A Bottle

On the beach in sudden sunshine, her turn:

Write down, she said the first

word you think of, we’ll launch it

in the bottle. And what they sent out

was irretrievable. Meanwhile, a wave

had carried their footwear away, which they

had left while paddling. Out to sea,

round the Point, past the Basalt Caves,

the tide carried all four examples and

the bottle with them. That lasted much longer

than the footwear, which the sea soon

bedraggled. Pretty well screwed up, so to speak,

the bottle stayed in one piece and was watertight,

it was one of several environmental flaws

deplored by persons on the deck of a boat

circling round an offshore windfarm;

the fisherman guide, running trips to see the seals on

a famous sandbank would have seen it too,

and maintained his silence. It floated on

past a hinterland where first there appeared

a bright and perilous resort from which

a rail link went out passing many fields

of oilseed rape, and horses freed

of their blankets of summer until, with long

moss-greened commuter platforms, a city

kicked in with capital’s anonymous

glass megaliths. In one of those, an icon

guaranteed the manufacture of many

billions of similar bottles never to have

a mission like this one’s . . . For weeks and weeks

it didn’t make the shore, unlike the bodies

of two of the locally drowned and one

of the murdered . . . But at last a current

coaxed it into a lagoon where it finally

ended just inland on the purple verge

of a saltmarsh.

His writing had been large,

with a felt-tip pen, in black, on good notepad paper,

and although the sun had faded it, the word

was still clear, irretrievable, when an inquisitive hand

unscrewed the cap – not easy – and fingered it out.

To be standing there in a marsh in the onset

of even a small contradiction dis-

composed him: he had retrieved both

the bottle and the old assumption that led

him to think it must be a letter inside it.

The bottle, now an irrelevant messenger,

he dismissed at once, but what you might call

the “message” he kept. Against the odds, it raised

his confidence, if at moments he was disposed

to shiver and wonder whether he should just

let it go. But he did not do that, it was still

in his pocket on the day the two lovers

failed again to sense the treachery

of the tide and he, having read that one

extempore word, was at last tracked down

to “this beautiful lonely stretch of the Oyster Coast.”



from Ludbrooke and Others (Enitharmon, 2010), © Alan Brownjohn 2010, used by permission of the author

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