poem by Jenny Joseph ©2009



poem by Jenny Joseph ©2009

music by William Vollinger ©2012

The torrent blasts through the gorge

Exhilarating, dangerous, beyond death.

Only what is native to this element

Survives in the airless seethe of its champagne.

Its plumey spray explodes at the mile-high wall

And smoke from its rebound fills in the abyss;

It moistens the top of the cliff, greening the lip

Of the dark arid plateau, where some people stand.

They are drawn to look through the boil into the entrails.

Mist swirls and thickens, veiling from the humans

The core of power, knowledge of which is death.

The shaft of a spotlight makes a bright cone of it.

Those at the base looking into its eye

Are held by the luminous point.     Outside,

There’s not even nothing. There is no beyond.

The light extinguished or shattered, we are left

Blind on a platform at cliff-edge of dark.

No place that we can know is there, to move to.

And with that néant comes paralysis.

There is no air a human being can breathe.

Keep breathing, though; small movements within that circle

Will push blood through your veins until you can raise

Your eyes to face the blank, and begin to make out.

Where dark thins to a gloom, how, gradually,

Like a dimmer turned up strengthening the light.

Like a blush filling the skin, air permeates.

Evenly, slowly, colour suffuses perspective

Through which a body can move.

Miles from the Falls

Water spills to the plain

And widens over the levels.

Walk out of your house one morning into the town

Into the blue – no mark to fix dimension

As a place to be under. It is just the air.

Scarce visible, comes to your sight by chance

The only wisp in the whole unweighty sky:

Half-moon at zenith high in the azure stationed.

Curve of nail cuticle strengthens like a rind hardening,

The infill’s diaphanous, a fragment of stippled veil

Transparent threads the wind might move but doesn’t.

No personal appointment or passionate need

Has drawn you here, this day like a holiday,

A day that sheds

On nothing very lovely, no Towers of Strength,

On nothing exceptional or desirable –


A grubby woman heaves herself off the bus and hobbles away.

A well-dressed Jamaican youth turns and approaches: ‘Excuse me’.

‘Yes?’ anxiously; peering. ‘Your scarf’. Not hearing: ‘My --   ?’

‘You left your scarf on the bus. I picked it up. And then I couldn’t

    see you.’

‘Oh   thank you. Thank you’ flinging out hands as if to welcome a child

‘It’s very special. I’m so glad not to have lost it. How very good of you.’

The young one crosses the road, laughingly they gesture their goodbyes

The shafts that beam from their eyes meet through dense traffic,

  exchanging pleasure,

Conspiring in love.

The day begins to tire. The shops are crowded.

Two people weave across the road to the chemist

She turning back to shepherd him, whose habit

(Supporting her) makes him reach for her elbow.

Thick stockings wrinkle into outsized plimsolls.

His face is large and mottled.    Somehow they get

Into the chemist’s. They apologize

To people who block their way; you follow in.

He worries he let the door bang in your face

Turns back to hold it for you now. ‘So sorry

To push in front’ ‘Oh no you didn’t’ ‘Did the door

Hit you? How rude of me!’ ‘No, not at all’ ‘I do apologize.’

You want to tell him – but he’s ambled off

To find his wife or the things they’ve come to purchase.

Charisma is not looks or voice or witchcraft.

But a grace of attention, irresistibly attractive,

Affectionate regard, a cherishing.

You want to see them again, to know them a little.

A few pleased words and courtesies to the till girl

Then clutching their packages and each other’s hands

Swaying in tandem zig-zag they cross the road.

He turns unsteady at the kerb and in triumph

Thumbs up to the other side, a radiance

Of concern and tenderness and pleasure in it.

And those who see it know it is for them.

The ruinous force, leashed by the gorge it has made,

Thundering through the mountains becomes the great river,

An artery feeding a land where people can live.


performed by

Rosalind Rees, narrator

Eileen Clark, soprano

Elsa Larsson, alto

Michel Steinberger, tenor

Dominic Inferrera, bass

Sophie Zhang, piano

Thomas Schmidt, conductor

Dennis Dougherty, engineer

“Charisma is not looks
or voice or witchcraft.
But a grace of attention, irresistibly attractive,
Affectionate regard,
a cherishing.”

Jenny Joseph