An Elegy for a Drowned Town by Isabel Brooks

An Elegy for a Drowned Town

I would like to capture a recent time in my life in a net of words and empty them out onto your lap. Prepare for bruising and tangles, for translation from thought to language is detrimental to meaning. The original meaning was pure. The land we visited was to us a manifestation of holiness, and we its votaries. It was a raw joy, a raw clean joy, that had a shiny one-off-ness to it, never to repeat.




The swell and ballooning of a cumulus cloud armada dulled our prospects. The fractious energy of the air was tangible. Midway there, waters broke, and the roads and the trees satiated themselves. Turgid drops bounced merrily off the nose of the car, and wriggled their way to the end in a frenzy of rivulets. We whipped along. The shrapnel rain darkened the flat clay fields that spanned either side of the flat iodine tongue we licked the county up with. Pale birds sported with us a while, then desisted, pivoting off.

Reaching the site, the vehicle decelerated, spat us out and left us to soak. At last we had gained freedom; the sun emerged and welcomed us, warming our cheeks. We could taste this freedom, and laughed at its alien flavor.

The beach was perfect and deserted. The narrow ribbon of shingle coast was reached by stumbling drunkenly down a steeply inclined cliff. The slick of a bevel-straight horizon unfolded before us, a lateral compression of all things squeezed in between the end of the world and I. Giddy and silly, we stripped down and waded in, the less brazen lingering diffidently. To regain body temperature we paddled frenetically in tight concentric circles. This keeps the bone chill at bay.

We strode inland, and flopped on the half toasted pebbles heated by the brazen new sun. Thermal energy plucked the saline droplets from our browning skin and we exclaimed at our strange delight. We photosynthesized…

Cycle ride. Fretful preparations. At last, on the road! We dissected each puddle, leaving a foil of snakeskin spatter marks. An attempt at a loo break in a marshy field, but the wild tawny tea-stained ponies ran us off their land. We continued on. The reward was cod and chips, and silence resounded save atavistic grunts of contentment. “Half in love with easeful fish…” was sighed by someone wistfully.

The utopia instilled ambivalence towards death in me. Swallows sewed the afternoon sky shut and dying sunlight filtered luridly through the overhanging foliage sieve. Reading in the circle of camp chairs, on a sheltered grassy plateau, we felt calmly invincible. 

After the chemical tang of Gordon’s Gin and sweet Budweiser combined, we were giants and equal to anything. A fire was created from leaves so dry they cackled, and heavy logs so damp they hissed. We sang primary school hymns in the glow of a fingernail moon. Swigging back the manly mixture and lolling on the hillock of stones, I sensed happiness boiling and frothing within me. I could see it brimming in the others’ eyes; the small baubles were painted with the fire and sky and sea and hung in the blackness in pairs. Southwold’s blinking beacon was jeered at on each cycle of its revolving glare. Newer, more obscene star constellations were found. A unanimous decision resulted in midnight swimming in our underwear, and a second confirmed the need to slip off our pants, wave them in the air triumphantly, and hastily redress ourselves underwater. It was hilariously liberating.

We fell asleep cocooned in sweaty warmth, while our quiet breath echoed the sashaying rhythm of the sea. Those susurrations of the waves… a lullaby or a requiem? We drank and we left the world unseen.

At four am we woke up and witnessed the sky and sea give birth to a new sun. Magnesium ember advanced to neon segment advanced to glinting coin, hot on the exposed face.

I think I may have wept.

A lethargic day proceeded. We were beached leviathans, grilled until fat dripped off us and all of our sides were golden. Time was measured in patches of blue sky.


Beginning of the End


Roused only by the thrill of the sunset chase, we seized our Heidemanns and flew the lane to the heath, legs pumping manically to match our grins. It was molten butter; it was viscous amber. The cascading nectar trapped flies in its long avenue of emblazoned sky. The magenta hues of the swathes of heath were gilded and crowned.

The scene’s melancholic beauty encompassed us in a hush, a hush of knowing nothing could ever be this good again, and it would soon be lost to us. Present and past mingle and copulate and spit out only memories. I find myself looking at the present as if it were a memory, a shallow representation. The past and future press in fast, and consciously we focus our minds forwards, while subliminally relating everything back. The present slips on ever eluding, ever neglected.

Another spontaneous swim, but the chill had crept in with its fist of force. The needle cold of the water replaced our bones with lead, and our hearts with bone. It was the onset of rigor mortis. It’s that half-stale notion of limited happiness again where only a set level can be attained, no more. We swam though, far, far out to reach a sand bank, over which the waves were curling higher and creamier. There I remembered the drowned town. A hive of activity soused with water. Deadened to muteness. What fish now prowl along those long abandoned streets, what ghosts? It was a gradual consumption but an absolute one. We swam further over the dead.

Soon children will paddle in tight concentric circles above the place we pitched our tent, and the holes where our tent pegs were and the tree stumps we rested on will be corroded to nothings. Gelid but vainglorious we crawled from the waves and cycled back half-naked.

A shooting star was spotted. Fleeting. Burning brightly, but burning out. I hated the damned indifference of nature then, failing to save our parents, our grandparents or our shooting stars.




We left Dunwich early the next morning. It was a relapse into square corners, artificial light, parallel lines, dull arable land and drudgery. Leaden-eyed despairs…

Fled is that music. I went home to sleep.