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26 April 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 4:25pm

Mare Nostrum: The NS poem

The NS poem.

By Lesley Saunders

Make sure you get some real open-water practice. The worst thing you can do is just jump in and start swimming

Guardian Weekend

An odyssey we’ve learnt to call it as night pitches them into obscurity, toy boats belly-up in bits, adverts for a better life. Troy is far behind on the Turkish coast, Greece and Rome and Germany and Dover somewhere in the unpronounceable future. Children and babies sleep on mounds of luggage; a man is shouting I wish we’d all died back there in the flames: pious Aeneas – refugee, widower – cursing god between retches. Everything is wrapped in black plastic bin-bags to keep out the sea and for the shopkeepers of Izmir life-jackets bring much-needed business. In a wetsuit you should feel slightly vacuum-packed but not restricted. Nobody knows if they will leave tonight or next week. Everyone here is waiting. Lift your head as little as possible, otherwise your hips sink. Think crocodile eyes.

Lesley Saunders has published six poetry collections. Her 2016 chapbook, Periplous, is published by Shearsman Books

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This article appears in the 19 Apr 2017 issue of the New Statesman, May's gamble