After the Valley Was Flooded

Having left, she learned again the shape of fields,
new names for birds, the way another town
clung to the hillside, then fanned out
running roads across slopes, drawing trains
from powerful cities.  Marrying, she became fluent
in her new place, as rivers were
the same and not the same, altering course.

There was a blue brooch once, lost for ever
on a careless morning, rocks for children
who climbed and laughed as gulls called,
a father’s crumpling smile – all different
in this new world where old shapes lost their force.
At night, she dreamed of distant bells.  By day
the unused words twisted about her heart.

*

in memoriam Mrs Rebecca Rolfe

 died, 21st March, 1617 and buried at Gravesend
  (Mrs Rolfe was also known as Matoaka and Pocahontas)

 

Imagination sends her packing.  We’ve no place
for all that brightness on a dull Kent coast.
She’s the stuff of dreams, of otherwheres;
she’s what we travel for – we’d need a raree show
to bring her home.  Out on the edge,
she’s set for shipping, inconveniently
stowed in a wooden box.

   So she’s lowered,
mute, into Kentish soil.  She longed to travel,
to explore her dreams and see our otherwhere,
the brightness of our distant lives.
Starting to learn our ways, she died.  And then
we gave her earth, a  box, an incised stone.

 

*

Municipal Swimming Pool, Chevilly Larue

      Not equality – but here at least
different standards apply.  Of course, beauty
      can preen expectant at the pool’s edge
for brief admiration.  But wealth matters less –
      though we paid to get in, it’s true,
and water costs more than we think (elsewhere, this
      would be far more than Aladdin’s cave).
But nonetheless here, in France, the fairly poor
      and fairly rich have a space to share
and lose, briefly at least, distinctions of caste.
      What matters then?  Skill and strength must count:
the perfect dive, tumbling through air and water,
      attracts notice, and pleasure is gained
through health and practice.  And yes, labour supports
      this pleasure, parents worry, the old
and infirm and ill are absent.  So it’s
      not innocence, not quite – but a place
where friendships grow and children learn and there’s peace
      of a kind.  There are sirens outside
but the water holds us, frees us to lie back
      and gaze on unobtrusive sparrows
or the low planes, armed and heading somewhere else.

 

*

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