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Forward from Dunkirk

by on 26 May 2020

Forward from DunkirkKeyhole (Oliver Plumb)text

by Keith Wait

Just down below Teddington lock
Where tumbling water rushes through
A pleasure boat in white and blue
Yet rides the ripples in her dock
Mahogany and brass, she waits.
The river’s crests still gently rock
A varnished cradle damp with dew.
Our mother’s mother loved her too
From buttoned boots and childish smock
To elegance in crinoline.

But daring days in crêpe de Chine
Daughter’s dress in flapper fashion
Dancing on the polished decking
Shocking with Sobranie smoking
Charmed ‘em nightly in the Charleston.
Mahogany and brass, she waits
Riding gently at her station
Fifteen foot of heaven floating
Above cocktail saucers clinking
Music to unspoken passion.

Springtime now of nineteen forty
Now she waits for me and you
Time and tide stopped
In the sunlight
Eyes
A touch
A kiss among the willows
As soft as sleep.

At sea, awake!
Bullets blast the billows
A stench
Fear
In the Channel
Tide and time dashed
Forebears scan the family boat
Wartime now, our fifteen footer.

Teddington to Ramsgate harbour
We push against the running tide
Beside the sea, the sea beside.
This is to be her finest hour
But onward, seaward, to Dunkirk
Reach to those who staked their honour
Faced a fate of fire, tested tried
As comrades hard about them died
Willing hostages to valour.
For them we pitch our pitching boat

Against the anguished seas afloat.
Palls of smoke soil a sullen sky
Spitting out its leaden hail of hell.
Shrapnel sounds her brazen bell
Breaking her bees-waxed boards which fly
Heavenwards, upwards, to Dunkirk
In shards like prayers on high
Supplications from soldiers
Scared
Swimming in fuel oil
And blood.

The eyes that met
The finger that touched
The lips that kissed among the willows
In pieces scatter
And with twenty-six brave soldiers
Sink beneath the waxy waves.

Grandmother’s honour
Mother’s courage
Our own love
On sweet Thames.

And on war-ravaged sea
Still abides these three
Honour
Courage
Love.

Now face to face
Not thorough a glass darkly
I see love is just beginning.

Keith Wait
May 2020

Images by E J Gregory, Virginia Smith and P.J. Tomlins

2 Comments
  1. celiabard permalink

    A very moving poem successfully depicting the history of the boat and which also reflects the social customs and historical events of the time. Very much enjoyed reading it.

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  1. Forward from Dunkirk: a critique | Mark Aspen

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