He who saw the deep

James Darnton 26 March 2019
Image Credit: Hannah Reding

Don’t get in the boat.
You shouldn’t be here.
This is neither the right place nor the right time.
You should be playing cards, frittering your life away with empty chatter, shopping at Ikea, eating their meatballs, paid for by your 9-5.

So why are you on this jetty?
Isn’t it enough?
Get out of that boat right now.



The key to the motor is under the box, on the peg.
It’s a long voyage ahead.

We are far down the estuary and to reach the sea will take days.
And what a long estuary, grasping both horizons, stretching further than your imagination. Like in Swan Lake (I took a ballet dancer across once). Every fibre, every grain of a body tensed, yet elegant, screaming yet relaxed. A mask over the sky to protect the stars from your profane eyes. This stretch leaves Swan Lake in the dust, its red blood staining soft feathers, its languid neck lolling loosely, fish nibbling.

The estuary stretches far.

Watch out for that shopping trolley, marooned upon a sandbank.
No, I don’t know how it got here.
Here is no rock but only water.

There lies Andromeda, stretched out upon a rock, sun and salt bleached.
Steer clear.

There lies Scylla, mouths ready to snap you up. The water seething with her spasmodic pulses.
Steer clear.

You people don’t get me anymore. I try and stay relevant, I really do. But I’m too old, I have rolled up my trousers and trod through the shallows, my fungal feet slip-slap-slapping against sand. Passers-by think I’m some sort of drugged-up-junkie. Soon I will be forgotten. And a new poet will lead you across


The Wine-Dark,




Or ‘splash emoji’

As your new poets would put it.

But who am I to judge?
This story limps along.
The beginning was gripping. But now it’s a trifle self-indulgent for your tastes now. Slightly smacking of self-pity.

You see this isn’t one of your traditional ‘stories’: We’re going to have a contemplative middle where I explain life to you through the metaphor of the estuary (which is actually the river Styx to the underworld: it’s a double metaphor). Then as we’re about to reach the end of the journey and step upon the shore of the House of the dead, the land of shadow, where Humphrey hamster went when you were six. You will have an epiphany; you’ll realise the impermanence of human existence (the classical references shoe-horned in show the passage of time) and how that you have to make a difference and Live your life rather than a death. You’ll quit your job at an advertising company, you’ll work with lions or something. So don’t worry, some things will happen, I just need a little

See that perpetual plop in the sea? There lies Icarus, eternally fading.
Steer clear.

There lies the sirens, seductive.
Most seductive
Steer clear.
Well clear.

This is the cheat-code. Up-up-down-down-A-B-A-B-right bumper-left stick, just

Steer clear.

That’s how to navigate life. And indeed how to navigate rivers.

Steer clear.


The only movement on this estuary is us. We drift, sublime, cutting through this heap of broken images.
Look over the side, your reflection lies untouched by the wake, griefless, look how it rises to meet you, tinged by the setting sun, at the evening house now.

The Sun is preparing for a long night at home, collapsed on the couch, watching endless episodes of Supernatural Investigators, his wife is working on the night-shift, the moon. They both exist in solipsistic slices of life. They’re looking for a career-change. He wants to do lion safari stuff, she thinks that accountancy would be a good, stable job. A job to raise children on. They don’t see each other much. Their love has been eclipsed.

But there is no water,
Only you.
And look how as we pass, your reflection grows older and the prow waves wrinkle your skin. The spray flecks your hair white and the saline waves turn you salt and pepper. And look how eventually your reflection ebbs away. This is (must I spell it out?) your life drifting away, the journey represents your life.

You see

The land is life. Things can grow there. There is permanence.
Out here, there is only one permanence, and that is the unharvestable sea, into which all fades. And when your reflection has faded its only vestige is its footprints in the shallows where it slapped against the sands. These are blown over by the winnowing wind of time, becoming first blurry, smudged, then indistinguishable from the sand of a thousand footprints around it.

And then it lies in memory.

Until forgotten. Like me.

But come on.
There lies the shore.
The big guinea-pig hutch in the sky.
Full of shades softly fading, their breath steaming in the cold, mist dispelled by morning sun (we have sailed long).
Let us go then, me and you, and sit there.

Or perhaps not?
You turn the motor quickly.
I think perhaps not.
So we sail back.

And when we see the seductive sirens
Steer close.

See Scylla?
Steer close.

And we shall live not a life, but The life.
Admittedly, a short one.
Scylla is a many-headed monster.
The sirens devour flesh as well as souls.
But, in the brief moments before your untimely death at the jaws of metaphorical Greek monsters.
What a life you will have lived.
And look up
or don’t
because it’s awfully dark:

The moon and sun have left.
He handed in his notice, they had a ‘little do’ with the stars to say goodbye. They congratulated the moon on her waxing belly. They’re doing accountancy for a safari park now.
It was a compromise.
They say that they’re very happy.