Beachy Head

Karen Ironside

Ironside’s creative flow is captivated through her pieces Beachy Head, School Reunion, Sea View, Collective Nouns and others. We are given an insight into Ironside’s perspective of the world; in the form of day-to-day life, as well as through her interpretation of the natural beauty encompassed by the sea.


Beachy Head

Look down at the chalk,

see how white it is, how

pure, soft sediment once 

submerged in protective 

waters, free from sand

and silty imperfections. Edge 

closer, look again, flint

lacerates the layers,

each returning tide 

exposes and erodes 

until the fractured 

façade cracks and






to rest on the sea floor.

School reunion

We assemble in the hall 

at seven, prayers unsaid,

judgement dispensed

in tumblers of Prosecco.

Shuffling for recognition,

unfamiliar faces mirror 

gravity and reaped

decades surround hips.

Our shared history is secured

to a board with Blu-tack,

uniformly grey, we smile 

at ourselves smiling back.

The passed have been enlarged,

everyday photo paper, glossy.

For a moment we remember,

with canapés from the Co-op. 

Then I see you, beaming,

in the shadow of the bars

where the ropes used to 

hang, a pixelated reminder

of an imagined future.

Sea view

He sits motionless 

guardsman straight 

on discoloured bench

gnawed by south-westerlies.

A lone Adonis blue flitters

through an explosion

of dropwort white

rooted in chalky down.

Passing cumulus


conceal wave crests 

which rear up excitedly

as pearly shards of light

energise the Channel,

silhouetted trawlers chop east 

looking for brill.

He stirs,

so slightly,

fingertips touching, inhaling


salt spray

speckles his lips,

a trace of wild thyme 

caresses his throat.

Gulls nearing


cry rain.

He sighs,

his Labrador 

rises to leave,


without words.

Collective Nouns

An aggression of drivers

queue at barriers

where road crosses racecourse,

for the 3:20 auction stakes,

three-year-olds and upwards.

In adjacent fields, sheep stop

snacking, to convene

for a better view, past

shrouded caravans,

propped by bricks,

a shadow of van dwellers

concealed by threadbare curtains.

Out of sight, 

the race start is announced 

by shuddering ground.

An obesity of happy meal 

cartons dance in the gutter

as a blur of thoroughbreds

muscle over Wilson Avenue,

led by Collective Nouns,

a stride away 

from home.

Road reopened,

traffic steers clear,

sheep resume disinterest.

Scenes from Brighton beach


Silhouettes stretch

on umbilical boards,

aimed at the horizon,

arms paddling, 

ready to turn, allegro, 

wake the day.


Kids drip 



a woman flip-flops 

around her beached partner, 

prone on his back,

years of beer spill 

over his Speedos. 

Basted in cream, he roasts,

she’ll serve him with chips

later in the day.


Herring gulls argue

about takeaway carcasses,

mouthing salt and vinegar.

Palace pier 

radiates fizzing shingle,

advancing water

spews out its human cocktail,

swallowing another day. 


He loves ultramarine blue, 

essence of open water,

yes, it can be grey

or lavender, 

  soft viridian,

but ultramarine 

makes shadows,

reflections between waves,

creates energy in the sea.

My childhood walls

were decked with seascapes,

glimpses of chalk, 

arches, stacks,

sweeping empty beaches,

but mostly a watery expanse,

a cold bluish hue.

He’s animated,

mixing colours,

his lifetime adventure.

He smiles at me,

beckons to his easel,

the sea, 

a mix of earthy yellows,

flecks of cadmium red.

Harsh words

To clear my head and rid the verbal clutter, 

I loaded my vernacular and proceeded to the tip.

Splitting woody words from tinny ones, 

I bagged everything acidic 

for later safe disposal.

Foul and abusive language was not tolerated

so I had to take it back.

Metaphors recycled, 

I dropped citations 

in the bucket for quotations as I left. 

The clean and virtually new 

I donated to charity, 

with a little French bric-à-brac

before heading home.

I placed your harsh words

silently in the dishwasher,

and fed the kids 

toast and Alphabetti Spaghetti.


On days leaden mist

cloaks the horizon

step barefoot on shingle

let stones sting your soles

jump down steep inclines

to chattering cold seas

walk in raw water

‘til you can’t feel your toes

let seaweed coil tightly

cling to your skin

pick shells for their sharpness

clutch in wet hands

wait for the tide

to ebb,


On days leaden mist

cloaks the horizon

step barefoot on shingle

until you find sand. 



Karen Ironside


brightONLINE student literary journal

21 Jun 2017