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4 January 2017updated 03 Sep 2021 7:47am

sea swim

A new poem by Andrew McMillan.

By Andrew mcmillan

it was the easiest I’d felt undressing
at least sober      that quickfound intimacy
of you shimmying from your dress into costume
me unprepared in yfronts      I could already
feel my body pulled down with the weight of years
it had lived through    you were almost the other side
of your sixties and you were beautiful
walking slowly to the edge through the foam
and out into the open water   cold waves
breaking at our ankles    then our stomachs
then diving in       even though it was flatcalm
that morning     you could still feel the power
in the pulling back         after twenty minutes
we decided to walk the length of the beach
to dry ourselves    as you described how the sea
heaves the beach around    shifts its borders
we passed the house the tide pulls closer every year
metres of rock hewn off tossed away      you showed me
the trees lopsided from the cliff fall    roots
upturned and hardened like a fossilised
crustacean       we talked life and love and Brexit
I wondered if one day the people of that house
would wake to find their lives capsizing      we talked
politics   your recent widowhood   we passed
a nudist    maybe in his eighties
his muscle fallen into itself     arse shining
in the sun     time will make all things feel slow
but the changes will be brutal

Andrew McMillan’s prize-winning debut collection, physical, is published by Jonathan Cape. This poem was commissioned for the “Crossing Borders” series as part of the International Literature Showcase, an initiative run by Writers’ Centre Norwich and the British Council to support UK writers.

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This article appears in the 04 Jan 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain