Sea Change by P.Q.R. Anderson 

Sea Change by P.Q.R. Anderson


to the accreted


resolving as sand

again in the gills

the sea is turbid silver,

attended by birds

of the by-catch, not

a net cast

to the other side,

but like the last

stone, overkill.

These chrome fish

brought to burn

their gills in air,

winched aboard,

become a tonnage

shrouded in rags,


and to each its

parasitic worm

or hitch-snail.

In that bright


begin: cartilaginous

mouths mouthing

prayers of a people,

gills evolving

transit wings.

Who is it walks

on the shore

calling the shoals’

shadows as if

from the heights?

Why elect

these men,

these fish,

to multiply

the word at the fire

lit on the sand,

to feed the congregant


Now the sturgeon

and cod are collapsed.

We begin

in this well-

oiled protein,

provender of

gully and trap,

the walled tides,


the fish otoliths

found inland

in compacts

of carbon and dung,

our caves,

and cast

our thought far

onto the shelves

where the great

birds blow

over the mown


to the flooded

caves we knew

how long ago

in the morning


Now reckoned

by plastic milled

to a yet


dust of itself

or the ubiquity

of chicken bones,

we are our own

likely and sudden


who have netted

the currents

in that plastic


and built a new shore

of flip-flop

and nylon and nothing

will get it out,

but still

rake the floor

of the krill-fecund


for the smaller

and smaller fry

while the by-catch


in winged clouds

out of Dante

over the dredge

of a more-or-less


inhuman umami.

One day

we will construe


and be read

into the record

of the sea-change

as those

who browned the waters

and hauled

the drowned birds

aboard on our barbs,

if we survive.

Yet somehow we pray

the pods will outlast

as we settle

among our congener

chicken bones and plastic


knowing some deeper

deep, and singing

across miles of it

the elegies

asked of the ages

of the age

of our unmercy.

P.Q.R. Anderson has published three volumes, Litany Bird, Foundling’s Island, and a long poem In a Free State: A Music (“Destined to be a landmark in South African poetry” – J.M. Coetzee). He is the recipient of South Africa’s Thomas Pringle Prize for Poetry (2018) and the Sanlam Literary Award (2006), and was runner-up in the Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize of Canberra University in 2017, judged by Simon Armitage, and in The Rialto/RSPB “Nature and Place” competition in 2020. He teaches English at the University of Cape Town. His work has appeared in The London Magazine, Denver Quarterly, TEXT, The Rialto, New Contrast, New Coin, and other magazines.