Black Country Canal: Late 20th Century  

The canal climbs across the contours
Laced through locks, a ladder of water
Measured in miles, mounting the hillside.
From fields of grain gilded for harvest,
Hemmed by thorn hedges thronged with birds,
It cuts into a country cankered, poxed.
A wide valley opens to a vision of Ragnarok;
Here heaven's fire frets in fetters of copper
Sky-slung from pylons in static procession.
Earth's burdened body lies bound in steel
Trussed and tortured in trammels of tar,
Her rind raked by rending claws,
Her flesh blackened, burnt to ashes.
Giants have been judged and join her in death,
Their skeletons scattered in skeins of briars,
Their broken limbs litter the land,
Ribs and vertebrae rot in verminous heaps.

Death has dominion in all that dale.
In nomine Patris, Holy Chad pray for us,
Ossa desicca vivant, ora Deo pro nobis.

The constrained water steals, almost stagnant,
By meadows mourning under mounds of iron
Dripping blood on the black mirror.

A blizzard of Willowherb snows on the water
As it wanders on past workless workshops,
And flakes fleck the coat of a moribund fox
Padding by the palisade of weeds,
Piebald with mange, emaciated,
His tail a stick, stubbing the towpath.
He melts away into the wasteland
Behind canting hoardings adverting to plots
Vacant for development on this drab land.

The canal crawls on through a cavern of concrete,
A turd-strewn tunnel of loveless tuppings,
Stinking of urine, haunted by whores,
And slithers out to a slurry of lorries
Corralling four foundering trailers.
A didakai's horse, held at the end of his tether,
Grazes the grey, defeated grass.

Where factories farted fumes and din,
Derelicts drift round a dying fire
Draining dregs of putrid cider
From a plastic flagon, dribbling purple from lip to lip.
Beyond them rise blind roofless hulks,
The wrecks of works axed and sacked,
Grim gravestones ungraven with epitaphs.    

Here once bloomed red blossom that amazed the night.
High towers, fed stone, fused
Earth's bones. Iron streamed white, oozed
Star-hot. All the heavens blazed.
                                                                                                   
The sere waste stretches seemingly endless,
Dust-devils whirl in the dry wind.
The wind moves over the face of the water,
Slicks slide, seven-coloured, over its skin,
Caressing the corpse of a mouldering cat
In a jostling vomit of jetsam and garbage,
Driftwood, cartons, occasional condoms.      

Beneath this freight of filth fishes glide
Through chambers of translucent amber,
Roofed in silver.   Obedient to the Creator's first command,
Plankton flicker,
Living particles of light.
                                              
Clinging to a Reed-mace stem,
A dragonfly larva casts off its cloak,
Trembling and already shimmering,
A winged sapphire in the sun.  

Crystal patterns shift
Across the emerald floor:
Caddis cased in shards of iridescent glass.      

Mountains melt, new mountains rise,
Molecule by molecule,
As continents continue their slow collisions.
Planets rotate on their usual rounds;
Somewhere a nova flares and fails. .
Singularities form in the fluctuating quantum foam.  

Paul Walker   

If you've any comments on this poem, Paul Walker would be pleased to hear from you.

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