On Pelion Beach
When I see the chapel with no people,
its walls cracked wide with warping
like a shout at the moment of death
when the spirit left the body,
mildewed icons on the salty walls
little lamp still burning, tended
by someone who remembers
but is not remembered.
I am thinking of the older place, the older time,
a temple to Poseidon, where the great
dragging sea sucked and forced its will
as it boiled round ankles.
How the people worshipped as they scrambled
up the beach to honour you,
to paint fantastic creatures on your pillars
and entwine your altar with seaweed.
I see an empty beach, broken by the sea,
concrete posts at crazy angles
where the war crashed in,
no beauty, just grey foam
and tiny sponges lying in the crevices
left by the water in homage
to the men who scrambled up the beach
in heavy boots and who worshipped
clean well loaded guns to save them
from the sucking of the water
and the terrible roar of their spirits
as they left their bodies.
I am watching a crab move sideways,
waving its imperfect claws as it sidles
over rocks to find a cool corner,
dragging one broken leg but knowing
where it wants to be at this moment,
darkness its compass, shadow its life,
clicking as it moves like an empty egg
rolling lightly across a hill on Easter morning.
I'm thinking of the sponges feeding slowly
on the soldiers' bodies as they lay and lapped
the shore. Why they never built tavernas
here and why the lamp is still lit
and why the temple ruins and concrete posts lie entwined
and how the news was taken by boy messengers
like little broken crabs with shattered legs
again and again as each tide
came in and in and in.
Poseidon! You did not rise up.
God! You curled yourself
like smoke in a sanctuary lamp.
Nervously I stand and watch the sea
as if it will sparkle an S.O.S. to save
them all. Only the whistle of the wind
teasing open the chapel cracks,
only Poseidon's whisper to the ghosts
still worshipping at his temple.
The seaweed spilling over the stones
Red, brown, green, blue, black.