River of Nepenthe
Idle flightless birds are never conscious that their own song is noise
For to be that hum is the lack of relevance, of self-poise
Upon a plinth reserved for even the daintiest of speakers;
Which is where, upon that hill, the house on stilts would liefer be:
To creak and made sway like a tilt-tapped cigar
Rather than pushed by quieter winds unjustifiably far.
This house I was born in mirrored my own infirm legs,
Imposing its shape on meadow lawn, and clothes held by pegs
To the washing line blown by a familial breeze.
Irony would crush emergent flowers with brazen knees,
Fawning toes perturbed dropworts and dewdrops to boot
Exploring the bog-wash pond with tentative foot!
Campions and geraniums beside the reed-bank grow
Next to sunbathing lizards and reptiles warmed slow
Through which pink-legged I ploughed with rocks as a guide.
Braying heron met with overlapped hands, away I shied;
Trembling legs pushed up to the stalk-leg sky:
Muted heron beats feather to take off and fly.
Cutting through novelty like crossed bronze-age knives
And to have experienced all that, before ageing five,
But to take all in: a balloon-burst-with-pin weary
Grateful was I to find resting rubber ring near me.
So in I clamber with legs hurled over the side,
Kicking to propel myself around in my reed-bed hide.
Rotating in circles, I begin to settle
Copying unseen creatures of noise whistling kettle,
Crying out in a dumb voice, inspired—I sing,
Ensconced in my rubber vehicle, my rest-friendly ring:
“Oh, the Familiar, the unspoken comforts of home—”
Before I notice, however I am far from alone.
Oh, to miss it before, the nature of the Rocks;
Their faces and features induced quite a shock,
Accustomed I became though—faces of well-wished neighbour
Which is why when I stumbled my injury was not graver.
Furrowed granite brows, tightly lipped faces—
Those known to me were braided with cursory places,
For despite study friends, my pool has an edge;
A subliminal flex, I kick by accident to fledge
Down a canal; why I just passed over a weir!
That held dear runs through water so clear!
Stumble and tumble do I down the Frome,
Rubber ring taking rôle of unstable home.
Salt-laden tears become brackish
Faces change from genial to mischievous spies;
Open their mouths to engendered surprise.
But then, solace! And event rather outlandish!
Eccentric orbits link courting damselflies
Moving over head and above as my hair dries.
Delineating the torrent adjacent the river
Blue arrows reverse and return to quiver;
A footpath contrasts bumpy ride
But to criticise their rest here seemed ill, if not snide.
So even I could not tell them off to dither
When through unknown will they guided me hither.
Torrents they tread and through river turned wide,
For their help—and for the second time—I hid face and cried.
And again, saved from collision by damsel in reverse:
Reflections off unfamiliar rocks and possibly worse.
I slow to an old man, hunched with beard dipped in water;
A lonely man, seemingly, without father nor daughter;
His fingers caressing the water’s fragile surface
In order to break mirror of figure amorphous.
I cry: ” Excuse me Old Father, sitting on your stony mound?”
No response: choosing not to proffer himself a questionable sound.
I try: “what are you doing to make the water so still
from little over there, sat atop your own hill?”
He turns and stares at me with the greyest of old eyes
Which yield neither fear, nor terror; neither secrets nor lies.
“I keep the gate of the sluice at this weir—
Controlling the water such that it’s neither stagnant nor clear,
I can let you past such that you flow over the top
Or cast you a rope to the damsel path, if decide you to stop.”
He riddles: ” at any rate you can choose to stay but a while
let not it be said I habit to beguile:
the path ahead is more rough and menacing than before
but those who take it become rich, not self-poor.”
I make up my mind, and without saying a thing
Wet spindle hands turn rusty wheel to a spin;
Passing under the gate, I look back to a face of part moss
I barely knew; inside I register a small feeling of loss.
Down I plunge into cold swirling eddy
A brief dip before ring comes to ready.
Sputtering water and expelling with gurgle
I make haste o’er every-changing hurdle.
Turning back, a blue speck catches my eye
Floating along with me, I squint and try
To look closer; wings folded parallel to body,
Stilled damsel carried by water turned ruddy
And oh! For all that, what means to an end!
For mine own, I totter to pick beech leaf hung low
To try and scoop up iridescent friend in tow;
Held not by rope but by a will taut line;
Kept by strand of thread of mortal twine.
Holding infinity in a palm-made boat
Along with drops of wreath ready moat
I take my leaf balanced head over high
To lofty environs and again—to a damsel-filled sky!
Raindrops precipitate my fall from terra infirma;
Rubber ring deflates, no longer possessing fervour.
Or rather, longer legs are tired of being flotsam;
Of being carried and turned like petals of blossom
Floating like cloche-hats, lapped at the periphery,
Crinkled as if worn every day to age-old misery.
Plunging over weir was worth the risk
Far better than walking across path by manner brisk,
But for a moment, to sit and take stock,
To go home and just once peep through lock—
So with wet legs I climb on to the bank
Where wooden posts line up in rank
Around cottage with “Wolf’s Lair” nailed to grandiose gate,
Toppled off one hinge, a lofty king in checkmate.
I place the leaf upon rocky altar
And ready my own legs to ensure they don’t falter,
So up the stable path, I leave Wolf’s Lair
Back to the sluice gate; two eyes stair:
An old branch pair of healing occlusions,
I am now under but one of many illusions
The Old Man was but a lichen-adorned yew
With supporting trunk bent down from true,
Young basal shoots reach to tap water;
Meristems without father, nor producing daughter.
Tied to twisted bough brought low, an electric ribbon
Invoking fluttering memories of striking vision.
But when last I passed by, I do believe I heard him say
In a whisper, and from my ring on that day:
“If you wish to know the places you are going
Know well which crops one reaps, and which ones are for sowing—
Look from tribute to mouth, and between that range
Whether immutable surroundings offset personal change;
And if so, when reach you the Old World tropics, come back to tell Me,
If you plucked for yourself a time-catching Nepenthes.”