Monday, 23 June 2008

Damp fingers

I was given a small volume of poems for my birthday. ‘Tilt’ is the third of Jean Sprackland’s collections; I already had her ‘Hard Water’. On first readings, I marked up a third of the poems as ones to which I wanted to return, which is a high proportion. Now I have been re-reading those again and been drawn into her images (from the roll of silk spilling on to the floor, to the security of following a stream downhill, via the revived fish in the sink and the colonising ambition of bracken).

The poem which is staying with me most is ‘Spilt’. The image is of a child’s futile attempt at scooping up water from the sea to fill the moat of another child's sand castle, and how the child sees this as its own failure rather than as ‘the fault of the water, its special talent for escape’. The twist is the adult experience: ‘still you arrive with nothing to offer the people you love but damp fingers, the evidence’.

It has also led me to think that those of us who claim to know about ‘springs of water welling up to eternal life’ ought to recognise that it is not our fault that it is not easily packagable. We ought to value more highly the damp fingers which, in the nature of things, are likely to be the only evidence we have that we are in touch with such a reality.

The picture is of the restored stoup at the entrance to St Michael’s, Little Coates. In it is a bowl of fresh water from a recent baptism into which people can dip their fingers to bless themselves. I suddenly like the idea that people can at least have damp fingers as they come into and go out of the church.

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