River Steel

by Jo Bell

It means no harm, but that’s cold comfort
when the crucibles of storm and circumstance
are over-full, and then some.
 
As innocent as molten steel released,
Severn takes its ease at land’s expense,
chokes any channel  that will give it space;
 
brooks no refusal. Trent and Thames
make runnels of the leaf-mould lanes,
and settle first into the cellars and the delphs
 
or secret mineworks under fields, then
into silver furrows; waterlogging woods
and pasture gates, spilling giddy with a liquid weight
 
to overtop the hedges in a killing field of moles
and on into the farms, the living rooms, the malls,
to make a landscape without lines.
 
The river makes a plane of all our contours,
makes our complicated days and places plain –
a blank and shining slate where we had written OURS.
 
Sodden, leaden, mastered for the moment, still we work
for green and grass, for metal, brick and all that live by it;
for those who, like the winter waters, find a way.

Listen to Jo reading the poem: