No. 6


James Lasdun 


I   (God)

And then evils on earth earnestly grew
And multiplied manifold among mankind
The meek so marred by the mighty
That the Creator grew grim.
When he knew each country corrupt in itself
And all virtue vanished among men
A fell fury foamed in his heart
And as one woeful within he said to himself:
I repent I ever made man
But I shall destroy all those that do wrong on this earth
I shall waken up a water to wash all the world
And quell all that is quick with quivering floods.

II   (Splash)

—We had a fight. She threw her water at me.
My skin still feels hot
where it hit me: a splash-brand tingling

across my forehead  —What was the fight about?
I don’t remember. Nothing important.
The water’s what I remember. It made me feel...

—Yes? —I want to say impotent
but that’s not quite it; a stranger
debilitation as though I’d

absorbed some bone-melting toxin from her anger:
I can see the flung water still,
its chrome fingers probing towards me, elongating

like silvery staghorn coral,
and the splash, the impact, I can still feel that,
the soft catastrophic crash

like being spat at:
‘Cracher’... I like that word better;
juices your mouth and gives you the double disaster,

the spat-at but also the spitter,
like in Nostromo; that moment when Senor Hirsch,
hung from a beam by his elbows,

spits in his torturer’s face, splash-crash, 
—You see yourself as her torturer?
—No, but there does seem

some time-bending sorcery in the gesture;
a retro-fit, let’s say, of the crime to the punishment,
backwardly flooding what one had thought quite harmless

with downright evil intent.
I mean, I had no more idea
of what I had coming, than the boy in the myth

Ceres spattered with wet grain for mocking her,
turning him into a scuttling lizard, as if
he could have known or imagined what it might mean

to step out, to walk his little life
into the ten-lane highway of a goddess’s existence;
or Ascalaphus, splashed by Proserpine,

etched to a screech-owl in the instant’s
acid-burn of underworld waters,
or Actaeon

who did nothing worse
than lose his way out hunting in a wood
and stumble on Diana skinny-dipping

when splash! The water antlered into his forehead
as she flung a scooped handful in rage,
as if being divine merely meant 

being a flood in abeyance, an englobed deluge
primed for the instant engulfment
of anything too radically not itself,
at which the branching  —Excuse me, I think at this point
you ought to tell me what the fight was about—
—at which the branching horns splashed out from his brow,

his ears furred over and sharpened, his hands and feet
hardened to hoofs, and off he stagger-galloped
chased by his own dogs 

who sank their fangs in his hide and ripped
—What was the fight about?
—I told you, I don’t remember, besides,

who ever really knows what a fight was about?
I mean you go in thinking it’s one thing, then later
discover it was all along 

some totally unrelated matter...

III  (Flood)

Then brimmed the abyss and the rivers billowed
The smallest spring turned to a treacherous torrent
Soon there was no bank unburst
The frantic floodwaters surged skyward
Cloud clusters split and shattered
Riven with a rush of rain to the earth
Forty days unfaltering the flood rose
Vaulting over forests and wide fields
And when the sky’s waters wedded the earth’s
All that death might undo were drowned within.

IV   (A Fork in the Stream)

—But go back a moment
to that other dream,
about the river, remember,

the one half-hidden by trees, that time
you thought you’d dried up
—Yes, all cresses and willows

green-lit black water, swift and deep
—Narrow, you said
—Well, not the Hudson, an English river
—And you above it —Astride
more like, as if it flowed
from my own, you know, my loins

—Which felt? —Oh god, good!
—Like in that stranger’s garden
in last night’s dream?

—Go on...
—Your irrigation lines dry,
your own garden dead

—Which was most irrigating. Sorry.
—You followed the lines to the stream
which also turned out to be dry,

then climbed back upstream —Updream
—Way back, yes? To a fork
where all the water ran down the other fork

to the stranger’s garden, which you say was like
—Paradise! The clear water brimming in fonts,
spilling over the beds, which stilled it

in ingots of gold squash, pepper plants;
held it in delicate scalloped or spear-tipped leaves,
musk melons heavy and scented like babies’ heads,

tomatoes big as... big as boxing gloves;
I mean you could feel the surge of unimpeded
existence in every blissed-out sunburst corolla,

every collard leaf loaded
with waterglobes gleaming like gems on a shelf…
My god! —Any idea who this stranger was?

—None. —You’re sure? —You want me to say myself
don’t you? —Do I? —Some ghost-self perhaps,
one who’d either been spared whatever crime,

whatever irreparable lapse
from grace or luck that fork upstream represents
or else was himself the water thief,

as though I’d somehow stolen my own existence
from under my nose; somehow siphoned it off
elsewhere, like the Jordan waters

bled out into the roses of the Negev;
is that what you’re saying? The dream
an effort, then, to reconcile certain polarities;

desert blossom, for instance, with suicide bomb,
or General Electric’s ‘We Bring Good Things to Light’, 
with the death-sludge they dumped in the Hudson,

or for that matter the British Mandate—
—you’re losing me —Well, but it’s true,
as heir to whatever misdeeds my own

triple axis — Anglo-American-Jew —
occasioned or outright did
before I became, as it were,

CEO of Myself Incorporated,
I might indeed wish to reconcile, even equate
certain opposites; villain and victim

tourist and terrorist; spitter even, and spat-at…
—Which brings us back, does it not,
to your fight. I think you should really—

—Like I said, who ever knows what a fight was about?
You go in thinking it’s oil or land, and then later
discover it was all along only ever

about water…

V   (The Peace Process)

Now Noah, never again shall I curse
All creation for the crimes of man
For I see well how men’s wits to wickedness
Are held by the harm in their hearts;

Have been from the beginning and ever shall be.
All is the mind of man to malice inclined
Therefore shall I henceforth ever hold back
Destruction that the deeds of men deserve.
Go forth now, grow,
Increase on this earth; blessings befall you
Seasons shall never fail you, of seed-time or harvest
But they shall run without rest and ye rule therein.

VI   (The Reprieve)

You made up? —We just let it go.
It seemed suddenly possible:
a change of mood like a change of season;

nothing in our control
other than being ours to accept or not
—And you did? —We went for a walk

up to the quarry lookout.
Below us already vivid
powdery bud-sprays rolled like smoke through the valley.

I hadn’t realised Spring had arrived.
Under the ridge-snow a sheet
of meltwater slid over grasses and mosses,

new ferns scoping up through the rubble of slate...
That other kingdom, going about its business,
there for you if you want it, waiting

like a long-suffering friend, or former mistress;
post-diluvian, sexless, second best,
knowing your weaknesses, forgiving them...

—And so? —It started raining. We kissed
in the damp shelter of a cliff,
dodging crashing icicles. Luminous

Ice-glazed birches dripped and wept. Far off,
curving over the Hudson,
The Rhinecliff bridge lay glittering like a ring.

And that none of this, not the rain,
nor this unexpected reprieve,
would go on forever seemed strangely… 

—Yes? —Fair I guess. Fair enough.
VII   (Cleanness)

Therefore mark thee, Man, that seeks for esteem
In the comely court of that king:
Never in such fault or filth be found
That the waters of this world shall fail to wash thee

For whoso hopes to show himself in those shining houses,
Him it behooves to be clean as burnished beryl
That is sound on each facet and no fissure shows,
No mote nor macule, but is perfect as the pearl.



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