Lyme Regis

This poem won Peoples Choice in 2-Day Poem Contest 2013

I walk the Cobb Jane Austen strolled. The old Assembly

Rooms are gone, where once chess players and marriageable

young misses each played their gambit. Sea-bathing machines

no longer trundle from the shore. I see wave-tips sparked

by sun, but no lady-bathers’ heads as the sturdy dippers

dip them and they, dripping, emerge in their modest muslin. 


Looking over beach to the hanging cliffs, it’s Mary Anning’s

Lyme I picture. The wild places she clambered, knowing

each handhold, where scrubby tufts of bush clung

to dirt and rock. She was quick afoot, shifting weight nimble

as an aerialist—high-wire or trapeze—defying Blue Lias

landslides to dig out monsters and dragons-teeth, challenging

her own deep faith by what these creatures might mean. 

She’d sell her curios for a bob or two, curtsey and kowtow

to the gentlemen geologists, of higher rank but none

her better in intellect, in curiosity. They sucked her brain

said Mary, the world had used her ill. 


She led them through fossil beds, corrected wrong surmises, yet

“a very clever funny Creature,” some dubbed Mary Anning,

a curiosity herself. Her class divided her, plumb-line clean,

from those like Austen’s Louisa, her un-nimble stairway tumble.

And from those gentlemen and their sententious pendantry.

But her zeal was to seek, to know. She traced with relish

the anatomy of devil’s fingers, ink in chambered shells.

She fitted vertebrae to vertebrae, reconstructing fish lizard,

near lizard, sea dragon, flying dragon


With my magpie eye and unscientific mind, I’m most drawn

to the serpent stones, their curves, their oil-slick neon nacre

sheen. Here they’re underfoot: rocaille and coquille carved

in the museum plaza floor, truest rococo. And a limestone

stretch of beach, ammonite graveyard, is studded with coiled

traces. Polished to gems, they become “dragon’s skin,” “stained

glass.” Like the windows of St. Michael’s, acts of mercy coloured

for Mary Anning, final gift of those who grudged her recognition

in life. But she’d won a name and deserved it, Dickens lauded. 


Lyme’s ammonites are mud-hued. Worlds away—Madagascar,

Alberta—the jewel-toned ones are found. And Somerset bone

beds yield pearly fossil shells. St. Audries Bay and Kilve

are scarce 50 miles from Lyme but were, for Mary in her poverty,

as far as the stars would have been. Her eyes stayed fixed

instead on deepest time, her fossil record Duria Antiquior.