Torrey Canyon 1967
by Sam Payne
We wash seabirds in the sinks at the hairdressers. Their thin bones tremble in our hands as the brown foam slips over stained porcelain. We shift from foot to foot as our fingers work through the oil slicked feathers of guillemots, razorbills, gannets and gulls. Our bodies ache and our throats are dry but we carry on because even though we’ve lost count of how many we’ve held, we know there are many more to come.
On the tideline small carcasses lie in swirling slime. The air is noxious with the sharpness of glue, tainted sand sticks to our boots, and black footprints tread a path around the town and to each of our homes.
From the hill at the back of St Martins we see the buccaneer bombers trailing thick black smoke across the horizon. They drop bomb after bomb into the ocean but it barely makes a difference and the tanker continues to list where it ran aground on the reef.
The low guttural roar of Hawker Hunters and Sea Vixens, loaded with napalm, suffocates the sky and we stand there in silence on the cliff edge, staring at the polluted water. Inside each of us something is sinking. We don’t know it yet but for years to come the oil will float on the surface of our dreams and block out even the smallest glimmers of light.