the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2010



Patrick Henry


Time back, country parts gave names to ways we act:
Power, the sun. Moon, mystery. Stars, arrays of hope.
Clouds, doubt. Mist, evasion. Rain, relief
For thirst in throats, and the land's need to grow.

Ice gripped the earth. Fire burned in air.
Wind blew sky high, or crashed hopes down.
Trees thrust strength. Hills reached high aims.
Plains stretched plans. River and sea bore trade.

Apples spelt The Fall. Nuts, the mad. Grapes, bitterness.
The rose, beauty. Lilies, the idle. Violets, shyness
Horses meant force. The bull, boldness.
Fox, stealth. Crows, theft. Trout, still calm.

All shut off now, beyond tight new windows,
In cars speeding past views, scarce glanced upon;
Or double-glazed in the house returned to, where no birdsong,
Or breeze pierces. Machines micro-whisk junk meals;

Or contact on-line chat; switch on tinny music;
Screen videos, of star drama, or soap trash. Who cares?
Answers once came from the grain of the earth.
Now they lie in the media. Rawness keeps its metaphors.


Sermons in Stones

     (R.S. Thomas, 1913-2000)

His lean shape spare as a herdsman's crook,
Curved in a question mark carved from that coast.
All times I spent in his land: a harsh sentence
Enjambed in his bleak lines, a sombre lesson,
Chilling thoughts stuck for an answer
To that dense mix of sadness and joking
In the Welsh character, deep to fathom
After hours in rough pubs, on hearing
Workers, fiddlers, scholars, building up
Wild nights of banter, way past shouts of time.
Such kinds never weary, bred from
Celt tribes surviving on fells in the rain,
Ice, fog, invading. The terse grain of his verse
Tough as flint from that uncommon priest.


Across the Lake

In vast sky over lakeland trees, that clenched shape rising,
Must be a hawk? No! Far huger, surely, to grasp
In tensed claws, its seized prey that still writhes;
To vanish fast, and leave to wonder all I'd seen.
No rodent caught, but a fin-tailed fish, amazed,
Thrust high in dry air, as though sharply gaffed
By this dark-plumed, white-flecked predator.
A lakesman when told, felt I'd watched an osprey lift a pike.

I recalled the other day, Anna stepped on the lake's thin ice,
To scorn my warning. Then a sharp crack split that frail skin.
A slow, startled heron bundled off, to fish upstream.
The next time, she doubted my fears to canoe the windswept lake,
But take a tougher craft. Even so, we'd struggle to reach back.
Across the lake, an ancient medics' museum held
Skulls pierced in battle, or by strokes cut to release
Brain storms: to wonder how the mind might work.

Nearby, the blackened peat bog man, perfect in death, gazed on.
Rowing back, my muscles strained to fight the current and storm force.
Reaching home, exhausted, battered, in the wind-smashed reeds,
We touched chilled faces close, drawn near, by landing safe.
All threats outside thwarted, she'd fall to a bad growth inside.
At her funeral day, that lakesman standing by me, said
"You were lucky that day to see the osprey, fishing
From our lake. Remember that now you are going away."



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