Caught by the River


Jelle Cauwenberghs | 13th June 2015

A poem by Jelle Cauwenberghs

It’s in the sighting of a merlin,
A stonechat clutching an old sagging fence,
The dog dragging a stained femur through ruby-red grass.

It’s in the gruff nod, a homesteading sorrow
Soaking the scruff of the neck,
Like rain seeping down the
Collar-flap of your oilskin tucked in,
But forever there, unfolding in your hunched back.

It’s in this raided shoreline, a reiver’s serpentine country
The shelter of a collapsed sheepfold, a jumble of cobbles and gorse,
The smudged, salt-and-pepper coat of a burr-haired pony,
Black galloways trudging in the marshes, herding their young.

It’s in the heron tidy in the shallow brook,
The crook deftly hooked around the ewe’s neck,
An early lamb rotated elbow-deep in the dark womb,
The speckled snipe-egg gleaned in a tussock, all that fine-tuning.

It’s conker memory, scattered and picked up hap-hazard,
The unsung splendour of plain and unceremonious places.

It’s that cycle-ride with saddle bags, OS map pulp-wet in your pocket
The old thieving trail to a pronged hawthorn tree, from there
A pot-holed lane, and behind the lean of hedge, a heathen cemetery
Woodland of tall chestnuts uprooting unmarked Quaker gravestones.

It resonates in the station master’s announcements,
And the brickwork basking in the screeching of a train,
Knowing where the rivers are, and arriving.

It’s dormant in the peat, the burial chamber of curs and bronze-age soldiers
The journeymen layered like copper leaves beneath the bog,
The club-rush, the crowberry and the drooping heather,
The cloak, the curled-up fawn, the tinker.

It swims in the water gnawing at slick grey stone
Whittling wintered wood into brittle imitations of swans,
Nudging the neglected wheel at a gristmill by a weir,
Swirling white-flecked and fur-brown,
Crimping around the pillars of a bridge:
Stone-stepping, time, traverse.