To the river Avon via Grateley station

Beyond Wandsworth the Salisbury train gathers speed,
the bright red upholstery putting up a stink in the July heat.
A parched park gives back brown space
between high-street shopfronts playing gold against the faces
of bare-shouldered men and women
queuing easy for evening fried chicken.
Summer gardens snap open and close
London purses showing their silver,
the green copper of suburban lives.
Now the darkness of a long tunnel.
On the far side flit Scots pines
their shadows railing interior fairways.
Surrey’s sandy, warrened acres buffer
sharp-elbowed dormitory towns:
Woking, Farnham, Basingstoke,
until their provincial towers peter-out
into hedgerows quartering hillsides blond with stubble,
the high blue woods perfectly still.

At Grateley the train’s automatic doors close
shut, abandoning me to a car park
set lonely among arable land – here
daily, unseen commuters transition,
crossing the peripheries of their dual circumstances,
the office wit regresses to the dull husband
the anxious mother pulls over her brushed hair the mantle of CEO,
the dismounted rider becomes an expert in commercial risk.
Exchanged in my own way, and thus redeemed
I can no longer smell the city, or the railway upholstery
instead the scent of chalk and watercress fills my head
and in pursuit of my Wiltshire river
I climb into my car and drive on.

At Amesbury’s Solstice Park squat malls and sheds for logistics,
and a service roundabout occupied by a steel grotesque called The Ancestor,
he is kneeling and brandishing a St George flag in one outstretched hand.
Waving it, he bids me enter the valley of the Avon.
Gladly I enter and some miles inside
the summer gloaming gives way to fizz
and infrastructure of another kind begins to prevail upon me.
Green light, tints of horse and pewter,
river mist as white as wool
drawing through the poplar plantations.

I park by the old mill pool and undress.
My feet naked in the glade mud,
the song of the weir in my ears
I am wild again, no longer of any time
now stood braced
on the brick edge of earth
the Avon tugging me forwards,
its chalk weed fanning out to sea,
caddis nymphs rushing past my feet, and chips of feather,
and through the space beneath the tree canopy
among water noise and the river’s old silences zip sprites
and reduced to something slight I give myself to the churning pool,
to its roiling darkness, deep rolling
me up into a jade surface light,
where the trees hang down their hair over the water.

Swept until the pool’s tail I climb out
and pick my return to the weir, stand in the river’s force,
brace and plunge.
And again. Plunge.
And again until I am cold and spooked
and the water runs smooth away from me
into darkness, a night path I will not take.
Goodbye, I whisper,
checking my retreat to the car
turning back to face the river
and its wide assembly, invisible to me
a human looking into nature.
And then, barefoot
the car windows wide open to the the river-mist
I drive on up the valley.

3 thoughts on “To the river Avon via Grateley station

    1. Alex Hickman

      Yes. You probably know this but its temperature through the year is a constant 10 degrees centigrade – therefore we should swim in it all year round. But maybe not up your street …?!?

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