We were thrilled to host Sophie as our summer 2022 writer-in-residence exploring the Maritime theme. Here she shares her commissioned poem with us.
Index of Exeter Quay/ From the blue door, I beckon
1. It’s here that I first read: Exeter is considered to have lost its route to the sea.
2. A woman is wearing The Great Wave Off Kanagawa as a mask over her mouth.
3. Kayakers dig all morning and leave no trace of what they’ve moved.
4. For river, see mirror
5. I bought a ceramic bowl, fired with a glass nugget within it to create the effect of a pool of water constantly at its base.
6. There’s a fire extinguisher lodged in the weir.
See also >> shoes, traffic cone, water’s memory of moor
7. It’s the hottest summer on record and tap water is the same temperature as inside a mouth, or kissing. I return each week to the blue door of the Custom House, watch the mirage of this water.
8. I canoe to find Countess Wear, the suburb containing the weir built by the 8th Countess of Devon in 1284 to block Exeter’s thriving port. No one knows where the weir is; the Exe swallowed it whole: an archeological dilemma.
9. I replace my notebook with a sketchbook. I collage a river and use only ripped pieces of sky.
10. This porch was Elizabeth dock 400 years ago, used for small barges to offload larger ships too big to come into the wharf. The dock is now inland, is now a menu of ice creams, a chiropractor with the original mooring rings on the shop’s front.
10.a. I remember sheltering under this canopy, 1am, breathing vodka and coke ghosts into the night, the club pulsing next door. The rain was so heavy it wiped each second clean. I stood on what I now know to have been river and pulled someone in closer. The rain spilled down the stairs to meet us at river-level, returning to its former self as I lost mine.
11. Hulled things: upturned palms, pockets, a middle name
12. A group of girls in lifejackets crouch to touch the river, in anticipation of falling in – like a mother’s hand gauging a forehead.
13. For sisterhood, stay here
14. I read a tweet stating that house martins don’t drink water off the ground – only that which is suspended.
15. A girl in a workshop tells me she will describe these windows as mouths.
16. Ick = river creek, cow creek, watering place
17. Black Thursday, 1960. So much rain it burst the banks and, for a brief period, Exeter was cut off from the country. At what point does river become sea?
18. I’ve noticed the fierce heat has me speaking in eddies, in circling pools.
19. The Spillway – a section built especially for the spilling.
20. My sister calls, holds the phone up to show me my 5-year-old niece in an iridescent leotard. She has just learned to do a bridge at gymnastics. I hold my phone up so that my niece’s body arches over the Exe.
21. I dunk my cookie into weak tea, notice the eels writhe in the cornicing.
22. I remember walking home from school after the flood. The water was up to here. She slides her hand under her chin – throat-height.
22.a. My mother nearly bought that house. There’s a mark across the wall where the river pushed itself against the sofa, licked at the paintwork. You can’t get a watermark out of plaster.
23, 24, 25. (Buddleia)
26. I phone my sister, tell her of my recurring dream: I wake in a flooded house. The moon has lit a path for the sea to rage up the spine of the Exe. I walk slowly downstairs, returning myself with each cold step. River rises up me like it does to the wall in a lock, I say, it rises up me like light.
by Sophie Dumont
You can also watch Sophie reading her poem below, or on our Quay Words in Film page.
Find out more about Sophie and her work: