2020 – West Sussex Winner

Marjorie’s Letters 1916-18

By Camilla Lambert

The sea is lashed and sullen,
Everywhere there is gnawing anxiety,
terrible ingenious slaughter.

William Patten is lost,
he worked the boats with his father,
left for France a few months ago.

Two days of endless fog
right up to the windows, but now
the sea dazzles, blue and calm.
I should order more cobalt
and Chinese white.

In motionless moonlight
I watched the Mevagissey fleet
slipping across the bay,
silent blots of shadow.
The only noise was sheep munching,
night birds in the corn.

Some days I see more clearly,
like standing back from a picture,
jumbled up in cubist squares.
From a distance, I can trace
a seagull’s flight or see a stonechat
on a rock facing out to Veryan Bay.

It’s a heavy business fetching
twelve pounds of meat
from the Haven.
Mr Mingo was chopping up a bullock
in the dark outhouse,
wearing his long white coat.
Women waited, their baskets half in,
half out of shadow
a Rembrandt painting.

Yesterday, dirty weather
on the Dodman. The coast watcher
was up by the day-mark
and we walked to his hut.
He tended the furze fire, showed me
semaphore flags unrolled.
We talked of cormorants and shags,
of old wrecks, and where storm petrels nest.

I hang on to the callous beauty
of sea, sky, hills and flowers,
yesterday sketched the purple fuschias
by the back door.

Nora’s Jack has been wounded
in the Dardanelles, I wonder
if he’s bad enough to come home.
Rose and Nelly and I
make flannel shirts and bed-jackets
for Falmouth hospital.

The glorious news lifted me
from the potato grind
where I was digging for dear life
in a strong sou’westerly.
What a world is left ─
our young children, shielded from war,
firm and healthy and straight,
but elsewhere
people heart-broken, desolate.