But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
—Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”
Standing at the edge of vast shores
I hear ancestor spirits
invoke their unbidden siren call
so the sea bursts as they command
the clap of waves that run
between the current and the tide’s fall
and ‘home, home’ come their lilting cries
as their foamy voices roll
over the aspirating surf.
Their arcane faces contort in my mind
and whisper for me to beach myself
on immense rocks that rise nearby
as ‘home, home’ their booming sighs
reverberate against cliffs,
breaking in tandem, uprearing ties.
The sand begins to clutch my feet
and sink back through the eddying swirl
but as my blood lies, constricted in this swell
I pick up a stone, cold as my thoughts
and skim the murmuring waters across –
as the exile in me replies:
I see forebears thrashing horizons near
to yoke the seas’ great churning tides.
I greet them daily beneath chequered skies,
bid them goodnight in a foreign tongue
and rebound the ocean’s sigh.
I see mother and father sunder worlds before me
compressing time and space,
compressing culture, compressing me.
But my progeny will be distilled
in different blood from pressing bodies.
They too will come upon this shore.
Roiling in the sands of time
they will find their own skin
rubbing off birth marks.
They too will resist the lull of rocks
and rise up from the ocean’s womb,
standing on the edge of something new.
“The Edge of Vast Shores” was first published
in Acumen (Issue 86), 2016.
Jason Eng Hun Lee is Lecturer at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by Jason.]