by Elaine Ewart
She has eight days to check each morning’s haul, to claim her own.
Every week, since his boat sailed up the Thames to Rotherhithe
Without him on it, she is escorted to a bare, grey room
With a viewing hatch. Thin morning light from the high, round window
Falls on the swollen faces, displayed like butchers’ wares. It’s not so bad.
They have been drained overnight, hanging from an iron hook,
Dripping, plangent on the echoing tiles, and sliced on
A green marble slab, to determine cause of death: Infectious,
Or Non-Infectious. She sees the first man has lost a shoe
In the sucking mud. Her heart leaps like a fish, slapping on board,
So that at first, eyes watering with looking, she does not see that she
Does not know these men, either. It is not so bad, she tells herself;
Shakes her head to the mortuary keeper and walks out, blinking
Onto the quay. Wheels turn on cobbles; dockers call to each other
Like courting owls. A fresh cargo of timber is disgorged
From a ship moored in the shallow water. Sailors leap, music-hall acrobats,
Between the bobbing logs and, in her mind, she sees her husband
In the air. She sees him slip, and not slip. Blindly, she watches.
Photographs of the event can be viewed here.
NCLA Water Poetry Competition website.