Barbara A Morton

Under Water

I am afraid to be under water. I do not swim although I used
to. Even then, I always kept my head above the water’s surface
moving my body through each calm salty wave by means of a
very makeshift breaststroke that convinced me, and at the time
satisfied me, I was a swimmer but which must have seemed
amateur, if not inadequate, to any spectator watching from the
strand or the view from the cliff. Nevertheless, I took pleasure
then; my body almost but not quite fully immersed, abiding the
rhythm of the cool water of the ocean, keeping close parallel
with the gentle sweep of the water’s edge, and waiting for the
sense of time to shift, for the movement of the waves to
confuse me, for the moment I would lose count of my strokes
and afterwards discover five minutes has become one hour
Beneath me, the unexplained. Sometimes a sedimenty opaque
of ochre. Sometimes a veiled Touat blue and the kingdom of
the heavens reported in that blue. Mineral salts transported
from tall mountains by way of rain and stream; suspended
particula, air borne, brought down by offshore breezes. Shell
colour appear bright and unusual. Still, I look outward
contained upon an unlaid pathway where non-chronological
sequences miraculously conjoined, geometrically cleave at the
vanishing point, and beyond. My body carries on swimming
having its own law, separate from my observation. All I have
to do is consider the origin of the sea; its great existence in the
hollows of the earth. I go in complicate. I come out forgotten
Yet in all those years and all those days of swimming, I never
allowed my head to become wet. I could smell iodine and
cobalt; chanced upon oyster and coral, sponges and seaweed. I
was frightened by small fish as they caught me unaware
but I  was always very careful; the water never touched my face


Touchwood is the name of willow and some other trees
softened by decay. Amadou is also so called; often used as
tinder from the readiness with which a spark will ignite it
Linnaeus, poet turned naturalist, named it, Boletus fomentaeus
Fomentaeus, from the Latin, fomentum, meaning tinder; so, in
German, Zunder; in Old English, tyndre, and from the Dutch
tonder, where incidentally, in Holland, in the hallway, small
braziers of it smoulder as a ready light. In the high land, it is
gathered from the south side of the tall sycamore, having a
common cinnamon-brown colour and the surface hard and
woody. Gathered also among the birch trees, it grows upon old
wood in a shelf-like formation, in concentric ridges, and shaped
as one might imagine a horse’s hoof. It grows alone. It
penetrates the bark. Over time, it kills the trees. It is a punk to
catch the spark; embers transferred to the kindling to ready the
fire. There are other utilities; for the physician and also for the
dentist, a styptic to staunch the blood. Then incense, a
smouldering stick without a flame; then, a pincushion for
sewing needles, prevention against oxidisation in the presence
of air moisture, endemic to this damp climate. And the tall man
tells me it is the best material he has come across to serve as a
mount for the delicate winged insects he preserves. Now
consider this; Otzi the Ice-man carried it with him on his final
even, fatal, cross-alpine excursion. A precious resource for the
ancient people, this complex firestarter allowed the Ice-man to
make fire by catching sparks from a hard stone say, flint or
quartz, struck hard against another containing iron say, pyrite
or marcasite. Thus, Amadou is commonly known as Tinder, or
Ice-Man fungus. There were no less than four pieces preserved
in his journey bag.           Tests concluded it was used for tinder


Barbara A Morton is published in national and international journals. She is the recipient of a Tyrone Guthrie Writers’ Bursary, and in 2011 was selected for the Poetry Ireland Introductions Series. A postgraduate of Queen’s University Belfast, she is preparing her first collection of poetry for publication.