Jack Lamb rode
the glittering skirt of sea
on the back of a sheep,
his tiny fists clutching
the wool so tightly
we had to cut away the fleece
to free him –
the half-drowned waif,
who when the wherry’s keel
grated on the shingle
at Sally Port,
called for his Mother and Father
as we hauled in.
Imaginary words written by a sailor on board HMS M33 – Gallipoli 1915
I lift the lid and find
his whole life harboured here;
things that he kept safe:
A photo of his wife Mary –
baby daughter Jess – tress
of her hair tied with red ribbon,
three letters from home
telling news of harvest,
off felling trees in the orchard,
a picture postcard from Alf
his brother, sent from Plymouth;
Derry’s clock decked out in bloom…
and here’s his baccy pouch,
his diary full of pencil sketches
of the ship’s cat sleeping,
and the white starched hankie,
initials embroidered by his sister Doris –
his boot brush and blacking.
I can see him now, his big hands
buffing and skimming
until he could see his face
shine in the leather – his happy face.
I pack up his pen and pipe,
his wash things…
stow his world away
to send to his widow and Jess –
and all who come after.
Artifact found in the surgeon’s cabin on The Mary Rose which sank in 1545
Eight pints a day each man had,
barley mashed to make the brew,
swigged from a gallon tankard
by every one of the crew.
In the museum I hold a wooden vessel,
shaped like a baby’s bottle,
found in the surgeon’s cabin
used to feed sick sailors –
men with gaping facial wounds,
or those too weak to eat;
made in three separate pieces
with a maple teat to suck,
no spilling of rations allowed;
thin ale was poured inside,
the wooden nipple put to the lips
of injured men to drink,
slake their burning thirst, this
for some, their last sup on earth.
Found on The Mary Rose
They found him on the orlop deck,
tools next to him,
his dog alongside.
Five foot seven, late thirties, they said –
poor teeth, a muscular man
with arthritic rib and spine.
And from this nest of rag and bone
they saw how he lived below the weather
by the way he’d cut a hole
in the side of the ship to let in the light.
And after they’d dredged him up,
dressed his numbered bones with flesh,
created his face, coloured his hair, his eyes,
they opened his sea chest to find:
a gimlet, a pewter plate, his back gammon set –
and piecing his life together
they boxed him up in glass,
brought him here where I stand
and imagine him holding his precious
pocket sun dial in his strong hands.