The Friday Poem on 22/10/21
We chose the poem ‘The Solvent Properties of Water’ by Sarah Hymas because it seems to tap into a liminal, almost magical space. It takes a lake swim as its starting point, where two women remember their childhoods together, but the poem travels further, focusing down onto rescued wasps drying themselves and then sweeping up and out to create, and confront, a larger — much larger — picture. It is complex and filmic, with an elegiac quality; it is deeply moving and deeply rewarding.
The Solvent Properties of Water
We’d been talking about our childhoods,
how foreign they were to the world we navigated now,
yet how, somehow, we were still those girls
who peered under rocks and poked at the cracks
in drought-split reservoirs. I thought of limbs whiter
than they ever could be again, bodies
which had not experienced enough past to anticipate a future.
Now I reshape
in the lakewater, my legs turmeric in the dissolved oxides,
light charging waterskin, my skin, the barkskin
of pines, where you’ve discarded clothes
and, in your old-fashioned black bathing costume,
are picking a slow passage
out of their long shadows
towards my squealing for you to come deeper to the cool.
We are mountains away
from the morning’s dust scattered by a van
hounding the track we did not turn on to,
where the haze of dirt dispersed between us and sky,
bristling the sunflowers in one field to wheat in another.
This is your first ever lake swim, you tell me
once you’ve given your body to the lake’s, and float
alongside my skitting corkscrew, suddenly
I’m also a novice in this unfamiliar body of water,
unnerved by all the other firsts to come.
Distant pines and motionless turbines reassure me more
than the dark unruffled water. Rocks shimmy my footing
and coolness climbs my thighs, until I stumble and launch
horizontal to be doused by spray in breezy abundance.
What had been sucked from the desiccated ground
was deluging elsewhere in a volume yet to consume the news.
The grit and our bone-dry trudge
dislodged a memory of a bleached skull. Its nostrils’ lacy cartilage
patterned alveoli, a winter tree or coral system without its neon algae.
I cannot help myself and urge you on.
Further! I call, flinching with the knife of my squeal.
Your stalling muffles me.
I watch you bend with attention, nose to water, cradling wasps
who are caught by the weight of meniscus and offer you then them
pine stalks and oak leaves to clutch, on which they dry themselves,
legs frotting each limey yellow head and body,
wings whirring in test readiness
before lifting off, up to the basin of sky that will swallow us all
come the smudge of dusk and since fear is singular
when I might also believe myself to be unafraid.