Oil and Algae

“We tramped through narrow dew set paths 

lined with gorse, it’s barbed wire limbs waving 

warning trophies of rent clothing; a BMX, 

abandoned in the no man’s land of briar 

 

and bramble. Machinery lost to thorn. Oak bars 

marked the path, submerged into mud and gravel; 

cut and regular; moss coated, surrounded 

by pennywort, yarrow and timothy. 

 

With no incline, there seemed no need

for the reinforcement but following the path, 

the gorse thinned and revealed a threnody 

of tarmac and asphalt. The mystery beams 

 

revealed themselves as sleepers, once attached 

to a railway line that serviced the shipyard, 

bringing steel and rivet to the pride of Scotland.

The track barely seen beneath pitch and aggregate

 

was not the victim of Beeching’s decimation 

but – with the collapse of an industry – an attempt 

at hiding the scale of the loss.  Broken lines 

and corroded fishplates stacked between derelict 

 

pontoons – rusted and sheared – hinting 

at a past of engineers, berths and precision. 

The final ship refused to slip the tallow, 

as if she knew she would be the last to leave. 

 

Not even burning the fat moved her from the runners.

When she finally left, the dock gate closed 

against the main, preventing the flow of fresh

sea water, leaving the pool stagnant and stinking. 

 

An oily film, the only colour in a sepia landscape, 

dazzles against the ochre algae in the thin March sun. “

 

 

From “The Shipping Forecast”

Originally published in The London Magazine.

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