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Jane Lovell: a poem

Reasons for Sanderlings

Their presence in winter

defines land that Sea will claim.

Imagine its rising swell submerging

banks of shingle, swilling through marram grass

and samphire, bursts of stone crop and campion,

and you gliding like a seal below the surface

past looming ghosts of groynes and jetties,

sunken harbours.

The water will be clear

and tinted with a curious green light.

Make your shelter on high ground.

Take note of the movement of stars,

the distance and position of the moon.

Take note of the tides.

Find sustenance in sea kale and buckthorn,

dulse and kelp.

In the scurry of waves across grassland,

the sanderlings will guide you, show you

how to hunt for burrowing crustacean,

isopods and plankton.

Their plumage will remind you of snow.

You won't be able to explain snow

to your children, that silence on waking,

the crump under your feet on a blue day.

Or frost on a window. Or flying above cloud.

Their skies will be clean. Flight, to them,

will mean only bird or blown seed,

the hum of dredgers along the coast

their only knowledge of engines.

From cliff tops, they will worship the wind.

We hold their future like a sphere of thinnest glass.

Tilt and hold; watch how the sanderlings

sweep in to land, the long dark stored

in the beads of their eyes,

their curves stolen from shadowed moons,

their spirit from the spume of tides.

They have learned to skip aside from the debris

clinging to the beaches.

They are here to remind us we cannot fly.

"Reasons for Sanderlings" won the "additional prize" in the 2021 Rialto/RSPB Nature & Place competition. Jane Lovell is an award-winning British writer whose work focuses on our relationship with the planet and its wildlife. She has been widely published in journals and anthologies both in the UK and US and has recently won the Ginkgo Prize. Her essays have been published in Elementum Journal, Dark Mountain and The Clearing. The God of Lost Ways and This Tilting Earth are her latest eco-poetry publications. More information can be found at

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