Water Woman, image by Nathan Spoon
Zion Offramp, 21, Coniston Water
Stone flows like wood, the wood
like slow water. Days and seasons
and the big circling of the sky
wear away the littlest noises, ornaments
and outcroppings. The sharp
become blunt. The blunted blurred.
Driving the motorway for the first time
in five years, he noticed how the trees
have grown! The hills reshaped
themselves, smudged their clean edges
with sfumato of bush and grasses. I can barely
see the reservoir today: tomorrow
it washes against my ankles.
Underneath the sift of papers lurks
some misplaced piece of electronica,
switched off so it can’t be easily
found. Literacy, command of the lines
and squiggles, bound us to that time-
span, roped like climbers
to our grandparents’ grandparents, sepia
shapes crowding the walls of dim rooms.
The Old Man across the water bears no resemblance
to a recumbent old man, the launch pilot jokes,
unless you’re stretched out on the street
before a Coniston pub, laid low by too many pints.
The hill itself is bare, rocky, formerly
a slate quarry. There is a lot of slate
in these hills, their flesh in fact—bundled
in blankets and his own senile carpet of beard,
Ruskin was rolled—in his invalid’s chair—among rocks
and over ice, when the Water froze. Here
you could pretend the vast smoky
cradles of ash—Manchester, Leeds,
Liverpool, London—simply didn’t exist.
Zipporah—Moses’s exercise in exogamy—is there:
“Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.” She shows,
in the Professor’s copy, the face of Venus, impossibly
graceful Botticellian fingers. Imagine them
fisting a sharp flint, incarnadined
from her toddler’s truncated penis. “A bloody
husband thou art.” Or a sharp bit of slate.
The water vies with the stones at every turn.
From the tiny turret room—abandoned after the night
he wrestled naked with the angel Satan—
the Water opens out like glass, the Old Man
stretches over it like a leering demiurge. His mouth,
red wet cavity, drainpipe for sherry and pink
flesh, font of eloquence and invective (laus
et vituperatio)—the lip crookt from that long-ago
dogbite—is hidden deep beneath the lichens
and mosses of the beard, maybe spangled
with ice-beads, stony neo-Gothic Green
Man, tendrils and leaves of carven rock.
“What’s the next station, son?” mutters
the old man on the train, tray-table
crowded with empties of export
heavy. “And where’s this train goin’,