Taking Back the River

There were dead children in the river

Whose they were
No one could tell

So long they had lain there,
Where salt water meets the fresh
But none prevails.

And the crabs and small minnows
Vie for entrance
Into the hollowed eyes.

There were dead children in the river
And where they put them
No one will say.

But they told the Mayor
That as the slim bones were lifted
From the grey-green sedge
They drew all eyes upwards
To their quite unrecognisable forms

And water drops
The light carriers
Bore their heavenly tears back into the
River like a healing storm

Like tears that flowed down repentant hair
Those green weeds of the weeping river
As she gave up reluctantly
and yet with deep relief
her hidden dead.

And saw with blind eyes how the unseen hand
Was bearing them away.

There were dead children in the river
No one can say
Whose they were
But we hear them play

Tinkling laughter like the wilderness bells
of young sheep on the hills
For they live free again in the spirit world

And the meadows are their
natural home

part two

The sunshine reminds me of 1945
Of times gone by
And the birds could be singing in any century

Only the announcement “the train now approaching is to High Barnet
Dispels the illusion of time travel.

This bench could be an ancient thing
The coming of spring the most primeval awakening
In the consciousness of early man;
‘Oh joy, the birds are here again!’

the train now approaching is for Morden via Bank

The chimney pots of clay and terracotta
Could be smoky fresh from Mary Poppins

The picket fence so white and prettily trimmed,
From the Railway Children.

Why this nostalgia for a time unseen
The could-have-been of a life lived out
In a distant century

Yet as close as the sun on my skin
The veil so thin

Between them
On the further platform

catching a train to a world released so recently from war

And us
Whose train goes where

We do not know.

The next stop
Totteridge & Whetstone
For the sharpening of knives.

Part three

We are waiting on the platform
For a war to begin
Shall we go to it
Or will it come to us?

There was no announcement given
No notification of a signal failure
To produce the atmosphere necessary for peace.

We knew about justice
Wrote about Human Rights
Closed shop for the engineering works
Necessary to keep the tracks straight
for the commercial wagons
To roll on by

But we forgot about the red light
that we could have used

To signal our displeasure at the widespread
Use of the human person for commercial gain

It was the reign instead
Of the profitable imperative
And China and her contract allies
Kept the standard high

They kept the red flag flying in the face of human needs
And knotted to our blue and yellow
made a
Primary palette in which
every colour
spoke of Human Greed.

We are waiting on the platform for a war to begin
Shall we wave our soldiers off
Or simply welcome their ones in?

Tell me there’s a moment left
When we can close the gate
And redefine what’s more our line
What’s service and what ain’t

I fear the bell is ringing
And the level crossing’s down
And all the human circuses
Are pouring into town.

The title and first part was inspired after reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ description of the famous tale of La Llorona, the Weeping one, who dredges the river for her lost children, whom she herself has thrown in there, having been poisoned by the agony of betrayal. The archetypal tale finds continually new forms. One that Clarissa relates, describes the river as having been polluted by a factory upstream, and La Llorona faces the double betrayal of her children being born deformed by the chemicals in the environment and then being abondoned by the father of the children, who leaves her for the fancy lady who likes to wear the fine things made in the factory!

I think this tale surfaced in my imagination after I was asked to speak for ’40 Days for Life’ on Woman’s Hour (radio 4) last week, in defence of the unborn, who form one of many “ethnicities” who suffer from the injustices of the contemporary blindness to the inalienable rights of every human person to exist for their own sake, and not as the instrument of another, or merely at the whim of the convenience of others.


  1. Sarah, your poetry always strikes a chord in me – you are so talented! The imagery in that first poem was horrifying – very well written and suitably unnerving. I thought straight away of the unborn (even before reading your commentary at the end of the post). A powerful and thought provoking poem for sure.

    The second one I really enjoyed reading – especially the cleverly written and curious last line "For the sharpening of knives" 🙂 I get it. At least I am 99% confident I get it 🙂 Clever lady!

    The phrase that resonated for me in the third poem was "Shall we wave our soldiers off – Or simply welcome their ones in?". To me that speaks about the different in strength between our offense (as Christians) and the enemy's offense – I can relate to this on spiritual terms – do we have our armour on and are we using our sword (i.e. The Word of God) or are we welcoming the enemy in? An interesting thought for me to chomp on.

    Keep writing my friend! Keep writing!

    Helen x

  2. Very powerful , Sarah. Like Helen I thought first of all of the unborn. For all the horror, there's also hope, the healing and light coming through the tears, and the children playing. Has all the power of modern literature to portray hidden horrors so starkly – and the light of hope (water drops which are light carriers – a wonderful limage) we so desperately need. Second and third have a lot of powerful stuff. Transcendence on train journeys is after my own heart! Just felt a slight clunk in "Use of the human person for commercial gain" – maybe "humanity bought and sold"? Well done! MORE MORE MORE please! Dominic

  3. The silent screams,
    Unheard by all but God,
    Rend the garment of righteousness
    With which we clad ourselves

    so lightly.

    The Drag-netters unable
    To look at the broken figure,
    suspended in the cloud,
    a notice around its neck proclaiming


    I'm very afraid we won't escape the penalty due.

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