Deep Waters: Burnt Umber

Today's post in our ongoing Deep Waters series is a new poem from Em Strang.
was Dark Mountain's poetry editor from 2014-2016 and spearheaded Issue 10 - Uncivilised Poetics. Bird-Woman (Shearsman, 2016) won the 2017 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her second collection, Horse-Man( Shearsman, 2019), was shortlisted for the Ledbury Munthe prize for Best Second Collection. Her first novel, Quinn, was published by Oneworld in 2023.

‘The Worker’ is painted in oil:
the ingrain yarn of his hands,
every fine line between finger and thumb
demarcated. His life line
veers off at a tangent
as though it’s onto something
he knows nothing about.

Between the rig and the kitchen table,
the ocean. Only the sea-birds
are pencilled in his book
and one or two comments
without question marks. It’s oil
and bread and the harsh squawk
of the gulls that make him up,

some foreign artist’s Romantic impulse.
In the top left-hand corner
of the painting, a quarter
of the window. I imagine
he’s been looking out all morning,
trying to gauge the extent of the damage.
But the spill is a different country.


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