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Saturday 26 July 2008

Andrew Motion: The Water Tower

The Water Tower

If a drilling rig clanked inland
and made a stand
in some corner of a barley field -

its elephant legs

and pendulous cable-guts
cleaned up and bleached and thinned

by the massage of a summer wind

to four stocky struts,
its platform also stripped

to a whitewashed cell

with eyes turned everywhere at once -
if such a thing were possible

or worth imagining,
this water tower would be the best result.
Or maybe it dropped in from outer space.

Or then again maybe
its white and height are really like
a lighthouse that the sea

shrank back from then forgot.

That doesn't matter any more.
What does is how,

some forty years ago and recently

arrived to settle hereabouts,

I made this tower the furthest

fixed point of a walk

and stood where I am now,
four-square inside the circle

of its influence, and thought

these fields of silver-whiskered barley,

dog-rose hedges, gravel lanes

ash- and beech-tree spinnies

where the roe-deer live their secret lives,

would never seem so nearly

elements which made a grand design

if not for this: incomprehensible

and silent at the heart of things.

Except the silence broke.

It's over there! that's what I heard -

a joke against the ear

as if a bird had spoken, or the air

rubbed hard enough against itself

to squeak - a joke

I put to rest by saying carefully:

there must be men at work

inside the tower. It's over there!

The same words tumbled down again,

by which I understood I must be due

for home,

so barely heard them as I made my way

along those gravel lanes.

These gravel lanes, I mean -

the same today as then, although

I'm killing time in just a visit now,

not life at home

and what was over there

I reached and passed

and moved away from years ago,

and still can't see - as like the wind

parading through the barley

while I leave the shadow of the tower

and finish here

as anything: a single cat's paw

dabbing gingerly one minute,

then a solid blow

which batters down the heads so far

I think they won't recover.

• Commissioned by the BBC as part of Poetry Proms, a new series broadcast on Radio 3 during the interval of every Wednesday's Prom.

Andrew Motion photo © Antonio Olmos

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