Waterlight poems

‘The way is broad, reaching left as well as right’

Lao Tzu. Tao Te Ching Book One XXXIV.

Clare Crossman’s poetic vision is at the heart of the Waterlight project, informing and encouraging the creative response of others throughout. Here is an initial selection of poems from Clare, followed by poems from others who have become part of the project through our events and activities. 

Poems from Pam Ames, Yvonne Chamberlain, Clare Crossman, Eleanor FitzGerald, Ursel North, Frances Prestridge, Pauline Radley & J.S. Watts

Melbourn Bury

At the rising place, a bare lake
come from aquifer, deep spring,
an accident of geology.
Clear as an eye,
straight from the source,
chalk water spilling through my hands.

The Anglo Saxons left their cups,
the sharp edges of their brooches here.
Votive, for protecting
a washing, drinking place.

If this river has a god it’s Hestia,
Goddess of settlement and hearth.
After the silver jewels fall,
here is a house, path, bridge
and a name: Bury: meaning
secret, hidden, enfolded

Clare Crossman © 2018


The lake becomes a thin stream.
Falls on its own current to a narrow trace.
Written in shallows, gravel bed and ankle high,
a narrative of greengage orchards and plums.
A summer to spend wading on the clay bottom.
Here be dragon flies, cool places where
reed beds clump.
If this chalk stream were more than element
it would know that in this curving fall,
it carries memory, losses, griefs,
away, across this meadow
and that here we live by waterlight.

Clare Crossman © 2018


Posing in a tiny photograph
with their crooked grins,
at the iron bridge.
this is where the whippet boys swam.

Into the weeds for treasure.
alongside the rat and the watervole,
at the place of the sharp divers,
pearly white kings of the water.

But a long wire from farm fencing
trapped a boys ankle
and he did not rise.
The water plastered over his head.

Now the pond smiles with waterlilies,
old millstones as ornament
and souvenir, beyond its dark history.
A black depth held back,

where it sloshes for release
behind the rusted sluice gate.

Clare Crossman © 2018


Shapeshifting and marking time,
too narrow for boats
the stream cuts through playing fields,
connecting villages to woods,
the footpaths pounded for walks,
outward and home.

It collects rain,
has its own damp and dog hole
that fills with plastic bottles thrown
from passing cars, crisp packets,
lichen on the walls.
The stream carries the reflections
of the backs of houses,
watering fields and giving places
to rest your mind on water.

In summer it reclaims green,
water parsnip, long rustling reeds
willow trees shimmer.
Keeps winter in its sump,
rivery mist rising on iced mornings.

Mostly it contains the sky.
A field of blue or iron grey,
etched with trees.
Never the same.
this silver thread
that ties places together,
with a mirror and everyday,
a new rite of passage.

Clare Crossman © 2018


The rush that turned the mill wheel
is a waterfall now,
its gush and race funnels like a great rain
that fills a hollow deep enough to swim in.

On June days swifts dive
between the two large stones
that hold the empty shaft of its tunnel.

Here the stream is gathered in,
in the water dark below the grain tower
it lets go of the weight it carries,
releases its possibilities into
the widening calm of gravel shallows,
water light flickering copper in the sun.

The birds skim back into the air.
The daylight floats.
Leaning over at the small bridge
all things pass. The collected branches,
broken wood, decaying leaves
these too are washed away.

Clare Crossman  © 2018 


The chalk stream claims its territory
in a scrap book of feathers,
watermarked weeds, pressed petals,
insect’s wings.

No fords, only tiny stone bridges
or firm wooden crossings that would take a horse,
a herd of sheep, as was once.

Behind the church, there’s willow shelter
on the banks, picture perfect. Sanctuary
as if it was still an ancient way
full of travelling ghosts.

One minute long grass, the next chalk flat.
And it is as if nothing ever changes
and crossing is easy between banks.
Through the gate forward and back
forward and back.

But this is the nature
of crossings, a leaving, a letting go
a threshold.

There were others here before.

Clare Crossman © 2018

In this short film, Clare reads Crossings at the river Mel:

Vaughan Williams at Warren Bank

He felt the music rising in his head,
then in flat land wind under a ringing sky.

And walked out from the gloomy house
to travel white dust roads to find the singing.

From the field men of work sitting with their ale
waiting to tell stories and the women

with lullabies and broken hearted girl’s
laments twisted from the briars of love.

He set them down turned into plain song,
to become natural as the grieving river,

unstopping as the water that connects
source, millpond and moving shallows,

to be part of the stave, the largo and heft
of the quietly beating heart.

Clare Crossman  © 2018


This man is made of water
as the girl was made of flowers.
Riffle and shift, rain collecting
lifting the bucket
pulling out plastic cartons.
He knows the stream from its scent,
silt and knotweed,
hawthorn buds, the green
prophecy of spring.

Crossing his land he keeps it
in a ditch, deep steep banks, shelving
so it can’t rise and is beyond the wind.
Once he found a message in a bottle
jammed in the drain
‘Come back’ it said.

All his family washed in it,
his sons looked for trout
some grew watercress,
he does not want it rising
to a flood.

The man is made of water
as the girl was made of flowers.
Riffle and shift it crosses his land
he does not want is rising.
In dry weather he uses it
for storage, when the ditch fill with dust.

Clare Crossman © 2018


And suddenly there is a wider river there,
approaching across the plain
like the amazon passing through.
Risen from a thousand wells
it cannot stop flowing seaward.

The thin chalk stream, joins it.
Trickles in willowed enchantment
Flag iris, rosebay willow herb, cool
clay bed at the place where fish
might swim upstream.

Confluence. Noun. A flowing together
of two or more streams.
A body of water formed by two
Rivers or lakes. It happens here
on land miles from nowhere
at a boundary and a border

Water finds water unless its damned.

Clare Crossman © 2018

The following poems were written by participants in the Waterlight workshop at the Hub in Melbournon September 21st. Here are some of the poems the participants wrote, inspired by the river Mel. 

The Magic Mel

We interfere too much:
Greed, money and exploitation of the land:
So we own the planet, do we?
No, we don’t – we share it.
We need to live in harmony with nature
And the river, the streams …
It’s getting too late….
So that….we don’t take too much
And we don’t spoil the lands and seas
Is it too late?

The Magic Mel still remains;
Golden beams of gentle light and warmth,
Rustle of trees and foliage round the little stream.
A microcosm of a childhood dream that was real for my daughter;
Delighting in the laughing water,
Paddling, fishing for no fish,
Climbing trees for the sheer joy
No fear; just happy in the moment
With simple picnics on the bank,
Laughing, singing, dancing and playing
With loving grandparents by the MEL.
A simple image of rural delight.

Having absorbed this joy,
For my only child, and enjoying it still on my own,
How can the war against the countryside be constrained?

For how much longer?

You can’t stop a river flowing,
Nor a human from running towards what… freedom?
The river comforts, the river consoles
All souls if we let it, even those in pain;
Here you can be free from fear
Or work towards it conscientiously;
Water soothes, entertains and laughs with you.

No wonder the wise Ancients worshipped it
And created Water gods and nymphs aplenty,
Water was life to them,
And still is if we care for it.

Perhaps it’s not too late
I hope not for the value of precious, sunlit
But gentle pictures from the past,
Should be the right of every child
And human on this planet.

We must listen to our soul in nature
It is wise, kind, generous and brave:
Is it too late?

Eleanor FitzGerald © 2018

Splashing and Sploshing

Wet feet
In wet socks
In wet boots
In the water’s edge

Jumping, sploshing
Running, splashing
Sliding, sloshing

To catch an empty coke can
Chucked from a car

Making coots scoot
With their piercing scream,
The mallards already ahead, gliding
Quacking only to each other

The ripples are from me
My invasion

Sliding up the bank
Flopping on springy tufts
Oozing off Beyonce wellies
Watching the water return home

Pulling sticky socks
Squeezing the cold, cucumber-scented drips
Feet brushing meadow grass
Drying in the still air

Laying, earthing
As an ant or was it an earwig clambering my ear
Exploring the ramp of my hair
Laid over tufted vetch and black medic

Listening to the grass
Softly sing

A peacock butterfly settled on a nettle
To drink or lay an egg
Flitting to another, then another
Busy over the whole clump

A bunting darted, dived
To its nest
Hidden in the dense reeds
Phragmites teacher said

Thanks Grandma
For saving this place.

(Phragmites – another name for Norfolk Reeds).

Pauline Radley © 2018

Life Line

1. Plant Life

Once among the osier beds
the river weaved.
Now the willow weeps
as the water streams
between reedy phragmites.
A good flow of water
will break off some water crowsfoot,
share it with the liquid rush.
On the banks, yellow daffodils
cowslip and sharp tongued nettles
look on and over
to where life is farmed fruitful:
greengages, cherries, apples.

2. Wild Life

Cows will walk down the river.
In it, heron, egret and otter
hunt for life.
Otterhounds in their stable
sense games afoot.
Likewise the ferret
noses after the rabbit.
The donkey does not deign
to get his feet wet.
Green grass is god and
fish have no fascination.

3. Water Life

Red breast, roach, Miller’s Thumb,
the varying rainbow splash of trout,
eels winding their own slippery
darkwater weave.
Two springs meld into one
to become many,
life pouring onwards.

J.S.Watts © 2018

Time Flows Through

Time flows through these waters
marking the changes, being marked,
floating the changes on,
ripples echoing and fading
deep in history’s dark mill pond.
Once was a spring
clear with promise
water bubbling into sunlit air
diamond bright splashes
veined jeweled and silver.
Then Romans, water meadows,
mills, enclosures,
the railways, a bypass.
The river changed course
but carried on flowing.
Osier beds, varied phragmites,
watercress, water crowsfoot,
cowslip, buttercup, nettle.
Came red breast, roach, Miller’s Thumb,
eels winding their way,
the trout that came and went
and came again
and following them
herons, kingfisher, white egrets, otter,
otterhounds loose from their stable.
Life – death – food, and life again.
The ever changing journey
weaving through it all,
coming back on itself
to settle into the soil and chalk
it bubbled from,
melting with a stronger flow
that silts and splits and continues.
Dried almost completely once
in ’76, but came back
again, because it does
slowly, eventually,
in due course
in some wet form or other.
Bridge what you cannot cross.
Walk where you cannot float.
Skate when it’s too cold to walk
and the year is dying
but the cowslips return with the spring
and the water streams back into liquid
on and through
taking time with it.

J.S.Watts © 2018

Chalk 1941

I first heard water’s rush, when I saw my face
in the pool at the pump that swelled outward,
into ditches draining toward the mill stream.

We splashed there made a noise pretended
to make rain, or go to sea on a long voyage
then were chased by old men, angry, with sticks.

The river was far away with crows
and searchlights. Among monsters and trolls
the bogey who lived under my bed.

I had no history of water except Grandad’s
tales, of otters, trout, and owls, when he hid
under bridges waiting to meet girls

I’d never seen owls, only in books
kept in the dry. Gasmask in hand,
same walk home same walk to school.

What does a river write? A place that
surrounds you green, dripping drops on your face.
Immersion divination, all the wild gods.

I was not of that then. Much later
They took the barbed wire away.
Trees bloomed along the grey lanes.

I heard others of my age singing
about sanctuary and freedom.
It seeming impossible that the wheel
Had ever been stopped.

In case bad men came.

Clare Crossman © 2018

The River Mel

Bubbling from clear springs to form a lake,
The start of the Mel
How long had that water been underground?
A thousand years or more
Before it bubbled up?
And then spilling from the lake to flow on its way
Bubbling, gurgling, murmuring,
Through and around the village that takes its name.
Great for jumping, splashing, paddling, squeals and laughter;
For sitting by and listening to its song
To watch for the flash of Kingfisher in his royal robes
And the lordly Heron moving with stately grace
Who then stops, poised,
And stabs to take his mark.
The fisherman patient as the Heron;
Who tells of the spotted trout he once caught.
The life blood of the village flowing to the Rhee
The waters joining flowing on to become the Cam,
Then on past tower and spire
To the sea to become part of the vast oceans;
Which make this the Blue Planet.
Which evaporate and fall as rain
Starting again the cycle.   

Frances Prestridge © 2018

My River 

In the early morning hours
Ghost-like mists
Would linger in the valleys
Before the rising sun
Dispelled them and the river seemed to expand
Becoming wrinkled at the bends
And mirror smooth in the middle.

Where grandma’s vegetable garden
Met the river bank
The cold beauty of the snowdrops
Would merge into carpets of cowslips
At the end of April.

Once a solitary duck appeared
From out of nowhere;
While it stayed close by
And we were waiting
For its mate to arrive but none ever did
In the end it accepted
Our hospitality and that of grandma’s chickens
Just going for the occasional swim
To be stared at in amazement
By the cockerel and his flock

On washing days the women
Would slap their soapy linen
Against large flat stones
Anchored in the water
Till the suds were gone
And the linen could be
Spread out on the grass
For the sun to dry and bleach it
And woe betide anyone
Who let out the chickens on that day!

If you walked with the sun
The river meandered
To higher grounds
Through a stretch of birch trees
Nursing clusters of short shrubs
At their feet:
This was the realm of the bilberries!
We children set out
With jars and pots
To find and collect them
Coming home with tell-tale signs
Of deep purple
On hands and faces.

A shallow stretch of water
Lined the hottest part of
The school sports ground-
A welcome opportunity
To cool off after physical exertion.

Following the river
In the opposite direction
It ran underneath
The village road
Where people would hide
From air raid bombings
During the war.
Further east still
The river flowed through
Stretches of open meadowland
With tall ferns and grasses
Concealing its whereabouts
The gentle murmuring
Giving away its place of hiding.

Willow trees were taking over here
Bowing gracefully to let
The tips of their fronds
Caress the water.
This is where the banks turned noisy
And the river became shallow
Concealing wonderful
Deep, cool, smooth, revitalising mud
From which the bravest of us would emerge
With the most leeches.
Beyond this we did not venture,
It was the territory
Of the beech-tree woods
A gloomy place,
Secretive and scary.
In the long hot summers
When the sun sat high
Hooked in the top of trees
Days without boundaries
Were turning into time.

And wherever you are Ollie,
I am sorry for the hurt we caused
When we threw your clothes
Into the river where it was deepest
And watched them spread and slowly sink
While we were helpless with laughter
And you looked on
In silent despair
Because you could not swim.

Ursel North © 2018

The Mel in May

River Mel, you sparkle along,
Waving water weeds spin with your song,
Weaving a green harmonic of grace
Throughout this magical place.
No mechanical note can ever recall
The natural, shy beauty of it all.
Growth is tuning up all around
As sap rises silently, fed by the ground.
An orchestra’s triangle could lightly tinkle
A musical vision around a Periwinkle
That grows by the Flags of pale washed yellow,
And a Buttercup, glowing mellow.
Germander Speedwell rushes to greet
Ragged Robin mending his clothes at her feet;
The Wild Geranium in her pale pink frock
Lives up to her name, running amok.
In a green celebration, a song of new birth
Titania and Oberon will twinkle with mirth.
Caring hands have fenced your banks,
Your waters now sing in dancing descants.
The way is now clear and clean;
The music asks to be seen.
The trees above bow to the song
As you nourish and feed, day and night long.
So clear and tranquil, forever calm;
River Mel, you soothe with a natural balm.

Yvonne Chamberlain © 2018

River Mel
Credit: Yvonne Chamberlain 2018


The advert. In the local mag said
“Come and help us clean up your local river and its bed.
We’re litter picking along the banks
of the River Mel and our grateful thanks
Will be due to those of you who collect the rubbish, left behind
Along the river and its banks, for others to find.”

Saturday morning dawned sunny and bright,

So we went along to see if we might
Help make the River, its banks and pathways clean.
We never knew, nor could we have foreseen
The friendship and laughter we would come to receive
At the hands of Maureen, Les, Sandra and Steve.
These were the dedicated four,
Who encouraged us and were quick to ensure
We were kitted out with gloves, pickers and sacks,
And set on our way along the bankside tracks.

Twenty-seven sacks were filled that day,
Ready for the Council to take away.
The River, itself, just for good measure,
Gave up a lot of its sunken treasure …
A P.A.system, a Sainsbury’s trolley,
tin cans, bottles, lots of balls and, yes, a dolly.

Some years ago the River was “sorted”
The banks were spoilt and the fast flow of the River aborted.
A dredger was brought in, the damage done,
The River was altered and its demise begun.
This once beautiful chalk bed stream
Started to die; choked with silt – it made you scream.

But, as last, there was hope in sight
For along came “the four” and with all their might,
Searched to find out what was entailed,
To save the River, where others had failed.
The work was specific, not experimental,
With rules strictly laid down by the Agency Environmental.

The River had to be narrowed, its banks restored,
And the problem of silt could not be ignored.
The work had to be done organically,
All by hand and not mechanically.
And so the hard work began,
Under the watchful eye of the Council man.

We’ve had our fun and laughter too,
When one of us fell in and got soaked through.
Colin, one day, cried out in alarm
That he was wet right through – up to his arm.
His waders had sprung a serious leak,
And he was feeling far from chic.
We pulled him out and watched as he ran
With waders full, he lookd like the Michelin man.

The River was in trouble when the A10 bridge was built,
As the Mel there soon became four foot deep in silt.
To ensure the River flowed with a ripple, not a thud,
Colin and Les would push through the sticky wall of mud.
It was decided, without a doubt
The pile of silt would have to be cleared out.
A firm came along with a vacuum type machine
And sucked at the mud ’till all was clean.

One hundred tons of grit were then raked onto the River bed,
Hopefully to encourage fish to spawn, they said.
And now, as if fulfilling our dreams,
In the River, trout and other fishes can be seen.
Now the River flows clear and free,
On to the Rhee, the Cam, the Ouse and the sea.

At this time our thanks are due, especially,
On this, their tenth anniversary,
To this happy band, this hardy troup…

Pam Ames © 2018