‘Clearing’

A good friend of mine, Linda Moss, emailed me early this morning. We had, on Friday, been mourning the inauguration of ‘President Trump’ and all that he symbolises, so in her email, she has reminded me of the final lines of my poem ‘Clearing’. Linda, I’m grateful to you – and I still believe it!

Clearing

The greatest gift is what the river has taught her –
to be silent, and to listen
                             SUZY GABLIK

She has come again to the river.
It is November and the forecast,
like the sky, says snow. She has the day
before her. She takes in her hand a stone
from the riverbank and offers it a silent prayer.
Then she pulls her beret down over her ears
and casts her eyes along the river. The water
flows where it can around the sofa
and supermarket trolley, bearing slowly along
fast-food debris, cardboard boxes, tin cans.
She puts on a pair of thermal, and then rubber,
gloves, shakes out her first bin bag and begins.

She works for six hours.

Condoms. Newspaper. An old hairbrush.
A baby’s cot. A curtain rail. Oil cans.
Some kind of car engine that will need a winch.
And bottles, most of them broken.

When it begins to snow – feathery, falling soft
on scrubby branches, the sofa, her quilted coat –
she pauses to listen: all sounds are closer now.

It is not cold enough yet to freeze the river.
But her feet are numb in their three pairs of socks
and their Wellington boots. Over the footbridge
that spans the roadside and park, people walk –
with their dogs; alone; in pairs; in huddles.

Once, a boy threw over the side a drinks can:
it splashed just yards ahead of her. She called to him:
‘You’ve dropped your tin.’

He turned back, saw her standing there in the river,
holding her binbag, the water around her ankles,
and came back to lean over the rail. A second boy
swigged the last of his coke and, holding it for a moment
between thumb and forefinger, dropped the can at her feet
so that it bounced a little on the filmy surface of the water.
‘Whoops,’ he said, his eyebrows angling like a clown’s.
And the two boys hung there, surveying her, while she
struggled with her own turbulence. Fearing words, she
instead bent before them and placed the cans
into her bag, and moved on.

It is not difficult for her to imagine the river
as a vein running through her own body.
She is blood-clearing. She is purifying
her own fluids. She is increasing healthy flow
so that the body may thrive again.

The snow sanctifies every turn of this waterway,
every blade of spiky grass, every boulder. Even the sofa –
its rotting base, its faded beige upholstery – is adorned
with a white sprinkling along its arms and headrest.
It tempts her to sit, mid-stream, as the twilight deepens
and listen to the sound of snow falling.

Too dark now. She is on her way home.
Her feet squeak in the snow as she walks
and her thoughts are ahead of her: make tea
in the pot, eat hot potato and gingerbread,
lie in a bath of suds for an hour.

She thinks of the sofa, a defunct thing
dumped in the shallows of the river.
She tries to picture the family who owned it
tipping it down the bank and watching it tumble
and she wonders whether anything stirred
within them as they drove off, their sofa
abandoned there in the river.

The heart goes through periods of sinking
but that is never the time to stop.
It is the time to sing.


From Going Gentle (Gomer, 2007) 
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