Abigail Ottley

Ottley (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival. (formerly Wyatt) writes poetry – and some short fiction – from her home in Penzance in Cornwall. Since 2009, her work has appeared in more than 150 journals, magazines and anthologies including The Blue Nib, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium Poetry and Words With Jam. She was also one of the poets featured in Wave Hub: new poetry from Cornwall (2014) edited by Dr Alan M Kent and published by Francis Boutle. In 2019, 12 of her poems were translated into Romanian for Pro Saeculum and Banchetul. For this, much gratitude to translator and bilingual poet, Mariana Gardner. In the same year, Abigail’s poem ‘Bull Male, Sleeping’ was chosen for ‘Poems on the Move’ at the Guernsey Literary Festival.

THE SEA ALWAYS WINS

(For R. M.  a Cornish diver) 

The sea is an indifferent lover. She, 
		your delight, your mistress, your concubine, 
	is not the great gift you imagine. 

	You, in your passion, your all-consuming 
		obsession, who are worshipful, enraptured,
you see nothing but her beauty. But she is

nothing if not duplicitous. Slippery 
		as the song of the mermaid, 
	she is only seeming fond. 

You come to my tidal land of rocks and 
		shifting sands and you say to me: 
	I love the sea.

I smile then because you are like 
		the innocent who is taken for a fool by 
	his own recklessness.

You turn your back in sleep and she 
		whom you adore at that very moment 
	rises up and robs up you blind. 

For the sea is like this. It goes
		grabbing, grabbing. It grabs and 
	takes what it fancies:

great ships, fine, rich cargo, 
		whole crews of good men, you too 
	if it chances on you napping. 

The sea shows no kindness, 
		no fellow feeling; the sea has no regrets, 
	and no conscience.

 On or under it, make no 
		mistake about it, the sea 
	always wins. 

Myself I lost a son to the sea 
		so the sea's one up on me. 
	I confront it head on because 

I know its true nature and the sea is 
		my proper adversary.  My work 

is all for the balance of things —
		to restore what the tides 
	steal away.  

THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS

(Boxing Day, 1962)

On the afternoon of the night after Christmas
there was snow and the people were glad.

A cold snap, they said, just right for the season
now the turkey and the pudding had been eaten.
Picturesque, they said, on the lunch time news.
The icing on the national cake.

Snow fell heavily all afternoon. 

Children stuck out their tongues to taste its tingle 
lobbed snowballs in battles, street against street
sneaked painted tin trays from deserted kitchens 
to serve as makeshift toboggans;
polished and perfected till they shone like glass,
a national network of slides.

It was festive. There was much fun and
laughter on the evening in question. 
When dusk called them in to their open fires, 
many bright-eyed children were sad.

Later, on the evening in question, 
it remained cold but clear. At Crewe the points froze over.

Between Winsford and Crewe the Mid-day Scot 
on its journey out of Glasgow to Euston
stopped, quite correctly, at an automatic signal. 
The signal was quite plain. It showed red.

The driver, quite correctly, tried to seek advice. 
But the telephone was found to be broken. 
On the evening in question there was no communication.
Inoperative equipment, the report later said.

On the evening in question the Liverpool to Birmingham 
was likewise detained at a signal. 
Its driver, seeing that signal clear, quite correctly 
prepared to move ahead.

He could not have known the Mid-day Scot was behind him
that the telephone was broken or
the Mid-day Scot was behind him;
that the Mid-day Scot’s driver had also seen the signal.
He could not have imagined how 
events would later unfold.

On the evening in question the Mid-day Scot 
was gathering speed in the darkness.
The driver and the fireman saw the Liverpool Express
just before the engine hit.

The two rearmost carriages of the Limestreet train 
became telescoped, one into the other. 
There were trees nearby. Untouched by debris
their snow-laden branches simply snapped.

On the evening in question in the chaos that followed
a man broke a window with a table
ran a mile across snow-covered fields to a farmhouse
hoping for a phone.

He did not, could not know, as he ran this 
telephone was also out of action.
The lines were down because of the snow. 
With no choice, he ran again.

On the evening in question twenty-five thousand 
volt wires dangled over the wreckage.
Sixty fireman and fifteen engines attended the scene.

A few passing motorists stopped to assist.
Shone their headlights at on the frozen embankment.
The crews from twenty ambulances 
groped through the freezing dark.

On the night in question the snow kept falling.
No one thought it was pretty.
At a nearby farm an outhouse and a loose box 
were re-purposed as a temporary morgue.

Firemen worked to sift the wreckage:
found glass, twisted metal, dolls with real hair,
teddy bears, unused toys.

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