Hard Water by Jean Sprackland

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


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


fierce lovely water that marked me for life

as belonging, regardless.

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