TWO POEMS by Kate Noakes

Window cleaning

The scaffolding crashed,
a balsa wood plane, missed
Marco’s coffee stand by inches –

I‘m swinging over the steel
and toughened glass canyon
by a thread. Safe.

Tied to the roof in case
today happened. An acrobat
spinning by the teeth

and a strop of leather
at the top of a circus tent
I remember from when I was six.

I’m a glitter ball of fear.
I’ve stopped screaming,
but daren’t pull fate,

so let the wind take me.
It’s strong up here
outside the forty second floor.

My first thought is not
how to signal to the lawyers
in conference beyond

the smoky panes, but
how far I can see.
Right out into the Gulf.

The sky is all,
and partly-clouded means
a wisp of cirrus.

The horizon is a wonder
where two blues meet,
but the sea no longer

reflects the sky.
It’s sheened with night,
with something from the deep

that overwhelms:
oil stink and well grease.
The marsh grasses are brown

with sludge, an estuary
where there is none,

pelicans and green turtles.
On the rigs the sea’s
broken into flame.

You were right last month
about those manatees.
A dozen in the bayou.

Bad karma, you said.
Enough to be sinister.
A siren.

I panic –
still holding a squeegee
in my left hand, swaying

in the middle of the chasm,
the glass cliff beyond
my fingertips.

Shall I wash the breeze?
Can I reach the wetlands
and oyster beds from here?

I’m on the catch-net
board room table now,
scratching its high gloss

with my buckles and harness.
The lawyers’ note pads lie

yellowing the carpet.
A medic holds up
two fingers.

Is he blessing or
pacifying me?
Two, I say, I can see two.

The least number of persons
to be on the gantry
at any one time.


‘No fixed rule applies in fluid matters’
John Standing, 1607 *

Flood marks and brass plaques on churches
at Goldcliff, Redwick, Nash show where the sea
made a shore once.
It will swell again, will come
in storm and surge. Tor ammonites know this,
sure in their beds of lias and clay, hardened
in sandstone, waiting for water to soften
their shells and ease them over the seven
terraces into the Severn Ocean.

The Levels will fill, dykes and seawalls fail.
Reed beds will drown in warbling liquid
that will salt the sheep in Summerland meadows.
Drains will inundate bringing brine-fish
to sport in the willows.
You can build barriers,
but these are no more use than a hand
plugging a leak. The sea ignores small boys.
It wants to live the prophecy in a sparkling wave,
to make islands of Brean and Avalon.

* translated from the original Latin. Standing’s poem has no title per se, but is addressed ‘To Sir Edward Standing, Knight, about the incredible flooding of the Severn (the day after the poet begins his journey to London), in which that seawall recently built at Aberthaw was overcome and torn apart. January 20, 1607’.


Developing from the theme of my last book, The Wall Menders, my current poetic practice is almost entirely focused on environmental matters.


Kate Noakes is a Welsh poet. Her latest collection is The Wall Menders (Two River Press). Her website is

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