Tickover Speed

by Joseph Butler

‘Tickover Speed Only Past Moored Boats’ – Signboard on South Oxford Canal, Thrupp, Oxfordshire.

It’s the plosive thud of a vintage Lister,
the skitter and splash of the sculler’s oars;
it’s the zig-zag track of the day-hire kayak,
the wind-borne meander of an angler’s float.
It’s the bankside chatter of the dawn dog-walkers,
the drilling of ducks’ beaks on the narrowboat’s beam;
it’s the lighting of a Wagtail on the stub of the tiller,
the crescent moon’s reflection in a riffled stream.
It’s the back-stabbing beggary of bread-fed Moorhens
treading water in a chorus at the open hatch –
the quicksilver shimmy and the flick of the dorsal
of the goggle-eyed Roach as they rise to the fly. 
It’s the lift of the hull and the squeezing of fenders,
the scrape of the skeg and the tug on the ropes –
it’s the lurch in the stomach and the pull to the window
that presages the passage of a passing boat.
On the Navigators’ Cut we are moved by the other:
in the on-flow of consequence, the backwash of time.
The moon stipples silver on the moored vessel’s painter.
We are gentled to sleep on the wake of the Coots.