Janet Sutherland


Gifts for Lethe


the water bailiff thought I was a boy  

the water bailiff who was  

bitten by a grass snake


beside the Avon, by the water meadows


my mother slipped us past wild daffodils  

to a gate marked ‘private’ where I said to her

this means we should stop     but we went on


the deer pond in the field we called Horatio

so overgrown with weeds, a child could run across it


my skin was a nasturtium leaf

my stomach hollow under water

the bathroom bitter cold and lido blue  


above the Avon, in the farmhouse bath


a film about Helen Keller

her first word       dropped on the back of her hand    

water gushing from a cast iron pump


by Big Spring or Tuscumbia (Chief Rainmaker of the Chickasaws)

and in Salisbury (Avon, Nadder, Ebble, Wylye, Bourne)


the standing pool he used in Mesopotamia

(he was Captain RAMC to General Marshall’s Headquarters)

seemed good to drink till the dead Turk resurfaced


between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates


after milking I scraped then hosed the parlour

the usual order    entrances   stands   corridors   yard

high pressure drove the shit in pretty deviations


coiled pressure hose, kept where? – I have forgotten -

somewhere above the Avon, above the water meadows


her granny said to me Thalassa    meaning

go to the sea and swim

I walked to the monastery    I was alone    


here the Vohinas river ran, at Poros, a natural crossing


I lay detached that first night in the bedsit  

on an old iron bedstead

oiled cloud   in spate    outstripped the window                


at Springfield where they found a Saxon boat


those nights we lay together

foreheads tightly pressed    all night awake

and then all day awake      our bodies languid


South Millfields, river Lea and Hackney Marshes


his first word was “adai” “adai” “adai!”

the gist of it “My God! That train is beautiful!”

we watched it with him    pulled the buggy backwards


the railway arch, the timber yards, the lost meanders


when she arrived at the house in Hall Street  

a mad apple-woman had barred the door

the house long since demolished for a by-pass


the River Lliedi which flows underneath the town


we skirted the reservoir      

having been dropped off by a Mallorcan taxi driver

a slight climb to the ridge then zigzag paths through olive groves


the Cúber Reservoir and then the torrent of Biniaraix


it was morning so we washed her  

flannel  soap  warm water    skirting that dimple in her lower back

her last breath as we turned her


Alderbury, riverless, but for the old canal (abandoned) now a lake


“You’ll be the death of me” he cried out to the doctor

when he was dying and his shit was black and foul

to us he hissed “Don’t be so bloody silly”


Alderbury, and the goldfish pond we dug together


at the empty crossroads  

a very small grass snake   lifted its head

poured itself across tarmac towards water


making for Pellbrook Cut and river Ouse


I ordered my horse for a short ride—indescribably

filthy, slippery and cold. I was glad to have seen Alexnitza

in its winter garb. Perhaps for the last time.


below a broad plain thro’ which the Morava serpentined


moisture accelerates the aging of paper

three technicalities     fold number   breaking length

and brightness


the river Lethe and the goddess Lethe

water both nameless and invisible


a three-line stave hung between telephone poles

on either side of the river

late august swallows     a gathered song


hard by the Ouse, the water meadows


a grass snake curled

and coiled around the beak  

of a heron who was hunting by the river


the blue enamelled throat, the water snake

at Wiley’s footbridge where we stopped to stare


Daubenton’s bats were skimming the river

the Serotine at tree height aping birds    bat conservers

aimed their lights   all of us listened to their calls




First published Envoi (June 2017)