Another poem takes its (very modest) place in the world, having won second prize in this year's Chipping Sodbury Poetry Competition and earning me a discretionary twenty quid, which I shall spend on petrol for a jaunt somewhere with Ted.
So here it is, flushed with success (rather than tuberculosis).
(Incidentally, the Boatman was James Harvey, my great-great-great-great-I-can't-remember-how-many-exactly-greats-grandfather, who travelled around the south-western peninsula and lived briefly in Teignmouth in the very early 1830s, having married a woman from just along the coast at St Marychurch. He would never have met Keats, having moved there some fourteen years after the poet's sojourn.)
The Poet and the Boatman
Tidal here, and salt -
the final turn of Teign
before its fretful merging with the sea
creates a harbour in the lee of land,
this curved blood-coloured beach.
Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths
I glimpse the poet stripping off
his white ballooning shirt and britches,
bathing in a manner
far from gentlemanly
The water's cold,
he'll catch a chill
while over here a boatman's sanding smooth
a newly mended hull.
He'll check the caulk is watertight
before he ventures out to rescue souls
condemned to whelming death.
Both men are bright-faced,
close in age
yet they'll never share a jar
for by the time the boatman's posted here,
John Keats is twelve years dead.
No one could have saved the poet
from drowning in his blood
Instead the boatman heads for breakfast
and John is gone with a flap of his red-stained shirt
to flirt with the sleep-soft girls
stirring in their beds
above the bonnet shop.
©Deborah Harvey 2009, 2012
In Spring 1818, Keats spent three months in Teignmouth on the South Devon coast in the vain hope that the temperate climate and sea air would cure his brother's consumption.