Out Far and In Deep

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

‘Neither Out Far Nor In Deep’, Robert Frost

New Year again. The lighthouse scanned its beam
across the length and breadth of sea and fields
when he traipsed into my watch. One a.m.
Despite the dark, he took the path on trust,

then had his doubts. Folk think they’ve taken
the straight route to Thornwick Bay: it’s a blow
to find this maze of static caravans
and plywood chalets. He tapped my window

and asked which path from here led to the coast.
Mid-thirties. Little else to pin him to,
apart from being there, when the rest
of Flamborough was still toasting in the new.

When the walker left I cracked a Carling
and watched until he broke into a run.
One bloke more with something lost or lacking
bailing out on the clockwork Lang Syne.

I should have talked to him more than I did.
A man after my own heart, we shared
something, but it left nothing to be said;
or so I wanted to think. Then I heard

about the missing person. I wouldn’t
like to guess if he was really the one.
Above that fuzz of beard his eyes were wet,
but who could say if it was tears or rain?

The coppers found a little Skoda parked
behind The Dog and Duck. It was unlocked,
but out of fuel. A hairline crack had crept
across the windshield – centre right to left.

A sandwich slicked its mayo on the seat.
There was a shirt (still wrapped) and a diary
waiting to be filled. Nothing else, except
that the floor and seat covers were mouldy

and the road tax was a month out of date.
As yet, the police have no leads, and no
witnesses. He didn’t leave any note
for those who must be missing him now.

My man seemed to have a hidden purpose,
if no clear idea how to get it done.
There’s been no body brought back by the waves,
so I have a theory about this one:

I see him drawing up to the brink that night,
breakers lashing salt against the cliff.
The crumbling chalk glowed under starlight
as he brought himself, tired and frozen-stiff

to face whatever’s out there and, alone,
let something go. What we are isn’t much,
but it can still tip you over. My man
was heading where none of us can watch.

From Matthew Clegg’s West North East (Longbarrow Press 2013). Click here for more information about the book (and to purchase copies). Listen to Matthew Clegg introduce and read ‘Out Far and In Deep’ (and ‘The Power-line’, which references the same chalk headland) on location in Flamborough, East Yorkshire:

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