THE SOURCE Poem by Maura Dooley


It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.

On the Somerset Levels in early Spring,
you might just imagine that basket of canes,
the one perhaps you learned of in school,
an intricacy of withies and moss.
Sphagnum and cottongrass under the head
of the baby entrusted to blue sky and grace,
whose crib tucked inbetween bulrush and bible,
catches on bramble and borders of sedge
and could be any family secret
cast out to float on bright green duckweed
taking its chance under willow and sunshine.

For one is one and all alone
and evermore shall be so.

In rushlit cottages, they plaited soft mats
for the woman in spate brought to the reeds
unstoppable as a late spring-tide.
Loosestrife as blanket, bunting as lullaby.

And God said, let the waters under the heaven
be gathered together in one place,
and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.

And here the waters were broken
by something like land: the peaty,
Dutch-worked meadows,
whose soft earth could be mist,
a cow's breath on a frost-licked morning.
Meadows that rise in dawnlight
in an orderly gradation of vapours,
luminous, shining-strange, pearly.
Rhines striping the released fields,
a slither of eels in their amber shallows,
like tiny guy ropes tethering
this waterworld that would be one,
with the shoals of a Somerset sky.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters
which were under the firmament
from the waters which were above the firmament.


What does it mean when a well runs dry?

We've taken too much,
pumped up, poured out
more than we need and now
in Venice, Bangkok, London,
we are the slippery, subsiding places
of the earth and must learn to manage
what has been given.

This plundering mazy search for water,
this greedy, chaotic irrigation
drove springs back under,
down deep into chalk,
but it is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.

The soil, gravel, sand,
the marl, loam and clay over which
the hand with the hazelwand pauses,
hoping to find that path of connection
the way a trickle finds old rock,
clears an avenue through limestone,
forces every fracture and fissure,
makes any void a conduit for water,
spinning to the speleologists' joy,
a cobweb of caves and at its centre,
the suddenness of a buried river.

Dissolving, as it does in water,
is it limestone that yields
the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,
are consistently homesick for?

Or is it what the Welsh know best?
This, something more than sickness,
which I catch from time to time
in the way sea glimmers
through trees on a coastal road,
or a dewpond rises quietly
on the Common after rain,
or the river, a sudden stripe of light
is glimpsed down an alleyway,
as if the heart in a flash recalls
the way we used to behave.
a mood we forgot we knew,
the liquid landscapes of hope.


What does it mean when a well runs dry?

Sometimes gazing too far
downwards, backwards, inwards,
past the glass that Alice climbed through,
past the gaze of Narcissus,
struggling to see a human face,
one reflection or another,
something in the dark
damp places of the mind,
I could slip back
beneath the sheets of ice
to that space where water sings.

Have you heard it?

Underneath are the deeps,
where darkness makes us
sightless and ugly. Gasp,
come up for air, skate.
Skate over, skate across,
skate as if your life depended upon it.
For those are the depths
that the bucket cannot reach,
the stone thrown down
to no answering splash.

I wish I hadn't cried so much, said Alice . . . . .
Being drowned in my own tears!
That will be a queer thing to be sure!

Longing, lamentation,
the insinuating smell of mould.
Like the stain on a wall
the stain on the spirit
is a slow seepage.
She just broke down and cried.


It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all
and the body, like the planet,
being two-thirds liquid
what is to be done but to grieve?
Welling up, that's what we call it,
weeping, sobbing, greeting,
threnody, elegy, requiem,
willow, cypress, yew.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself, said Alice . . .
A great girl like you . . . but she went on all the same . . .
. . . shedding gallons of tears until there was
a large pool all around her.

Aquifers, reservoirs, how their consonants
eddy with the rippling sound of purpose
gathering. Under the butterflies, the eyebright,
the speedwell, under chalk, and under sandstone,
a drip, a push, a force collecting,
like shyness pushing, pushing at the spirit,
till up through the Great and Inferior Oolites,
the Corallian and Lincolnshire Limestones,
the rill, the beck and the cataract come babbling.


It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.

Like ice releasing the lake
through the tender pressure of a mallard,
so the sudden opening of that cosy reservoir
sent you splashily swimming forth,
out of warm darkness into stark difference,
and now, daughter, think of that lost stream,
the one bundled up and buried
beneath this suburban road.
So much stored up to give you,
you, walking quiet beside me,
listening to that great river rush,
the future, its big noise, under ground.

The Westbourne, Tyburn, Walbrook,
the Fleet, Effra, Hydeburn,
the hidden courses, undivined,
where our feet pass.

London, where every back yard,
sparkled, if not with gold, then with ooze,
where Trafalgar Square made fountains
from the splash and glug of ancient springs,
where the density of swash and swill,
the sluice and souse of shallow wells,
could scarcely be crammed on a map
twenty-five inch to the mile.

We can follow the course
of those old lost waters
by street names in an AtoZ,
staunched into culverts, pipes, drains,
- like the entrails of a postcode -
the doctor who notes down
asthma attacks, in the shimmering pool
of an Apple Mac, will see that her cases
are plotted there, breathless kisses,
along the banks of concreted brooks.
The Westbourne, the Tyburn,
the Walbrook, the Fleet,
the Effra, the Hydeburn,
where our feet pass.

It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.


And is the breaking of the waters
like the breaking of that tiny flask,
with its sacred essence,
the four tears of the Blessed Virgin?
That most precious phial,
carried in sunshine, in stormlight,
flood, fog and fret,
through soft days and mizzle,
mist, hail and sleet
to the monks of West Minster,
held next the heart,
by a young believer,
in frost-pinched fingers,
in fever of prayer,
a treasure revered yet finally broken.

Imagine. Journey's end.

Drenched in sun, he lies on the Heath,
floating on clover and myrtle, content,
but a second's neglect, you might call it joy,
and like dew on a blade of grass,
the four tears vanish
as if they have never been.
There are more tears then,
a boy's naked sorrow
and maybe it is the mingling of salts,
which draws forth a seeming miracle.
Where only four drops spilt
there's a magnification,
a gush, a force, a spring,
not a magnification but a magnificat,
a healing holy well,
the consolation of the Madonna,
a cure and then a curiosity,
guiding first pilgrims then tourists
to the famous spa of Hampstead.

That's how they came,
the devout, the desperate,
to the spots where a hidden source
danced so lively that the smallest stir
of any damp hillside might draw forth
the dazzle and succour of water.
Here they made villages,
found gods of the wayside
or saints and their stories
that might make us all better.
Some waters bubbled, gurgled
and gushed, some dribbled or slowed
or slithered away. Some were broken
by something like land: dammed,
ditched, diked and drained.

It is the breaking of the waters that begins it all.

Look hard you might find
the lip of a well, now hidden
beneath a cobweb of frost,
its mosses and silt, crutches
and votives of the hundreds who came
with their bundle of sorrows,
tied like a knot in the pit
of the stomach and under them, deeper,
three golden heads bobbing.


What does it mean when a well runs dry?

So, here at my door a window cleaner
wants to refill his bucket of water
and I will carry the pail
like that most precious phial,
a twist of glass that held the tears
that washed the feet of Christ.
I will swing open my ordinary faucet,
spill the slops of everyday life
down the drain and out to the sewers
swill the blood from the sink,
the stains from the sheet,
and call on those saints
Anne, Brigid and Winefred,
whose faith was as knowledge,
an awakening, a promise,

a splash of cold water to the face.

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