The Sea Stick

Matthew Hollis

The low tide brings her in,
scouring the surf-line
for dogweed and jellies,
stones coughed from the sea.

What interests her more
is the take of wood
that she gathers for the fire.
She knows how things burn,

beginning with the kindling:
birch bark and fir cones,
dust from the wood wasps,
dried grasses, wisp cotton, a feather.

Then the fragments of spark-wood:
willow and cedar, an arrow
of spruce, to make
the flame leap higher.

What interests her most
is the hardwood: some oak or beech
to tip against the fire, and dry,
to slow burn through winter.

But this tide brings something strange:
straightened wood, an arm in length.
It is not much, but in her mind
it might be

a cane or staff or walking stick,
a tottering strut to take the strain,
a shepherd’s crook, a stake, a spear,
a plinth to prop the coal shed door,

a chair back or a table leg,
the foot to foot a lovers’ bed,
a linen pole, a curtain rail,
a prank pushed through a bicycle wheel,

a scullery mop or a mop handle,
the haft that held the malt shovel,
a flag mast, fence post, drover’s prod,
a riding horse, a child’s crib,

a witch’s broom, but most of all,
a toy flute, yet to be bored,
that she puts to her lips, and blows upon –
as if raising a tune from the old life.