Our river wasn’t
a clean river,
a mountain stream,
a babbling brook,
or a silver girl.
It was a filthy river,
a city river,
forsaken, neglected.

Long gone, the glory days,
when it was thick with trout
and where, according to my father,
King Billy watered his horses
on his way to the Boyne;
and later barges sailed
up and down, laden with
flax and jute, rope and linen.

As boys we played there,
we built bridges from
rusting bikes and shopping trolleys,
and wooden palettes,
and plastic bread trays
stolen from the Sunblest bakery.
We sailed boats
made from waxed paper,
always keeping an eye open
for rats, as big as cats,
whose jaws would lock
when they bit your leg,
and you’d have to kill them
to get them off.

Once we tried to trace
its source, where it bubbled
clean and pure
from the Castlereagh hills,
but we lost it
under a housing estate
and couldn’t find it
on the other side.

Brimming with youthful optimism
we went there to fish
in its black waters,
thick and slick with oil,
with nylon fishing nets
on bamboo poles,
brought back from
a Sunday school trip
to Ballywalter;
and once, I caught a fish.

A sprick, my father said,
that’s what it was called.
I brought it home
in a jam jar, with a string handle,
and put it clean water.

Two days later it was dead.

Spricks don’t like clean water.


Part of The Learned Pig’s Clean Unclean editorial season, March-May 2015.

Image credit: John Doe


The Learned Pig

David Atkinson

David Atkinson, Belfast poet, has had his prize winning work widely published in the UK and the US. His poetry is always gritty and poignant, measured and never preachy. He achieves a fine balance between the wry, the affectionate and the hard-hit. He will have you laughing out loud at times and welling up at others. His first collection, Thomas, was published by Lapwing (2004). His second collection, Black Eyed Peace, (2014) is available as a free eBook and includes the poem "Hunting for the Aurora", nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. Print copies are also available directly from the author