Canal Du Midi

Summer squats heavily on the afternoon.

Gnats in their squadrons blur the shadeless spaces.

Canopied by the plane trees’ over-arching branches,

The canal is impenetrably still.

Only the high leaves, ruffled by the breeze,

Whisper tales of a bustling heritage.

Sloughed scabs of bark leave the plane-boles mottled.

Their pied reflection is double-dappled

By slabs of sunlight falling through the leaves.

The bright dalliance on the water

Renders it as opaque as camouflage

Until some trick of the light flips one’s vision,

Inverts the darkness and twists perspective.

The deep waters are now the more illumined.

Shapes emerge like fresh images on raw film.

The canal shimmers, quick with its chronicle:

Fleets of barges, laden with bales and kegs,

Ply east to west to east, trading the seas;

Ancestors lap against their descendants,

All born to the floating graft of barge-life,

Counting their days against the chain of locks;

They plod the path, like lumbering Phaetons,

Harnessed to the barge as the horse that tows it,

Or, slaves to the new steam, fetter their days

Feeding engines, greedy for speed, with coal,

Its black, acrid tang the taste of trade.  

Thousands of forgotten lives have floated

Down the years, toiling this liquid route,

Stretching dreams of occident and orient,

Then woken at each coast, and, sighing, turned back.

Now only the leisured pedal these banks

To fill an empty hour, caring little

For this old, laborious industry

Or its generous legacy of ease.

The canal dozes; its past congealing.

Summer squats heavily on the afternoon.


David Matthews

January 2016

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