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Waterland Poetry Residency 2020

Poems 

Throughout 2020 I am Poet in Residence at Waterland, Lake 32, Cotswold Water Park in Gloucestershire, England. 

I'm writing a poem a month throughout the year about the lake, place, belonging and our relationship with water.

Scroll down for poems and check out my blog about the process of writing for a site-specific residency. 

 

January

JLM MORTON 

Sunday Service: Winter Swimming

Unscrew the lid and the steel flask rings like a singing bowl
calling the body to this winter ritual of fixing broken frequencies.
Steam from the enamel cup mists the windscreen
and we swig the coffee down, bittersweet and eager,
hot enough to relieve the brain’s thinking.
Dry Robes slither off the arms, hang on lakeside pegs
and we smirk each time at the sign: No Recreational Swimming.
Toes in, soles of feet laid down on the limestone shingle,
followed fast by ankles and calves, knees and thighs and hips
and pause at the waist
to draw breath, to exclaim, to lower palms to the bream-fin grey
of the icy mirror to the luminescent reeds,
black cormorants, conifers on the near horizon.
Goggles on. Brace. Go. Push into the navy deep,
scuds of shallow waves at the neck.
Hands sweep from prayer to embrace.
Face in, eyes open to the brightening clay floor,
a copse of weed in the water’s glacial clarity
glaucous and strange, a beatific underworld.
This lake has played, bred, killed, fed, held –
our ecstatic skins sing in praise and we drum the yellow buoy
in devotion to this heathen mass,
immerse ourselves in this instant, this place, this body of flesh and water.
Turning toward the shore, we observe the coda of submerged birch
hail again the marvel of the white magpie in its branches
give thanks for this time out of mind, this chattering spirit of renewal.

 

February

JLM Morton


Tenching

She took the Spine Road to the lake, hunched against drenching squalls of camper vans and gravel trucks. Through a latched gate at the southern end. She found the mud and writhed in it with a pocket full of worms gathered from the verge. Any sign of movement, the book said, and the tench will make inquiries. Physician of fishes. Lover of foul water. Unwholesome meat. Bare willow cords hung from the branches and brushed her unblinking eyes.

Nothing.


New Year, new you, she’d thought and washed her hair. She blow dried it and, for once, left it down. Tucked a lock behind her ear. Even so he said she was a munter, bottom feeder, hair shit coloured anyway. Then he tore the Nordmann Fir from its stand, still hung with coloured baubles, threw it out front where even the bricks smelt bad and a St. George Cross hung limp from the fencepost.


Floodwaters made the approach impassable in places, but she waded along the crest of the road’s camber, past hedgerows where Police tape snagged on blackthorn and a heron’s wings beat overhead. She bought all the bait she could afford - a loaf of brown bread and a jar of honey – squatted by the reedbeds and margins where the silt weed grew, moulding sticky balls with her fingers. At last light she woke from a dream of pale children calling and chasing her off with notes from the future -

               the quarry surfaced,

               a moonrise of gold, black, red

               slithered to her chest. 

 

March

Figure of Speech

 

I met a jack pike

gravel studded and alive

jack-knifing on the path.


Eye big as breakfast fish

eyes on Chinese trains, bloodless,

a serrated surface wound.


I knelt to hold it, tenderly

as a friend       it held me

and we slipped through the post-dawn dull,


cloudwards, precise as infantry,

chanting – must we take our place?

Our gills flaring red fires.

 

April

Courage 

Suppose there was a tree
that did not burn,
but instead contained a fire
that lit the taper of our hopes.
Catkin havoc gives a clue -
red flames thrown on the mud
like toys in a bedroom,
a time of different measure.
Suppose this tree were prone to feel
itself a fish, flashing iridescent
scales through water;
or a full-throated bird
meeting sky with song
at the branch of dusk; its burr
a meteor of celestial light
trailing through trunk fissures.
Suppose this tree black poplar,
native of unbounded mind,
unmoved by difference
between land and flood.
A match struck on longing.