Open water

All afternoon the sea pushes into the land,
plating the estuary to cloud
swelling the river high enough
to salt the skirts of the valley trees.
Deeper inland creeps the sea’s fingers,
gloving the mud creeks,
blunting their sharpness with brimmed water.
Crabs scuttle uphill, rafts of sea-weed eddy,
a hovering merlin whistles high tide.

Upriver at Aveton Gifford (pop. 833)
cows in a meadow chew on clumps of evening light
and piss it onto thistles in shining streams.
Up here the lipped tide holds the day,
holds it, holds it …
the light brittle as glass
until the moon-pull pops the tension
and with a sigh that spooks the cows,
the light gives way.

Aveton’s summer days have ended this way
since there was land to graze
and a tide to threaten it with brackish water,
nature’s engines pressing and conceding
never ceasing in an English compression
of competition and resolution,
give and take.

Across the meadow arrive scores of swimmers
a black-suited congregation of men and women
massing at the meadow’s edge,
the evening atmosphere flash with river flies,
the swimmers massing and talking quietly,
knowing we are on the brink of great change, and darkness
but we are brave and know that darkness is never far away,
and nor is light, and thus spirited,
re-born to water,
we wade into the river,
and plunging softly forwards
each depart the earth.

Raising their heads
the cows watch us away,
and chewing still, return to their grazing.
Downstream, the wise are going gently,
handling themselves with kindness
adapting to the cold water,
each at the beginning of horizontal lives.
The general way is green-brown,
sea gifts of weed present themselves, and pass by.
The mud floor rises to our reaching hands,
and falls away.

The river bends
and we have no choice but to turn with it
This way. That way.
One by one, and all together.
We are in the long middle now,
driving on, dragging for air,
pushing our hands through the water,
one by one, and all together.
Even as cold creeps in, we drive on.
We are together. We are alone.
Teases of cramp disturb us,
like heart murmurs,
or questions of depression
and these require management
but we do not stop swimming,
we must not stop,
we do not wish to stop.

Moored boats signal the end,
channel obstacles
with ringing lanyards
yearning at the sea roar.
Its ruin imminent
the river gathers its deep resources
and hurtles into the village bend.
Sweeping past the quayside
we begin to lose our grip –
surface creatures
beating our fists against nature’s back.
We are at the shore rock,
we are passing the boathouse
its thatched roof letting out bats
to flight low over the river mouth
where surf is breaking,
the night clock
meshing salt into the heads of the river
and in luminous disorder,
we tumble out into the ocean.

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