River Below


The Fleet tide is no inlet now,
merely a memory hidden
in Anglo-Saxon, it’s vowels
stretched and turned like gold to fine thread.

High up in Hampstead, the algae
unstirred by midge and mayfly,
the pond the usable face
of far-off hidden Fleet.

And long before the word had changed,
translated to tabloids,
metonymy of old press,
the tide had turned to Wapping,
lost in ebbs and flows to Canary Wharf.

We have dismissed Fleet.

But here Fleet is, since clay
clogged this basin,
since man thought to shape
substance from symbols,
etching names on the land that stick
then change.

Here a slow underflow crams all
into a trickle of slurry,
a wikipedia of wells
and pot and ponds and mammoth bones.

Here Fleet is, drowned in concrete,
pewtered in a sewer, dribbling
down through Battle, Clerk’s Well, Old Bourne;*
a city beneath a city,
that slides
forgotten towards the Thames.


*Battle is an abbreviation for Battle Bridge, supposed site of Boudicca’s last battle and now King’s Cross St Pancras.  Mammoth bones were found on this site in the 17th Century.

Clerk’s Well is now Clerkenwell. In the 13th Century the Fleet was known as The River of Wells.

Old Bourne has now become Holborn.

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