We were hauling coal back to Rotherham
on t’ Dearne and Dove. It were past midday.
New Year. Frost had made a permanent home
in the trees, and a skin of ice gave way
as Jack and me lugged our boat for’ard.
Mist were ganging around. You couldn’t see
up or down that long canal. It were hard:
we were slipping and sliding, and hardly
seeming to make a whit o’ real progress.
Rope agin our nithered hands were cruel,
but our toes agin our boots were worse.
Force all but wrestled us into t’ canal
when it happened. Suddenly, summat wild
were sucking our boat back towards Barnsley:
that canal were spooked and buckin’ its load –
like t’ Devil had radged it. Jack and me
were helpless as Gert shouted me name
from out in t’ mist. But it were over
sharp as it began. When t’ fit had gone
our boat rested, holed and creaking under
its load. Bed were dry. We were fast there
for weeks. Pit shaft had swallowed t’ canal
just less than a field back. Any closer
and this story wouldn’t be ours to tell.
From Matthew Clegg’s second full-length collection The Navigators (Longbarrow Press, 2015). Visit The Navigators microsite for more details about the book. Listen to Matthew Clegg read this poem on the South Yorkshire Navigation at Mexborough: