that?"
      "To think he thinks he’s captured the essence of the splurgy shore, well it’s 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, "You’ll 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. He’s going to stay for an indefinite period, and he’s 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 wife’s hot port. Like he always did.
      "What are you letting that shady bard stay for? He’ll 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 couldn’t. 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.
      "Ye’s 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 you’ll 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.


 There was certainly no parade or flourish for the poet’s 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 shore’s inherent poesy.
      We’d 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!" he’d suddenly exclaim. "Yes! That’s the ticket." And off he’d 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. We’d 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 grocer’s he’d purchase the necessaries. So we quizzed the grocer’s 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 it’s true that there’s a hundred and one ways of describing the weather around these shores. He’s 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 sober."
      "A dark horse I’d say."
      "Wouldn’t leave your girlfriend with that fella."
      "Well I think he’s rather alluring actually. . ."
      The voice came from aside. It was a woman’s 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, there’s something sweet to his modest manner."
      "Mrs. O’Brien says he’s a gentleman and a half."
      "And witty . . ."
      " . . . and evocative"
      "I reckon he’s a bit of a looker."
      "Girls get out of that nonsense. He’s a chancer. He’s only after something he didn’t bring with him."
      "And what’s wrong with that? It’s human nature. It’s 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. "He’s stolen a part of our shore, sold it to the world for high profits. He’s using our shore’s to inspire his so-called Anthology and now he’s sweeping the womenfolk right off their clunky feet."
      "Well. We’re here for the sweeping!"
      "Don’t 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 didn’t bother to shave and drank even more.

 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 you’re right, please."
      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 don’t be shy, I won’t bite, who’s ready for chit-chat, I’m harmless.
      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 it’s worse somewhere in the world and the way the mist drops in slow-falling tingles makes me weep. You don’t 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, you’re right y’know, 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. We’d 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: "I’d 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. "I’d 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 you’ll 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 radio play.
      The women were close to rioting in ecstasy. The men’s 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: "I’m sorry to be sycophantic but . . .(what’s 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 who’d been praised by lessers before, we thought) and I just thought how wondrous a thing it is and I felt silly, y’know, 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… and…well, immortalise it…"
      "Well perhaps if you were to pen something on my home town you’d 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."
      "You’d think being a Master Poet he’d 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."
      "He’s been here for months now."
      "Unofficial Poet Laureate of the people be damned! He’s 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" . . . "You’d have to be careful" . . . "He’d 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, I’ve nearly finished my work here and a man should drink to these things, shouldn’t he?"
      " . . ."
      "Cat got your tongue laddie?"
      " . . ."
      "I’m not usually a talker myself to tell the truth, I’m 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 I’ve heard I’d 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, t’s 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 and turned.
      "Oh! Do you care to join me for a skim, laddie?"
      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, you’re right, you’re right and what of the sea, laddie?"
      "The sea? Why they say that the tide comes and goes but it’s only because the earth is spinning that the ocean water tilts and sways against these shores."
      "Yes, yes, you’re right, laddie, you’re 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. He’ll dwell in every Anthology. With mud in his nails and poesy in his pen, they’ll 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 anyhow.
      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 shore’s 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 blind eye.

I know people will come looking for him. The relatives, the police, the Norton Anthology editor and all his estranged lovers. We’ll 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 it’s immortality. They’ll look for a while. We’ll 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. We’ll 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 shore’s salty breeze, soaking up its innate poesy. We’ll see it for what it is, a last-dash attempt at immortality from beyond the grave. Over our dead bodies.

There’ll 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? They’ll claim the police didn’t do enough, that there were too many questions left unanswered. So then I’ll be a little anonymous mystery in the footnotes of history. Why, that’s more than enough for me.

© Connla Stokes  2004

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author bio

Connla Stokes hails from Dublin. He now lives and works in Vietnam. He has been shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Prize 2003. His daily strife is stored at www.pittstop.blogspot.com
To contact the author Click Here


issue 40: January - February 2004  

Short Fiction

Mary Woronov: George and Shoe Store
Leelila Strogov: Fatso
Simmone Howell: Golden
Connla Stokes: The Splurgy Shore
picks from back issues
Lynn Coady: Jesus Christ, Murdeena
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Buried in Shit
and Stars and Losers


Manuel Vázquez Montalbán: 1939 – 2003
The man and his work
Two reviews
: An Olympic Death
and The Buenos Aires Quintet


Ilan Stavans


John Steinbeck
answers to last issue’s 18th-Century English Literature

Readers' Poll

Readers’ Poll Results - Best/Worst of 2003

Book Reviews

Demonized and The Devil in Me by Christopher Fowler
The Epicure’s Lament by Kate Christensen
Blind Love by Mary Woronov
Lizard Dreaming of Birds by John Gist
Dreamland by Newton Thornburg

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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