Grace Nichols – Atlantic


Married as we were to your brown
untourist beaches, unconcerned
with the many shores you touched,
as children, we thought that you, Atlantic,
belonged to us, your below-sea-level offspring.

See us playing cricket,
turn-down bucket making wicket –
ball a spin-off of empire –
lost in the applauding waves for six.
At Easter, to mark the ascent of Christ,
see us raising a carnival of butterflying kites.

Yet we know that playfulness is not your nature
that ships sink in you like matchsticks
that small boys daring to dive from the jetty’s edge,
sometimes never surface –
from your majestic, magnetic depths.

So from the seawall’s Dutch-built safety,
we watched your changing moods
your glimmers and your gloom.

Atlantic – now sleeping in the distance
peaceful as a dog glossed by the morning sun.
Atlantic – now churning up an army of wild horses,
white manes threatening a biblical leaping
or brooding on the ships that bruised your memory –
the nameless bones on the sea-shelves of your history.

Still, at dusk, we love to sit in the evenings’ calm
hearing the wash of your voice over rocks and sand –
watching the small emergence of a blue-back crab.
Me thinking that is you, Atlantic, who give birth
in the nascent dark, to the coming-on stars.

from Passport to Here and There (Bloodaxe Books, 2020)

The Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, 2021
Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

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Grace Nichols
Grace Nichols was born in Guyana but has lived in Britain since 1977. Her first book of poems ‘I is a long-memoried Woman’ won the 1983 Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Other collections include, ‘The Fat Black Woman’s Poems’, ‘Sunris’ which won the Guyana Poetry Prize, ‘The Insomnia Poems' and ‘Picasso I Want My Face Back’ which resulted from her residency at the Tate Gallery London. She received a Cholmondeley Award for her work in 2001 and is among the poets studied on the GCSE syllabus. She has also written several collections for younger readers. Her latest adult collection, the ninth published and her fourth with Bloodaxe Books is ‘Passport to Here and There’. She is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.