Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

I was born and brought up in Burton-on-Trent, a brewing town in the English Midlands. It's the hardness of the water, its particular mix of dissolved minerals, that makes it suitable for brewing beer. This poem makes use of a couple of Burton expressions, the traditional greeting "Hey up me duck" and the word "mardy", which just means "moody" or "sulky".

Hard Water

Hard Water

I tried the soft stuff on holiday in Wales,
a mania of teadrinking and hairwashing,
excitable soap which never rinsed away,

but I loved coming home to this.
Flat. Straight. Like the vowels,
like the straight talk: hey up me duck.
I'd run the tap with its swimming-pool smell,
get it cold and anaesthetic. Stand the glass
and let the little fizz of anxiety settle.
Honest water, bright and not quite clean.
The frankness of limestone, of gypsum,
the sour steam of cooling towers,
the alchemical taste of brewing.

On pitiless nights, I had to go for the bus
before last orders. I'd turn up my face,
let rain scald my eyelids and lips.
It couldn't lie. Fell thick
with a payload of acid. No salt -
this rain had forgotten the sea.
I opened my mouth, speaking nothing
in spite of my book-learning.
I let a different cleverness wash my tongue.
It tasted of work, the true taste
of early mornings, the blunt taste
of don't get mardy, of too bloody deep for me,
fierce lovely water that marked me for life
as belonging, regardless.


from Hard Water (Jonathan Cape, 2003), copyright © Jean Sprackland 2003, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Recordings

Jean Sprackland Reading from her Poems

1Note from the Outside

2Hard Water

3Fibre Optics

4Reading Leaves

5The Apprentice

6The Currency of Jellyfish

7The Light Collector

8The Room of Saints and Virgins

9Seacoal

10Losing the Dark

11Holy

12No Man's Land

13Barbie on the Roof

14Lovell Radio Telescope, Jodrell Bank

15The Hairdresser's Across the Street

16And They All Lived Happily Ever After

17A Baby in the Filing Cabinet

18Before There Were Weather Forecasts

19Caravan

20The Man who Comes to Empty the Bottle Bank

21Shocks

22A Hangman's New Career

23The Mission

24An Old Friend Comes to Stay

25Everything Must Go

26Shadow Photograph

27Learning to Love Money

28Teaching Frogs to Fly

29Deadnettle

30In the Planetarium

31Radio Silence

32Tattoos for Mothers' Day

33Ice on the Beach

34You

35Physics

36Spilt

37Underfire

Books by Jean Sprackland