for Barry MacSweeney
To find the quartz in your valley
I must make sure it's raining,
a settled rain of fluent chiming
like a rivulet from the fells,
follow the course over dead gravel
onto the marbled slab of the river,
wade upstream through erosion of rocks
where the glacier first picked
its way not carefully from hills,
where waterfalls hang from pillars
like tresses of naiads' hair
yet fracture into drops like facets
of stone. I must travel up where
the low cloud skirts and
water clatters in the cold beck.
It is there the quartz glitters.
It will gleam rose and cloudy pearl
among your tumblestones.
It has to be dislodged
from wild continuous chatter,
an ore of a kind, in the high up
bubbling seed bed of the river.
The mist will come down, closing
the fell in loose gauze fetters
as I immerse my hand
into the pain of spring water,
all winter's chill collected
like bundled barbed wire.
Up to the wrist the water will boil
near to freezing. I will prize
free the sharp gem prickles,
so like ice, from its setting.
If you had a heart it would be
this quartz, if you had a body
it would be this water, slipping
into the tidal reaches of the Tyne.
S. J. Litherland is from Warwickshire but has lived in Durham since 1965. She is a founding member of Vane Women, the women's writing collective.
"The Quartz in Your Valley was written on the Isle of Wight during an exchange with the women's group Shore Women, a poem sparked by looking at stones. It's a poem of being exiled from place and love and is a restorative journey up the South Tyne Valley to the source of the river on Cross Fell. Following Barry's death it was the closest I could be to him."
The poem appears in her sixth poetry collection The Absolute Bonus of Rain due from Flambard Press this Spring. Recent publications include The Apple Exchange and The Work of the Wind, also from Flambard, and The Homage, a cricket saga, from Iron Press. A poem from The Homage was chosen to represent cricket on the BBC Radio 3 programme Words and Music.
Follow the link for a list of other Poems of the Month.
The Quartz in Your Valley © 2010 S. J. Litherland: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.