Half an inch from the south shore, a line is cast from nowhere, black dots, black dashes, almost north, almost parallel to the line of the Humber Bridge, red on green, half an inch to the left. The bridge is cut off by the ordnance grid. The dots and dashes float in a pale blue square, then crop out of the eastings, black marks in numbered space. A county boundary, trailing downstream through mud and sand, it terminates in a short hem, and neither end meets land. If I stare straight ahead from the south shore, I think, I will see the line on the water, if I stand here long enough, the lace will break the surface. I stare straight ahead. I see the silt that buffers the south shore and the settlements of the north shore. I cannot read the square that divides them. Overhead, a bank of cloud drifts in and out of the grid, smudging the scale, sapping the moon. The use is gone. The map folds flat. I snap out of it, there, Waters’ Edge is where I left it, an outline in the near west, soft lights, losing strength, the visitor centre, the road out, the recycled land. I can’t see the joins. The regular paving runs out beneath my feet and the path sheds a layer. I slow to take it in, I make adjustments, the east scraped back with each step, the track blanched and brittle. If there are signs, if there are warnings, I don’t see them. The light leaves the path before the path leaves the park.
Reed beds, rinsed topsoil,
and before this, the tile works,
the mere, its white sails.
At the creek, a cement track,
black caustics, residuals.
After three hundred metres I pass between an outfall pipe and a sewage works. The outfall glints above the mudflats and breaks off at the shallows. It is somehow connected to the tanks, I see two or three diffusion drums behind a stand of trees. The works do not obstruct the path but they do make plain its unimportance. It is amenity, it is infrastructure, and it is the least of these. The path takes the line of the flood bank, left a bit, leaning into the foreshore, a brick works or tile works spreading out to my right, the perimeter set fast, dry ditch, steel palisade, pallet stacks. Behind the stacks, two chimneys, one broad, one thin, one dark, one darker. I close my eyes and make up the colours. The path turns right, the palisade turns right, and after fifty metres they lose each other, a left turn, I am level with the river again. A thickness of hedges and trees in the space vacated by the tile works. It is a screen, perhaps, an estate and its privacy. I don’t know this. I can’t know this, not without leaving the path. At three hundred metres the path and the bank and the trees break down. I slow for the remnants of an old sluice, the brickwork and gear-wheel, and if I stopped, if I stayed with it for a while, the light would fill in the details. Another path appears on my right, a flat grey line below the flood bank, again the separation, the trees extend the boundary. It is a companion path to the public path, I think, then I reject this, it is no companion. I save up the gaps in the boundary until I have enough for a profile. Inland water. On the map it is clay pits in the shape of a lake. The southern edge fills to the line of the railway. I glimpse a clubhouse, a boathouse, the boats in berths, on land, at rest. It is 1am. Everything is locked down. I slow again, one hundred metres east of the boathouse, and follow a short track to a concrete platform, which is empty, and a creek, which is choked with hessian sacks, plastic sacks, and plastic bottles. I mistake the platform for a car park, then remember the clay in the clay pits, there used to be a brickworks here, this used to be a wharf. I stand at the lip, a clean drop to the foreshore, bits of timber and metal, the barges taken apart, nothing leaves the sediment. Close to the wharf is a concrete block, sunk in grass, a dull metal loop at the centre. I’ve seen these before, in pictures. An estuary swollen with barrage balloons, a passive defence against aerial trespass, anchored and tethered by iron rings and steel cables, of which only the heaviest, smallest parts survive.
I return to the path, the eastern edge of the lake behind me, a green gap, a new lake, the nearside short. There is no boathouse, there are no boats. I pick out the lights of the north shore, sort the quick from the static, still Hessle, the last mile, perhaps the outskirts of Hull. The path skims the second lake, then a third, the sea wall makes an arc to the foreshore. I follow, losing sight of the lake, the landscape gets in the way, the trees fall back and I count twenty caravans behind the flood bank, lit by a single floodlamp. The path straightens out and the trees fall in line. Sound fills the left channel, the left ear, the left of my head, it has been rising for several hundred metres, a ragged pulse, steadying and slipping, over the water, Hessle or Hull, Saturday night, Sunday morning, heavy disco. The right channel is empty. Ahead, a gap where the ground should be. The bank is breached. This is the haven, the quay, the path on a landward turn, ninety degrees, working boats and leisure boats moored on the east side, the water low, the keels drying out. After a few minutes I reach the bridge, rail and pedestrian, single track, single file, an open crossing, no signals, no warnings.
Inshore, to Barrow,
then back through Old Ferry Wharf’s
How light and rhythm carry
from the scrapyards of Hessle.
I step off the railway and shake out the map. The information I need is cramped into a quarter inch with some other information and I can’t unpick it all. I take the only route available, the only road that I can see, the forty metres of track that leads to the wharfside. The wharf isn’t working and the lamps have been left on. There is an entrance to the left, marked for HGVs, and what appears to be an exit to the right, unmarked and gated. A small signage block sits between the entrance and the exit, a steel-framed rectangular panel on short stilts, white background, blue text, timber terminal in bold capitals, red symbol and explanation, yellow symbol and explanation, blue symbols and explanation. No smoking, no naked flames, safety helmets and vests to be worn on site. There is nothing to indicate a right of way and nothing that prohibits it, no symbols, texts, colours or posts. I take a left turn for the HGV entrance, passing a long, low shed with a brick base and a curved, corrugated steel roof, I see the cranes pitched over the wharfside. There is nothing that looks like a right of way. The vehicle gate is closed and I step to the side and around a heap of old tyres and pass a sign which is the same as the sign that I passed at the entrance. I look around. The wharfside is clear, the cranes are stood down. This must be where the cargo is unloaded, I think, where is the border. Ahead and to my right is the storage yard. The yard is divided into bays, a HGV’s width between them, there is extra space for loading and turning. In each bay, the timber is slotted and secured, the short pieces stacked in cubes, the long pieces laid in rows, all of it palletised, all of it strapped with plastic, wrapped, unwrapped, open to the night. Some of the stacks are numbered, a short code, I don’t know what it means. Country of origin, port of origin, article of tariff. 22, 38, 56. I make a small map in my mind, it has the shipments from Scandinavia and the Baltic states, international waters, maritime borders, the men stay with the ship, they don’t disembark, there is no touching. There is something missing. I think of making a new map but I don’t know how to finish it. I think of the yard and its penalties, the storage fees and the clearance fees, and I can’t see a way out of the wharf. It is just a wharf, I think, a soft terminal. I try to see past the cranes and the cargo and imagine a corridor that someone sketched earlier. I pass one bay, then another, the yard narrowing to the north, the docking platform falling away to the west, a new barrier rising in the east, large, bonded concrete blocks that I can’t see over or around, the passage is protected, the blocks run out, my breath restarts, and I find my place at the river. It is not the same place, it is not the same path. The moon has gone. The sky and the water do not reflect each other. A coarse grain sinks in the air, heavy and slow. The figments of the east are raked and sieved and I don’t know which side of the river the light is coming from.
Windmill Pond, a crux
with a scuffed nought, and always
the pontoon ahead.
Night thoughts, without complexion,
a path exhausting its chalk.
As the perspective goes, so does my position. I have nothing to measure myself against. I try to compensate for the poor contrast by grazing the grass with my left foot, it doesn’t help, there is only darkness between the flood bank and the rushes. 2am. The moon reappears, in a different part of the estuary, minus its lustre, its finish. Bits of the foreshore break off in the corner of my eye. It is the property of the Crown, or most of it is, part of its coastal portfolio, I wouldn’t think it to look at it. The Crown Estate grants permissive consent for non-commercial public access along the foreshore. It has a prerogative right to lease and licence tidal land and seabed for port and harbours infrastructure, cables, pipelines and outfalls, and other projects. Each port or harbour has its own byelaws, a form of delegated legislation, and breaches are prosecuted in the lower courts. The path is uneven and maintained by use alone. If there was light enough I would step down to the foreshore, at my leisure, without claims. I must not leave the path. The path thins, the foreshore thins, there is light enough to pick out a few objects stuck to the south bank, a punctured football, an old tyre, a flagpole and flag, almost upright, I can’t identify the country. It’s a trap, I think, and why would I think that. The air has cooled slightly. A line of light has detached itself from the thick of Hull’s electrics, pulling away from the long, bright curve of the north bank; it is clear now, and close, the shape of a jetty, the line of a second terminal. Little by little, the path eases inland, still level with the foreshore, there must be a turn somewhere. Thirty metres from the terminal, the access widens to a concrete shelf, walled from the estuary, then narrows as it bridges an outfall drain. There are gates ahead and some dark masses to the rear. The path stops short of the gates and makes a sharp cut between the terminal and the drain. The terminal buildings fill the space to my left, separated by a steel fence, it is a single, jointed building, I realise, a warehouse with a multi-span gable roof. After two hundred yards, the site meets the railway and the path turns a corner, leftward, eastward, the warehouse slipping back. The trackbed is loose in its blanket, the embankment on a curve, and the path, now tarmac, glosses over a section of older, fainter rails that run beneath and beyond a set of locked gates. Ahead, to my right, a white signal box, Barrow Road, the tarmac around it cut and patched, and the white gates of a level crossing, manually operated, the road unlatched, the railway closed.
I scribble a few lines on an A4 sheet folded to A6, things copied from signs, apparent certainties, naive speculations. I am writing in my own shadow and the words are on the slide. It is a night letter, to be memorised and not read, posted and not delivered. I fold the sheet inside the map and tuck the map inside my fleece. I take the map out of my fleece and trace a red thread in a blue-white square. I walk to the level crossing and back to the signal box. The port has several entrances, goods in transit, goods in storage, all of it is property and marked as property. I pick the least unlikely passage through the port, a long, straight road, flanked, on the right, by a long, grey shed. The road is cut in half by a one-armed swing barrier, which I tiptoe around. Each step is less certain than the last. There are few markings on the road, a black and yellow line, a broken white line. An unbroken white line runs ahead of me, inside left, turning as the road turns, I try to think of it as a defence, a legal defence, if I hold to the line and do not leave. The line passes other lines, thick, important lines, thinner lines, borders within borders. Some of the zones have arrows and stripes. I don’t look at the zones, I don’t enter the zones. There is a light in front of me, a control cabin at the dock’s edge, and a sound, a throat being cleared. I pass the cabin and follow the line between two warehouses. The road turns and the light dies behind it, there is a lack of clarity. I see crates and timber to my right and more warehouses further off. I see an unmarked path trailing through rough ground, climbing out of the silos and stacks, the fences come up on both sides, then fan out as the slope meets the foreshore, the map’s last square.
The dust blanketing
weathered pallets, the dry bulk
each trespass lies another
and all the paths withdrawing.
Barton-upon-Humber to New Holland, 14 August 2016
Terminal is the second instalment of a serial work; the first instalment is Sheet 112. An earlier version of Terminal was produced as an artist’s book for Trespass, an exhibition at SIA Gallery, Sheffield, 30 November – 22 December 2018.
Some of the poems in Terminal appear in Uniformannual, which also includes contributions from John Bevis, Peter Blegvad, Kevin Boniface, Janet Boulton, Angus Carlyle, J. R. Carpenter, Rebecca Chesney, Les Coleman, Simon Cutts, Caitlin DeSilvey, Michael Hampton, Matthew Kelly, Cathy Lane, Phil Owen, Colin Sackett, Dawn Scarfe, Tim Staples, Gertrude Stein, Erica Van Horn, Ian Waites, Nathan Walker, Tom Wilkinson, and Ken Worpole. Click here for further details and to order the book.