My Great Great Grandfather

was a shipwrecked Swedish sailor, with sea legs
and river hands, forearms like binding strakes.

A stanchion of a man, he worked the waters
of the bustling Thames, was ship’s labourer

then Lighterman, loading cargo and crotchels
onto barges and punts from vast-sided vessels.

A Jack under oars thirty feet long, sculling to
and from wharves, from Gravesend to Poplar,

hefting resin and grain, barrels of turpentine,
stacking and stowing, cursing the Custom house,

piloting bridge holes at Vauxhall and Barnes,
Battersea and Kew, the current at Southwark

where tides run swiftest. He’d crack a bridge
by its acoustics, log the distance in his sinews,

could navigate sightless when a fog fell fast.
He wed a Limehouse lass who thrived on little,

had a cheery disposition and her own opinions,
bore him sons to ride strong spring tides.



Chloe Balcomb’s poetry appears in Butcher’s Dog, And Other Poems, Under the Radar, The Interpreter’s House and elsewhere. She has two published pamphlets, The Waney Edge, Green Bottle Press 2019 and Upstart Jugglers, Hen Run, Grey Hen Press, 2020.