Caught by the River

The Giant: a poem by Jelle Cauwenberghs

Jelle Cauwenberghs | 15th March 2018

His skull is an unruly garden,
wet and wonderful with ice and rust.

Time is his groundskeeper.
It hops around on frog-legs, pits stone, seeds
buttergold marsh marigolds and sweet pignut,
while the giant sleeps.
A tall fern grows from a nostril and he forgot
his grotesque, misshapen hat in a pine, once.
It bristles and cronks with glee.

His ribs are a bone house. His thighs are boggy knolls.
The mossy well of his ear spirals to a chill,
clean cistern. We whisper to it,
beaked and whiskered, blind like moles.
Sun or moon, we croon our lunacy, turtle
coo our feral lust.

We’re not ill, like the others,
who do not know this hill,
who only know it as a dark, dark hill – who do not see.
We’re not like them, at all.

You can see us in the fen – nightblue
sisters, trails of smoke like sleeveless shifts, spooked
adders and hares, adrift across the dimple where
his chest caved in like cloud-grey slate,
and left the spunky earth a sponge.

A storm-toppled chestnut crushed one of his elders,
a long, trembling eyelash – an owling elm,
white as a corpse. Wasp-stung,
furiously all mother, a vixen dens
beneath the tangled wood in spring.

The rustling you hear is him.
The wind is him, dreaming.
He is the hill, dreaming and breathing. We love it
when he rolls over. The earth whimpers, like a dog,
and we all roll over.

A blind man once strayed into his mouth.
He heard deer in the warm gallery
of his wormy throat – they laughed, together,
like birds in the holly; bloodkissed by a winter queen.
The warbling in the sloe-black calmed him down.
He wasn’t scared. He waited, and he went home.

The dreams of a giant are beautiful, they say,
like dewy cobwebs. They make no sense.
They are brown and weird and speckled –
ash-tipped moths the lilac and the devil love.

His hair runs, like the slick grass.
It writhes yellow and red eels
encased in amber, greased with mud.
That’s where we go, into the gurgle of dark,
when we need a dream to guide us.

There is an oak, a doorway,
where many have gone and stood,
searching for his eyelid – a crazy slant
of rock, a glimpse of glacial, freak kindness.
It’s always closed, a frozen pond,
like a slow salamander blink.

He is waiting. Nobody knows what for.
We know very little. We are happy,
knowing so little. Some have drowned
in that pond. Like stars,
they sink.

What are fire, hail and thunder, to him, a giant?
What are we, but his, she –
his wolves, but not his brides?
We are not his clan or cattle,
but we crawl all over his heart and liver.

The giant hears, but does not care.
He never will, or must.
He remains a mute
geometry of snow. Filthy to the core.
Our knees are never grazed by something tender.
He is not kind, but he is good.
He owes us nothing. His days are lonely.
Years are geese, and kings die. We do and are
but fingertips of rain on his skin of thistle and bog.

It is enough, knowing that he is dreaming.
It is enough, being water on stone.