Gatekeepers (the poem)

The river, we called it, but now I’m grown and travelled
maybe we exaggerated: wide enough
for paddles not for oars, green and languid
summer-shaded drifter, hobo, friend
of swans, dragonflies, rats, the big old pike
and fearless urchin-adventurers, Rich and me.

Over the garden fence, tackle and bait,
nets and knowledge – fathers’ hand-me-downs
to the bank where we balanced floats, maggotted hooks,
assessed the current, searched for hidden depth
and weed and silent darting shadows, cast
in the role of real serious fisher men.

Not all we caught was treasure: a shoe, a root,
the opposite bank, sometimes ourselves; but then
a quiver, tension, repetitive bob, and the line
jerked away upstream, our wit and strength
tested by the silver-scaled, rose-tipped
beauty, the largest landed in our small history.

Boys will be men, and nature will be tamed –
The gatekeepers move in, divert the flow:
“The threat of flooding needs to be contained;
Your child can’t drown now that the water’s low.”

The pike’s long gone, and where we caught the rudd
A supermarket trolley’s stuck in mud.

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