Swimming with My Father
Kennack Sands c. 1959
by Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt

Chest high in the glittering ocean,
beyond the cool shadow of the cliff’s sheer edge
and the long, crooked fingers of dark rock,
I am bobbing, cresting, feeling the lightness of my body
and the pull of the sand between my toes.
In my dreams, I can go back there:
where you are counting waves, waiting
for the big one to come rolling;
it will lift us up like the slow hand of God
and then carry us all the way in.
And I am watching you: I am feeling
the connection, knowing I cannot sustain it.
Soon enough, in a hubbub of sandwiches,
hot, sweet drinks and thermos flasks,
gritty, wet towels and spread-eagle costumes,
I will retreat inside myself and you,
you will shrink back, become again
the father I am destined not to know.
There are too many children and I am too small;
my song goes unheard amid the clamour.
Now, displaced and sent tumbling by this salt rush and roar,
I am a dogfish in this rock pool of sharks.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Kennack Sands, Cornwall, circa 1957. There were fewer of us children then.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem, which was first published in My Cornwall magazine, in 2014 comes from a series of poems prompted by my time spent with old black and white photographs and the very early childhood memories that came with them. This would-be collection has the working title of Frozen Moments: An Essex Girl’s Childhood, and many of the pieces centre on my grandparents and their home in Aveley in Essex. This particular poem, however, is about my relationship with my father and a holiday spent Kennack Sands in Cornwall. We used to go there every year until, at some time in the very early sixties, a great storm destroyed the beach and so with great reluctance we moved on to take our holidays elsewhere. Although his own father was a true Cockney, my dad found his spiritual home in Cornwall when, as a “Bevin Boy,” he was conscripted to work in the tin mine at South Crofty near Redruth.


Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt
was born in Essex, UK, but now lives in Cornwall. After many years spent working as a teacher of English Literature she is delighted to have at last re-invented herself as a writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared in more than a hundred magazines, journals, and anthologies including –- and of this she is particularly proud — the recently published Wave Hub: New Poetry from Cornwall edited by Dr. Alan M. Kent and published by Boutle.