Three lads on their backs, feet on the roof,
‘walk’ a three-mile ell through a tunnel
hardly wider than the barge they lie on.
Lives of cartage and cramp.
Further along, three lasses stumble to a mill,
arms linked. Annie-in-the-middle closes her eyes,
too sleepy to fear flying shuttles and the waiting
wolf of fairy stories. They don’t notice the putative,
paltry path meant for tow-horses, is worn, slippery.
After three hours pedalling, three lads gasp,
work their legs faster. Tom’s turned, seen
a pinprick of light.
Girls switch positions. A booster too small.
Dreams of Sleeping Beauty fill lolling heads.
The trio veers towards the cut.
As they slide out of the tunnel, the youths
will scramble off the long boat.
Blink at a rising sun, rub their knees, and probably whistle;
tremulous timbres meant for Dobbin, now clopping over the hill.
No-one will hear the splash, or see thick skirts balloon when
three little girls tumble into grey water. Not see pale hands
grappling, nor a fleeting tag
of spluttering bubbles.
Some versions of the tale will blame fog, others carelessness.
None, dawn mill shifts for five-year-olds,
walking to work without breakfast.
A hundred years later the world will watch the miraculous rescue of
‘The 33’, trapped a mile sub-surface, in Chile. See a film starring
Antonio Banderas, legging it through a maze of passages.