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The Digging of Deep Wells

J. Hugh MacDonald
From:   The Digging of Deep Wells. Black Moss Press, Windsor, Ontario, 1997.

the breaking of solid ground
stacking a circle's worth of sod
between tree stumps,
shovelling layers
of damp and musty clay
into wooden pails,
and soon requires
a ladder, and a tripod
of white-barked birch,
and where it's joined
a wooden block
through which passes
a hundred feet
of sturdy rope.
Then begins
the lining of the walls
—fresh-cut sandstone
starts ten feet down,
builds up layer by layer
tight to the top.
Since there's no sign yet
of gurgling water,
the digger digs anew
goes down inside
the present ring of rock
with short-armed spade,
sharp and heavy crow,
hammers stubborn aggregate
smashes layered shale,
load after deadly load
sways up behind the rope.
The lower he goes,
the harder the falling pebbles hit,
the deeper the darkness.
At ladder's full length
more layered circles of stone,
hole gradually widening
until this present wall
provides foundation
for the wall above
and by lantern light
the digger stands
on broken rock,
watches the ladder rise
and disappear above the rim.
The air is chill:
each clatter of crow
each scrape of shovel
each claustrophobic breath
echoes up the hole
toward the light
past the rain of dust
that coats the chilling sweat
of neck and brow.
And now at end of work
the bucket ends its day,
is swift unbound,
replaced by bosun's chair
twirling he rises, to sleep
and then descend again
and again
until one afternoon
he stands in icy damp
hears the gush of stream
and fresh cold water rise up,
shock his weary groin.
Filled up with sudden joy
he risks to look
at what's above
and finds as his reward
a perfect circus of stars.

J. Hugh MacDonald's works copyright © to the author.

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