Caught by the River

Lifted: A poem by Jo Bell

18th June 2016

Lock 30, Trent & Mersey Canal

The land says – come uphill: and water says
I will. But take it slow.

A workman’s ask and nothing fancy –
Will you? Here’s an answer, engineered.

A leisurely machine, a box of oak and stone;
the mitred lock, the water’s YES.

We’re stopped. The bow bumps softly
at the bottom gate, and drifts.

All water wants, all water ever wants,
is to fall. So, we use the fall to lift us,

make of water its own tool, as simple
as a crowbar or a well-tied knot;

open up the paddles, let it dam and pucker,
swell and with it, lift us like a bride, a kite,

a wanted answer, breath no longer held
or like a boat. We’re on our way

and rising. Water rushes in like fools;
these tonnages that slip across the cill,

all dirty-bottle green and gathering,
the torrent rushing to release itself, a giddy hurl

then slower, slow until it ends in glassy bulges,
hints of aftermath: a cool and thorough spending.

Wait, then, for the shudder in the gate,
the backward-drifting boat that tells you

there and here are level, an imbalance
righted. Ask of it – water, help me rise

and water says I will.


Jo Bell is a former Canal Laureate and the writer behind ‘The Slow Machine’, a BBC Radio 4 programme which weaves soundscape and words into a documentary poem of canal life. The piece will be broadcast on Sunday 19th June at 4.30pm, with a repeat on Sat 25th June at 11.30pm. More information can be found on the BBC website.