from Storied Rivers

Cockpit Country.

     Beneath the pockmarked skin of Cockpit Country, rivers are born in limestone wombs. Having been dissolved and collapsed by runoff from the hills, the terrain looks to the eye as a honeycombed eel - twisting its way through the patchwork of green - filigreed by arcs of burnished light.

     Each night beneath the water's blue back, the silt is stirred and pestled into history, each layer pressed beneath a latter-day weight. Folded in that is the moon's redress and the composite cry from the trees. Paper cranes with crisp white feathers write Isis with their beaks on the bank.

     The sedges turn their necks as the river emerges to carry their whispers to rushes downstream.  

A Letter.

     That a river might emerge as a metaphor for the mind, suggests there's probably something in it.  A rusted brace, binding the two, might not then reflect a hackneyed phrase. And anyway, the ubiquities of those like 'a torrent of thoughts' or 'flood of emotions', don't necessarily etch the latter with fluvial notes.
     There are dozens of others: one being something like an organic and self-sustaining computer - or am I making that up? 'Writer's block' sounds like a plumbing metaphor to me, but that still relates it to the movement of water, as though moving water was something to aspire to be.

     When you think about it, that's quite an assumption. Buddhists tend to aspire instead to motionless bodies of water as positive metaphors for a mature mind. I'm not sure how you feel about Tolkein but he described one of his villains as having 'a mind of metal', with wheels and gears for roots and branches.

     Rivers are dendritic in structure, like trees, but perhaps it's too easy to conceive that our minds should behave like a tree or river. Are our minds likely to behave that way if they had been nurtured in an industrialised landscape?

     The ratio of a river's length to its direct distance from source to estuary is Pi. That means that far from being a good metaphor for free meanderings, a river's course is pretty foreordained and evidences determinism in nature, like the shell of a nautilus or petals of a sunflower.

A Letter.

     I was intrigued by the phrase: 'A river will curb the spread of an entire city'. This was to me suggestive of tension and conflict, which can be between all kinds of things: reason and passion for example.

     A city may be like the material, the formal structure and 'matter'. Thoughts, which limit the impact of that structure, are like a river: emergent properties stemming from a concrete source, but ultimately and surely cleaving their own course.

     Rivers seem to reflect the opposite that we expect of the thoughts their surroundings inspire. Bearing in mind that the apparent lumbering of a river, close to its estuary, is actually where it flows fastest.

     Up in the mountains, far from human ambition (or 'deep from human vanity' as Thomas Hardy wrote), the rivulets and brooks that begin a river's course seem frenetic and urgent, as though trying impatiently to resolve themselves.

     But we associate places like that with freedom from the rat race, with the ability to think clearly, slowly and in a manner attuned to the ambitionlessness of nature. By contrast, the busyness of London, the scurrying and overclocked fidgeting of it, is tempered by the steady Thames, groaning almost imperceptibly through the clay.

      That always interests me to think about - urban rivers seem so relaxed and elephantine!

A Letter.

     London used to have dozens of rivers above ground, all with wonderfully suggestive names. There's the Peck after which Peckham is derived: the Neckinger, at whose mouth criminals were hanged: the Ravensbourne, which runs down to Sydenham, the Fleet (the largest), which runs from the Heath and others.

    They're all still there, but most often beneath your feet, having been moulded and steered into sewers by the Victorians. Occasionally you catch a glimpse of one when it surfaces: the Westbourne runs through an inconspicuous trough at Sloane Square station. Hardly anyone knows it contains a river; it just looks like a pedestrian viaduct.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make is: some of the most storied rivers, like unwritten thoughts, exist unseen.


A River (from A Letter).

A river will curb the spread of an entire city; will hedge the spill of the morning rush, mete the rising trudge and sunless ebb - to slapdash dinners and seven-hour sleep.

It will meet the salt chucks and breach those rougher pockets of memory. While our minds fish thoughts from the rills and brooks; cradles for the weak that have strayed behind.

In the city, five cranes, blinkered and clumsy, dip their vagrant lines for docile scraps. Towers tussle beneath the ragged flag to silence that trudge of hammering feet.

Noon by the Black River.

Sagged on the flat bank and domed beneath the sedges, an old toad cleaves the mangroves with a devilish croak. His forearms are bowed to make room for his throat to bulge like the bellows of a blessed fire - puffing smoke from the charred rigging of a hallowed pyre.

The river takes its name from the hue of its dregs, then blends at Middle Quarters in a brackish morass. Fishermen peer from the flanks of their boats and lower their baskets to the water. Pairs of wet hands, pulling at the traps, cradle the voyage of early slaves.

Come evening, three hundred years and a haul of shrimp lay netted and drying on the sands.

     Jesse Garrick 2009