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sand and small wave

There Was Always Water

Ian Barth

  • Elizabeth

    I'm overcome. Chill after chill: truth chill, thrill of recognition, awe chill. What a gifted poet! I'm so grateful.

  • Charlene

    Oh. My goodness, what a melody of thoughts and words to tell of the transformation of those Fishermen

From our earliest memories there was always water.
As small boys, playing at the water’s edge,
Around the boats, with the rank smell of the slime,
Among the coils of rope and fish heads;
Day by day, whether out in the boats or
On the lake edge, mending tackle
There was a consciousness of water:
The slap of the waves, the boat on the swell.

Later though, as we ourselves became
Dependent on the water for survival,
Our knowledge of it deepened, we could name
Each mood of the lake, and knew as well
The arc of each expression,
How we could turn the thing to our advantage
What days to go out and which to stay at home,
The location and likelihood of a decent catch.

There was a thirst that grew among the salt
In the sweat-stained comradeship among us,
The sense that the way things were was not
The way they should be. It was perhaps
No more than a feeling, that fluttered
Just beyond the edge of perception
That something more was expected
A change in the cycle, a new thing under the sun.

It was at once a shock and the realization
Of premonitions held almost eternally
When he appeared and called us one by one
We felt the shadow of the Almighty
There was something in his presence, a new power
He was both in the shrieking terror of the storm
Where we all expected to founder
And later in the depth of that fathomless calm.

You hear the sound of the wind
But our ambitions made us stupid beyond belief,
Each one cold and deaf and blind
And missed, and missed again the moments of his grief
On those last days in the early spring
We walked in growing things, between the rains
The parched land drinking greedily and blossoming
And us imagining, all sweet delusion.

Then in the horror of that morning
We crouched, unmanned, each alone and trembling
In that awful stillness
In the methodical inevitability of watching
That thing which could never happen, happening
Thirst beyond thirst.

A day or two later there was a dawn of exceptional brilliance
And a sudden surge of irrational hope,
Whispered disbelief, and secret meetings
Feet running on the road

And suddenly he stood there with us
Solid, real, from one moment to the next.

He was the same, and he was not the same,
Or maybe the difference lay with us.
The veil was lifted and we saw him
Perhaps as he always had been, always was
Here was glory of earth and heaven, yet
Events did not progress the way we thought they would.
The time would come, but first we had to wait
To grasp something we had not understood.

It was then we returned to the water
To the cry of the birds on the lake
Stripping off our dusty garments and feeling
The evening breeze on our backs
The tear of the coarse ropes on our palms
The beauty in regular motion
Heaving up, setting straight, casting out, towing round
Again and again as the night wore on.

The wind rose, spray in our faces
The early light found us near to the shore
And cursing freely in those turns of phrase
Not used in a year and more.
There was in fact nothing to show
For a nights work; the feel of the lake air
The beginnings of dawn did nothing to change
Our frustration at the empty water.

He stood there in the blowing grass, we heard
Him shout, hands cupped against the wind.
Obeying his instructions, we were staggered
By the sudden weight of the task at hand.
Back on shore we sat round the embers
Hungry, eating fish off the hot stones
And starting to comprehend there.
What it was he had meant all along

And it was morning fresh on the edge of the wind
And high above the shred of a cloud burning orange
The smell of smoke and water and spring
Sheep on the hillside
And fountains in our hearts, fountains
Soaring upwards and falling like rain.

JTissot_fishers2 The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by James Tissot – View larger image