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The BathysphereDon Paterson
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Vol. 31 No. 10 · 28 May 2009
Poem

The Bathysphere

Don Paterson

627 words

What would you want with that? They said, and fairly,
when the auctioneer’s van dumped it in the drive.
It was far worse than they knew. One absent bidder
had ruined me for the thing, the quartz was cracked

and I’d lied about it being a prototype;
none survived, thanks to the famous flaw
that left them on the seabed with their pilots
smeared all over their one wall. No matter.

This thing still looked straight out of the codex
with its double skin of pig iron and sheet steel,
the daft bespoke of all that brass-and-walnut
and, of course, that eye. Which I avoided.

From the air I must have looked like a dung-beetle
as I wrestled it, all breathers and reverses,
over the hill and into the ring of rocks
I’d laid the day before as anchorage.

What did I want with it? God only knows
there were days when I wondered, sat bored to tears
with my legs asleep, my hands on the dead levers
and barely light to read the empty log,

but something – it was maybe just the cost –
had me stay on, and so I kept my station
till such goose-cries or gear-grinds as could reach me
came slowed and lowered as through a dream of water.

Two years into my watch they showed themselves.
Shadows too fast for clouds, too slow for birds;
then a looming black-eyed face I thought
some kid’s, until I saw it had no mouth.

Now work was a pure joy. I tuned and attuned
and saw their shapes darken and clarify
and heard the bell fill up with their long song.
I was happy. I mean: it would have been enough.

It was the morning. I heard a chain lock up
on the roof, the rocks grind under me
and before I understood the meaning of it
we came free, and a great force bore us upward.

How long the raising took I do not know,
but through the weightless orb there rang a song
so vast and strange I thought my head would burst.
My eardrums did. I was so long past caring

that when the quarry clanged under the bowl
where I lay curled, I had to prompt myself
to be bewildered. In that hourless day
my only certainty was that we’d risen.

It took me both my hands to turn the wheel.
Light cut the door; I put my weight to it
and took my small step down into a world
that was identical and wholly other.

When they ask me what I saw, they all expect
some blissed-out excuse for my not saying,
but I know what I saw: I saw in everything
the germ and genius of its own ascent,

the fire of its increase; I saw the earth
put forth the trees, like a woman her dark hair;
I saw the sun’s star and the river’s river,
I saw the whole abundant overflow;

I saw my own mind surge into the world
and close it all inside one human tear;
I saw how every man-made thing will turn
its lonely face up to us like a child’s;

I saw that time is love, and time requires
of everything its full expenditure
that love might be conserved; and then I saw
that love is not what we mean by the word.

For some idea of it, choose a point
in the middle of a waterfall, and stare
for as long as you can stand. Now look around:
you see how every rock and tree flows upwards?

So the whole world blooms continually
within its true and hidden element,
a sea, a beautiful and lucid sea
through which it pilots, rising without end.

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