Alexa Turnpenney

By Dan Carpenter

Whelk Harvesting, Occupied Spaces and Stages of a Wave.

Illustration by Michael Thorp

Illustration by Michael Thorp

Whelk Harvesting

The harbour is grey. I lodge myself between the whelk pots
and reach out to stroke the barnacles on the underside
of a boat. I dig through the pots, feeling the ridges of the shells

and imagining how their creamy colour will look in full light.
I think the harbour is dying. At night it is gutted out; the nets
flick at the wind like shredded flags and I am alone staring

at the remaining boats. I wonder if fishermen’s wives whisper
about the countless sailors lost at sea, about salted lungs
shrivelling and fish mouths sucking at blue flesh. I turn

the whelk in my hands, feel the weight of a lone shell
and the vast bed it left, deserted as the harbour
and beaded with the slick residue of a single snail trail.

Occupied Spaces


I grew up in the in-betweens; in doorways, on staircases,
the crux of every room. I learned the half-leg-stretch
before I knew the words, turned my body in on itself
before I realised my limbs had names and there were words
for the table legs I wrapped myself around; before I knew
we were separate, before I learned the extent of myself. I grew;
up to mum’s waist, her chin, her forehead, then over the top.
We marked it on the wall in pencil and I was my own space
then, notched onto paint for evidence. My own threshold,
between mum and dad. I mushroomed up and out.
New lumps and bumps, renovated rooms. Expansion,
or my parents downsizing. I pass my dad’s chin and look up
to the ceiling for new heights, new spaces.


It is the space you leave when you are not where
you were expected; the kitchen at dinner, on stairs
as they creak, by the magazine on the sofa unskimmed.

Usually, you exist. You arrive, you leave and punctuate
the space. In light switch flicks and bum pressed seats,
you own every inch. You make a stage of this place,

a game. So now it is the smallness of our biggest room
(the lounge, with its arched high ceilings), compared
to the sun-size of you. It is the big black hole you’ve left.


Boxed up, moving out.
Bent cardboard edges and the husks
of everything I’ve ever owned.

The room is stopped. No light
from unplugged lamps, or beeps
from bubblewrapped clocks, radios,
no beats from a waterless fish tank.
I am left with the skins;

yards of old packaging strewn across the mattress,
like abandoned mollusc shells on the beach.

Stages of a Wave


Six years and all too much. Fights
which loop themselves into knots
and repeat; arguments that spread
out like a coastal shelf.
Remember that time at the sea,
when the salt nested in our hair
for weeks – we didn’t ever want
to wash it out? The day
we swam, seamless and in time,
together, out into the cold.


It is the beach we grew up on,
where waves break, brittle
at this distance
and we can feel the North Sea rumble.
When the water’s world looks small and grey and unreal,
and when I find more rhythm
in the ripples of hair across your arms;
that is when I know you.

Brace your skin against the wind
and you shall sweep me up,
I want everything about you to be mine;
black eye marbles, freckles I want to watch
until they spread out as liver spots,
the way you pull words out from under my tongue,
your cracked lips,
lavender and opening out in the cold.

Alexa is 23 and lives in West Yorkshire. She has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester

Posted Thursday, March 21st, 2013

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