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Cleopatra on Portstewart Strand

Poet: Rosie Johnston

Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act II, sc. 2:

The barge she sat in, like a burnish'd throne,

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them

There she was, all happy helplessness,

that purple car of hers, sun-glossed in its evening wear,

chrome hubcaps silvered by the waves,

us weans in matching goosepimples

home knit jumpers yelling to go home,

even if it did mean ten green bottles yet again. 

Intoxicated by the first whiff of beach air,

she would never park where we were told,

always drove the chariot straight to the palest sand.

Yanked the brake on hard, raced all giggles and squeals

to lose her usual scent of chip fat and onions in the surf

before she draped herself in a deckchair

strapless, guiltless, matchless in her

heedlessness of anyone.

That day no gravity applied,

not even when, past home time,

the day’s shine deep in her laugh lines,

the car refused to leave.

More throttle dug us deep,

ignored all blandishment and blarney.

Everybody out; she honked and clamoured:

‘Heave!’ We weans shoved alright, shoulders to the car.

Slowly smiling fathers came to help.

Exhaust fumes swathed us all,

sand and seaweed flying,

lipstick on her teeth, the long red nails

urging from the window,

‘Come on, come on!’

and high above the racket

seagulls cackled

and all the men

adored her.

Rosie Johnston’s fourth pamphlet of micro-poems Six-Count Jive (Lapwing Publications, 2019) describes her recovery from CPTSD into a world of natural beauty and happiness by the sea. Recent anthologies include Places of Poetry (OneWorld, 2020), Her Other Language (Arlen House, 2020) and American Writers Review 2021: Turmoil and Recovery. Rosie grew up on Northern Ireland's Causeway coast and lives now by the sea in north Kent.

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