Monday, 19 August 2013



Three men
On a morning in early summer
Tipped a lorryload of poisoned whey
Into the Line river.

The water opened
And gulped it down.

It was a white poison.
The river swelled with the
Evil milk.
A snowy vein of death
Piercing the land's body.

All through the land
Seeped the scum in a murderous rut,
Through fields and
Meadows waiting to be cut,
Past villages and townlands
Into the sea.


Everything died in the milky river.
Brown trout, eels, fluke, young salmon
Perished, every one.

White bellies to the light
Fish floated down the river
Corpses jostling in the tide.

In the summer morning
Poison entered the sun,
Riddled the light
On land and sea,
Possessed the invisible stars
Turned to dust in the air
Dropped like a gentle malignant shiver of snow
Into the hearts of three men
Standing on a bank
Of the Line river.


Men working in the fields
Saw white bellies of fish.
Pain jabbed at the hearts of some.
They waded in as far as they could go
Collected the bodies in bags
Returned to the banks
Spread the fish in the fields –
Row after glittering row.

Strange to see
In the rivery grass,
Men bending over them
Incomprehension in their eyes.

Looking back at the river
They saw countless trout
Try to leap from the water
As if wanting to be alone,
Preferring to die
In an alien environment
Than in their poisoned own.

A few fish reached the grass, gravel, stones
The air pressing on every side.
They stirred, leaped, flickered in the sun
And died.


Milk of peace, milk of human kindness, sign of the fish –
The fields were strewn with dead metaphors.
Language had fought a pitched battle and lost
And now the choicest of its soldiers
Lay corpsed in the sun,
Their hearts yanked out and flung at random on the grass.
What grass would grow from these abandoned hearts
Would be sour as the words of a man
Whose days were black pits
Of disappointment.
Light that might have been a light of love
Circled like a bird of prey
Above the fields
Where nothing could be done or said
To halt the carrion light
From ravaging the dead.


The men who poisoned the river
Seemed hardly to know what was done.
Would they know what they did
If they poisoned the sun?
When they dumped death into the water
What did they do or say?
They turned their backs on a job well-done
And walked away.


People walking through or near the fields
Were forced to drink the stench.
Implacable as cancer
It pierced their clothes and skin
Lived there
White and vile as leprosy.

The whiter, the viler.

It seemed to many women and men
That God’s air
Would never be clean again.


In time
Fishbodies would be clay and grass,
Pain in the men’s eyes
But the river will never
Its own creatures rotting in light.

The river
And the land it flows for
Will never forget
The summer of poisoned white.

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