Grips drain the spains into reens, slow moving
in summer or stagnant against stanks which keep the water
high enough for livestock to drink, for dragonflies
to rise imago, to wing, navigating the ditches.
It is easy to dream the Caldicot Levels in the slow
drone of warm months, cow pat-buzzed and swooped with swifts,
harder to consider the blocked and frozen gouts of winter
scythed by bitter winds funnelled up The Bristol Channel.
The local mind down centuries attuned to water, its
rise and fall twice daily a steady heartbeat, bleeding
the land of it at low tide and preventing inundation at high,
catching the rhythms between calm and storm.
To live off land and, from May to half August, off water
was the way. Hecks, crucks, cribs and here called putchers,
baskets set in ranks ready to trap thew salmon striking
upriver along ingrained lines of origin to milt and spawn.
To prepare then for the first day of May, split hazel rods
and plait with autumn cut withy. Old men and young
together in story, hazel and withy. Every finished putch
must last two seasons - a third with repair.
With gape end open to tide, the conical traps are fixed, some
to flood ranks, some to ebb ranks, ready to swallow bounty.
The putcher fishermen linger like last turnstones, eyes keen
on the return run as mud banks and traps rise from the river.
At low tide they are markers in the estuary
occupying the same spot as forefathers,
a dwindle of lave netmen searching the surface for signs,
a bubble, a purr of water pushed by a fin.
Waist deep in danger, they know the river
and work with it. Spread rimes are outstretched
arms embracing the water’s run which tensions
the net, bellowing it into a yawn.
Fingers sense the net filaments in spider-like waiting,
one twitch enough to trigger the ambush.
A man steps back, raising the rock staff in front
springing the lave net above writhed in silver trophy.
Lave is to wash, perhaps to feel
the wash of time in The Severn curdling
with the sea, its undertow of secrets bumping
and flattening neoprene waders against legs.
Copyright Ric Hool 2015
Recent publications by Ric Hool include Selected Poems (Red Squirrel Press 2013) and A Way of Falling Upwards (Cinnamon Press 2014). The first British publication of Last Fair Deal Gone Down, a docu-story conflating the lives of the author, seminal blues singer/guitarist Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton, originally published in Fulcrum No. 6 (Annual of Poetry & Aesthetics) USA, can be viewed on the current Junction Box 6 here. The long poem and homage, Thirteen Friendships to Chris Torrance is published by Tears In The Fence No. 60 (2014). Ric has organized the poetry reading series Upstairs at the Hen & Chicks in Abergavenny for the past 21 years. He is from Northumberland but lives in Wales.