The First Lighthouse
Cross Island, 1714
Even then, the flaming beacon was old-fashioned;
lensed lamps had been available for years, yet
an open-fire blazed on top of the white-washed tower;
three storeys of island-quarried stone, picked
and carried on the convicts’ backs.
They built the walls two metres thick.
These twenty acres never did attract the sun;
there was no call for a mirror to catch the light;
Alexandria’s blue skies were little more than fables.
The people here had no time for sea-gods
who shepherd seals or speak of the past or future;
in these parts, that is better left unsaid.
This land lies three miles from the Lough’s mouth,
knows nothing of the Nile’s flat plains or
the limestone pharos, reinforced with molten lead.
But yes, the fires burned alike. An iron spindle,
twenty metres up, revolved beneath the brazier;
the hot coals kept burning by the keeper —
a ton and a half on a windy night;
the old donkey lugging the black stuff
up the hill from the moonlit beach.
To live on a small patch of flat land,
in the middle of the sea, you need defences.
If herbs and fruit trees are to grow,
if you want chicken flavoured with rosemary
or poached pears and blackberries,
you must build four walls, raise the temperature
by degrees, to coax saplings to the sky.
The stone absorbs what little heat the sun gives,
prevents frost forming on fuchsia
flowered currants and salt-laden iced winds
from battering the swelling fruit.
There is nothing ornamental about this square
of stone built so close to waves
churning up porcelain and flakes of skin.