The Pilot

Stunned by an off-keel tip –
but that was part of the deal
of any such heaved pull
under the pilot’s minimal steer
of his salt-pressed gig crew –

then the high wave-slams of
the clinker-laid hardwood boat
upon the vast ship’s tarred hull –
as if beating upon the pregnant
belly of a dark leviathan

Those men had won the right
to pull alongside – to profit –
to earn their paid return to the
dark harbour’s pints of succour –
but only with the turn of the tide

by half a dozen oars in that boat
timed by a hundred – or more –
counted out from the hefted launch
to that last profitable throw of rope
onto the huge ship of strangers

Feathering

It’s not the same pull or heave
as it was in my rowed youth –

no – this is chalk-and-flint stuff
below fast streams and run-offs

I am far removed from the flow
of the Thames through London

I now dig at the Ouse’s history
of dead poets and burning barrels

where no old boys or public schools
oversteer on her narrow channel

We aim to somehow fly
with the feather of our honest oars –

in a boat designed for work –
not built for pots or snobbery

The Impatient Plant

The Himalayan Balsam’s scent
clogs – a laundry swill of smells –

lingering – invasive – out-of-place –
underlining the call to action –

Since its foolish introduction
it’s no longer welcome here

Almost sticky – swollen with pollen –
it waits with near-primed seeds

until it fires ripe-wide explosions
finding further incursions

Balsam Bashing – its removal –
is now a nationwide fixation –

The bent stem-cutters – the pullers –
are impatient traditionalists

who tug – with gardening gloves –
working hard at their final solution

Above the Weir

The kayak wobbled
on the tamed river
as we paddled –
but out of time –
past bikini-strapped girls
and kids your age
whom we sat above
in our inflated craft

Within ten minutes
we had found
the quiet normality
of an unbroken tension
where water boatmen
skated in spurts –
here dragonflies dipped
to a secret dance
above our bright bow

We kept time for a while
and then you gave up
to let me drag routes
around low branches
and through narrowings –
I briefly quit with pain
so we were set adrift
against the nothing current
below the next weir

You held the ropes
as I tried to lift my weight
from the muddy berth –
but my legs could not do
what legs should do
so I dragged myself
up the herd-worn bank –
gripping grass clumps
to bring me ashore

I hold the memory
of that recent evening
as fondly as those of my youth
when I lived for the Thames
and her sly currents –
when I could cross
the tops of weirs –
but now I am reduced
to the sloth of the Ouse.

Rise

She is slow – the River Ouse –
running muddied below Lewes –
there a capricious millpond –
but when she swells

under storms – off streams
Bevern and Northend
and the quick River Uck –
she reverts to ancient freshet –

swift to rise to redress
the forgotten flood meadows
now supplanted by tarmac –
She rushes such mistakes –

And then a stagnant retreat –
like some unabashed lover –
She leaves a long odour –
she is loathed-to-recede

and keep to the contract
made by tide charts and maps –
to stay inside banks and bends
without the town’s walls

E21018