Hard Water

by Jean Sprackland

I tried the soft stuff on holiday in Wales,
a mania of teadrinking and hairwashing,
excitable soap which never rinsed away,
but I loved coming home to this.

Flat. Straight. Like the vowels,
like the straight talk: hey up me duck.
I’d run the tap with its swimming-pool smell,
get it cold and anaesthetic. Stand the glass
and let the little fizz of anxiety settle.
Honest water, bright and not quite clean.
The frankness of limestone, of gypsum,
the sour steam of cooling towers,
the alchemical taste of brewing.

On pitiless nights, I had to go for the bus
before last orders. I’d turn up my face,
let rain scald my eyelids and lips.
It couldn’t lie. Fell thick
with a payload of acid. No salt —
this rain had forgotten the sea.

I opened my mouth, speaking nothing
in spite of my book-learning.
I let a different cleverness wash my tongue.
It tasted of work, the true taste
of early mornings, the blunt taste
of don’t get mardy, of too bloody deep for me,
fierce lovely water that marked me for life
as belonging, regardless.


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JSJean Sprackland is a poet and writer. She is the winner of the Costa Poetry Award in 2008, and the Portico Prize for Non-Fiction in 2012. Her books have also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize, the TS Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Award.
Jean is Professor of Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Chair of the Poetry Archive, the world’s premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work.

‘Hard Water’ is taken from her poetry collection of the same name, published by Jonathan Cape. Reprinted by permission of The Random House Group Ltd. ©Jean Sprackland 2003”. For more about her four collections of poetry please visit : www.jeansprackland.com