My life as a coble (for DA). A Poem by Marie Marshall.


I examine my bones, tibia,

fibula, made new each morning,

as things of wonder

to crawl my fingers over;


it has been this way since birth,

a boat launching, clinker-built,

ribs and thighbones my strakes,

that way I can be beached

high on life;


humerus, ulna, radius,

from keel to hog to apron,

from garboard to sheer,

the face of each land is beveled,

and the resulting, exulting song

is the little tremor of the water

as I force through;


I can’t remember the day

I was first beached,

but it must have been with

the groaning of new planks –

they say boats, before they’re built

exist in a putative sea,

that it is the karma

of the best trees to know chainsaw,

plane, and ocean, to be water-tight

without caulking, to be painted


to have a girl’s name;


I love wriggling cargoes of fish

and hate fire;


I look down on the carvel-built

with their oakum and pitch,

the fast, twisting Lateen whores –

always have, always will;

tarsals and carpals

have taken on the torque

of the currents and undertow,

I tack ceaselessly, new rope coiled,

uncoiled, coiled while I see

white houses cling to cliffs,

white birds describe the sky;


drifted in, drifted out,

harboured on a dayglo ball,

bumped and scratched,

the slap of halyard on mast

playing amongst the mathematical

music of the marina;


such times of inertia,

barely lifting, barren

in the bob of flotsam,

held against the times

of chop and roll;


there is a god of cobles,

half-boatbuilder, half-commodore,

that’s who answers the marine radio;


sternum, vertebrae, no heart,

no soul [to speak of], so

when I am beached the last time

I’ll be a perch for gulls,

no shame in that, no shame

to have blistered paint

and a faded name,

no shame at all, nor to forget

my mother who was a tree,

my father who was a rove-punch;


the white houses are still there,

voiceless beyond the rattling diesel

and the rasp of tide against the cliffs,

the land is still here, and each day

a different sea reflects a different sky,

there’s no shame in that;


the white, broken wake,

the forgotten messages it writes,

there is no shame in that either;


up and down, up and down,

ankle to skull, woman to girl,

new, pine-smelling timber

to beached hull, there is no shame

in any of this;


sit and sing in your accents,

tell stories, I won’t hear them,

no shame, I won’t want to,

it’s my life as a coble,

not a telling and a hearing of stories,

and that’s a fact.


Marie Marshall

Marie Marshall is an Anglo-Scottish author, poet and editor. Her first collection of poems, Naked in the Sea, was published in 2010 and reviewed in Sonnetto Poesia that same year, and her second collection, I am not a fish, in 2013. Since 2005 she has published over two hundred poems, mainly in magazines and anthologies, but the most extraordinary places in which a poem of hers has appeared include on the wall of a café in Wales, and etched into an African drum at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Her first novel, Lupa, was published in 2012. She is well-known in Scotland for her macabre short stories. Her web site can be found at Of writing poetry and sonnets she says, “I did not start writing until 2004, so I am very much a twenty-first century writer. I write anything, any kind of poetry that I feel the urge to tackle ― sonnets included.”