In the old days I was Canis Marinus, Dog of the Sea.
I was born in a mangrove swamp of the Antipodes,
abandoned by Ma at first swim to the murky
mysteries of waves, death and capitalism.
I was crated frozen to the Land of the Free.
Now they call me Tiger, Blue, Hammerhead,
Great White, Art-wank. I prefer Sea-Dog
but they call me shock, ragged, monster, demon
or jaws (cue scary music and pearly sharps to die for)
the perfect engine and eating machine, soulless
beast, killer of slaves and pretty girls in bikinis.
I can morph into fin soup, a Chinese delicacy
or a shifty money lender. A role model for the aspiring
acolytes of Damien or a trophy tanked up on formalin
stinking behind the thin glass wall of privilege.
Predators queue and gawp
at the impossible.
I stare straight back
and what’s more
I never blink.
I was inspired to write this poem after seeing Damien Hirst’s so-called conceptual art entitled ‘The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’. I found it disturbing to see a wild creature exploited and displayed in an art gallery. My feelings of distaste and anger increased when I later learned that Hirst had several Tiger Sharks killed for his art work. Even though the sharks are preserved in formaldehyde they start to decompose after a few years and need to be replaced. Other animals have also been killed by Hirst for his art, including cows and calves for the piece titled ‘Mother and Child (Divided)’. I find the morality of this indefensible. It is one thing to kill for food or survival but not for art or entertainment. Hirst’s pickled shark was sold for millions.
I also find it sad that humans have a tendency to demonise and label as ‘other’ anyone who is different from themselves, this includes other species, races, religions, sexual orientations, disability, etc. Even sharks can respond positively to kindness and afffection. They are not the vicious, mindless monsters portrayed by our culture but a beautiful creature trying to survive the best it can, just like the rest of us. Please watch this amazing YouTube video showing a shark conservationist petting and playing with a shark. Perhaps they are truly the dogs of the sea.
The February air is zesty with unexpected sunshine and the northern wind softened to a breeze. Spurning my faithful duffle coat I reach for the cashmere coat with a fake fur collar that I haven’t worn since leaving London. This coat has been on a long journey and in storage for two years. Its chic appeal seems incongruous in this land of anoraks and woolly hats but why not be different today? Should I wear the sheepskin gloves or the fluffy angora ones? I go with the fluffy. The dusky pink matches my suede boots.
The street is quiet, not even the builders around and no sign of my elderly neighbor who likes to feed the seagulls every morning. A battered red pick-up truck rattles down the road towards the harbor trailing an aroma of fish. I’m heading to the village shop for milk and bananas. As my clumsy fingers place the house key in my coat pocket they dislodge a crumpled piece of yellow paper from the silk lining. It flutters onto the waterlogged front lawn. The sulfur color reminds me of old moss, the sort that clings to old stone walls.
It’s not a discarded shopping list or a receipt for some long-forgotten object of desire but a couple of cinema tickets; Twenty One Grams. It’s a poignant film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu about how people’s lives intersect and fragment due to a random event. The story reveals the patterns concealed beneath the surface of everyday life. The twenty one grams refers to the amount of weight which is mysteriously lost at the moment of death.
I went to see this film on my thirtieth birthday, the first of March, many years ago now. We ate lunch in the roof top restaurant of an art gallery overlooking the Thames before going to the cinema. After the film we drank cocktails in a trendy bar in Knightsbridge. It was an enjoyable day in a faraway life. Tom and I were both in a good mood and we didn’t mind the cold wind, dodging the rain showers without an umbrella or searching for an elusive parking space. I didn’t complain about the dirty pavements, the crowds or the traffic. At that time I’d never heard of Caithness and living in Scotland was a romantic dream. I was wearing this same grey coat with a leopard fur collar. It felt like the wrong coat for a wet day.
Today I queue in the village shop while two incomers, a mother and teenage daughter stock up on junk food. They are horsey types who have adopted a feral lifestyle. The mother wears a red bandana and a dirty shredded t-shirt any eighties punk would be proud of. Her bare feet are encased in flip flops. Jagged green toenails protrude from a crust of mud. Both women exude a smell reminiscent of rotting potatoes. They spend more than twenty pounds on sweets and chocolate. As they exit the shop Elaine reaches under the counter for the air freshener and sprays it around in a protective circle.
On my way home I wonder if I’m wearing the wrong coat.
One day you’ll write about us, you said on your last visit.
A starry love story, a film…
Betty Blue meets Quadrophenia, you said. I said,
but how will it end? As I left you at Central Station you said, I’m missing you already. I said, never, remembering silence as we drove deep through Kielder forest.
There’s a bond between us
that can’t be broken, you wrote in your last letter.
Blood, sex, magic you said. I said,
I’m sick of bleeding
and magic’s not real
and there’s more to life than fucking.
I want to be cherished, You said, that’s cloying.
Sometimes, naked on star-less nights
I Google your name and wait.