Not of Longing, But of Light
This piece was commissioned by SIRIUS Arts Centre, February 2021
To listen to the sound piece made in tandem with this text, go here.
Before I came here, three artists who had previously visited told me that the place was ‘haunted’. I didn’t understand. One said that the entire town felt haunted, that its history shadowed the place like a cloud. I don’t know what haunted means in a literal sense, but the more I look for traces the more I understand the ways that residues of history can linger. Perhaps that is a haunting in its most literal sense, and I begin to wonder if grief can enter a place the same way it enters a body.
I came here to be alone at the darkest curve of the year, to be by the sea, where I could write and record in a three-hundred-year old building that once housed the world’s oldest yacht club. The mosaic tiles of the balcony and the wide Italianate arches look out of place in the grey Irish harbour. The apartment’s garden is small and ends with stone steps down into the water, where day and night small tug boats and huge slow container vessels glide back and forth past the window. Most days I wake before sunrise and feel I am caught in a dream.
The morning a seagull dropped a narrow blue fish about the length of my forearm into the grass, I realised I was living in an in-between place, one that is not quite comfortably of land or water. Procrastinating, I moved between rooms like a ghost myself. Most nights it’s very still and I’m aware of every sound: my breathing, the creaks of the storage heaters, gulls that swoop and caw past the windows. And, of course, the sea, which feels so close it almost laps against the walls, pulsing like a lullaby.
I learnt about ‘Heartbreak Pier’ from a framed photograph in the lobby of the WatersEdge Hotel on a rainy day in early January when I was too tired to cook and a sign outside told me the kitchen was still open for takeaway. It is a black and white depiction of the decaying structure I’d noticed from the promenade, tucked away by the fireplace in a small dusty frame. The caption told me that it earned its colloquial name, ‘Heartbreak Pier’ — I have also since heard it referred to as ‘The Pier of Tears’ — because it was the last point from which passengers for the RMS Titanic departed on an April morning in 1912, before the liner sank three days later.
The next morning I took my notebook out to the promenade, stood by ‘Heartbreak Pier’ and watched the cormorants dive and break the surface of the water. It’s always strange to witness a site of wildly fabled history up close. What’s left of its structure looks so delicate now, a perch for gulls, speckled with yellow lichens. It doesn’t look like it can withstand much more of the winter waves lapping against its beams. It’s strange to see a structure like this fall into disrepair, a ghost in itself, when elsewhere traces of the very history it represents are pasted on the walls of restaurants and memorialised in plaques and commemorative gardens. I suppose there’s a dissonance here I understand; this practice of holding so tightly to something while also wanting, desperately, to let it go.