Life washes up in water meadows: twigs,
silt swirled downstream, common toads,
reed warblers, wagtails, landed barons.

Flotsam gathers. Laws, rights, privilege;
contingencies of weather, rainfall, eddyings,
bursting banks. Men seal settlements

in wax. Inscribe their names in torrents. Set rules
to curb the jockeying of jackdaws, magpies’
thefts. Raise barriers, useless against tides

and surges, wave regulations balefully
as white flags. Trespassers
will be prosecuted. Floods contained. They order

waves to back down, rivers to dry up.
Here is their parchment and portcullis,
their Keep Out sign. The bench, the bar,

They Shall Not Pass. Except where reed-beds
absorb flows, embrace each beached arrival,
offer bulrushes, alluvium, kingfishers.


• picture from The National Archives. This poem has also appeared in Well Versed.


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