80,000 Gallons to a Lock

by Luke Kennard

Skipton to Greenberfiled, 2016

In the roar of 80,000 gallons to a lock
The engine thrums through my bones
from ankle to temple.

I am an antennae channelling
a past I cannot know.
40 tonnes of coal via wheelbarrow

on a single plank, the bargeman’s equilibrium.

I wonder if he read the first signs of the freeze,
windlass in his hand, weighty and balanced
As a murder weapon or a perfect line.

Behind the reeds a scrawny cat
shadow boxes with a swan
and in the roar of 80,000 gallons to a lock,

I wouldn’t listen for your voice because
we’d live together in the hull;
I’d wait to feel your hand upon my back,

your light step from land to deck
and back again.
I wonder if the bargeman saw

The dandelions scattered in the ungrazed fields
like I do: city lights from an aeroplane;
Or if, to him, they looked like lanterns in distant inns,

Or shrapnel glowing in a battleground.
The same seagulls pinwheel round the plough
and all that’s really changed is the machine.