Collected water

Dedication poem
Claude Leon Foundation Dam, Goedgedacht
14 December 2006
The woman rinses a rag in a bowl
to cool the brow of her fevered child.
She lifts a cup to his mouth.
Later she boils rice to feed the others,
then goes outside to scatter grain
and fill the chickens’ water trough.
On her own hot bed that night she dreams
of a grey sky, its flannel of rain,
of green flags of spinach,
mealies multiplying,
and a nimbus of clothes washed bright as saints.

If you have no water, all you can do is
pray for rain or steal. Or you can dig or store.

The word “rivals”, from “rivalis”
is rooted in fights over water,
“one taking from the same stream as another.”

When we learn to share
the earth, the water and the air
we have to start with small things,
those that cup our patrimony:
spoons, bowls, buckets, wells,
even this open-handed dam
fed from mountain streams
and built to human scale for human use.

Here Egyptian geese congregate,
an egret nilometer measures depth.
Plovers dive-bomb engineers,
black eagles survey the changed landscape
with glinting yellow eyes.
A cloud travels across the water’s face,
its frown uncreasing.

May the water of this place
irrigate the veins of the olive tree,
its shrewd knuckled hands,
its gnarled history of temperance.

And may this be a reservoir
for those who gather here
to splash a summer day away
and others who quietly
observe baked sky,
earth’s deep thirst,
the ripple of wind on water.

Note: The information about the meaning of “rivalis” comes from The New Yorker.