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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 3, September 2013

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Gerry Jacobson
Canberra, Capital Territory, Australia


The River

We cannot other than an aspen be
That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves


—Edward Thomas

After fifty years that amazing return to country. From the first moment I belong—in the group, in the landscape, on English soil. How I grieve when that journey comes to an end.

the field is empty
the grass has grown long . . .
echoes
of songs and laughter
hopes, dreams, memories

But now I know that this is really my soul country. It’s where my placenta was buried, and where I grew up. What parallel life might I have lived here if I hadn’t taken off at 18 and emigrated? What were its possibilities?

I have a dream now, of wandering round England with a group of raggle-taggle gypsies; forever a wayfarer, searching for home in the dance.

Two years later, a second journey. We follow a river down from source to mouth, a ten day walk. Where does our river begin? Its source is a spring in the Fens, on a low flat divide.

morning mist
in water meadows
the sun
casts long shadows . . .
enchanted summers long ago

Camping, cocooned under a great plane tree, cosied down in leaf litter. All night the Waveney murmurs in my ear.

soft ground beneath me
Milky Way overhead
snuggling
into the Earth
sleeping with the Universe

From Syleham House to Mendham Marsh, we paddle a secret river; drift the morning through shadowed pools, yellow water lilies, a shaft of sunlight. I swim out towards it but the water’s so cold on sensitive Aussie skin!

Showers sweep the marshes, a rainbow spans the clearing. (Fried eggs in the rain). Walking along the Angles Way, I lose the track, have to jump ditches, swim dykes. Oh, for the wings of a marsh harrier!

home
becomes a roadside verge
I shed my pack
sit in the shade
sipping water

Map moment shared with R: we shelter in an old barn and eat cherries. The Saxon cathedral is still dissolving into flint cobbles . . . a thousand years of summer breezes through the woodland. Warm red brick and golden ale moment: friends by the moat in afternoon sunlight.

The Waveney is the ancient border between Norfolk and Suffolk, the north folk and the south folk. I stand on a bridge looking at the water, and G tells me I am in Nuffolk. Further down the valley, the Waveney merges with the River Yare, loses its identity.

the river
flows silently
smoothly out
into the wide marsh sky—
is my tide running out?

We walk into Great Yarmouth to see the merged river enter the sea. But the estuary is cut off by barbed wire: Port Authority headquarters.

Journey’s end. Our final evening together. Campfire conversation. R tells of an ancient Welsh concept hebrwng (to show the way). From this she derives hebrwngwyr (the ‘way-shewers’, or those who show the way).

evening drifts
fire burns brighter
billies burble . . .
smoke in my eyes
which fill with tears

Early morning. I squat by the ashes of our last campfire, sipping coffee. The aspen quivers . . . anticipating. I feel apprehensive about leaving the group.

I pack, hug people, say goodbye. They all come with me to the edge of the campsite. I shoulder my pack, walk off towards the bus stop, turn for a last look. They stand there, waving. So my last memory of the walk is of a dozen smiling faces. Beloved way-shewers!

touch of frost
warmth of sunrise
ache of spring . . .
emails, phone calls . . .
stabs of longing


Author’s Note: The tanka ‘wayfarer’ was first published in GUSTS 15 (2012)

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