After a few days the rain stops but she remains upstairs, waiting for the water to drain away. It is in no rush, pulling back slowly from the house as the garden begins the task of absorbing this excess and putting it to use. She waits patiently, surrounded by her pile of things, becalmed, as time passes.
This time is slow and soft, quick and slippery, stretching and contracting without notice into something she can no longer recognise, let alone grasp. It layers and thickens on the surface of the day as the wind changes and brings with it the smell of submersion and rot, as well as the familiar pang of guilt at the thought that this house has escaped the worst of the flood.
Occasionally, she goes to the stairs to check the water line, to see if it is safe to presume a return. Sometimes she stands there for almost an hour, trying to make sense of an impossibility or losing herself in another facet of this place.
Which Christmas was it where the lights cut out, which Christmas where she sat high up in a tree to feel the pale sun on her face? Which Christmas was it where they played on the rug and ignored new toys to press each other’s bruises?
The sound of the house creaking and shifting is constant. When it becomes too much to bear she goes up to the attic to check on the roof though there is not much to be discerned from the inside. Looking out of the highest window she sees the river has made tributaries and channels out of streets and alleyways, entering through the doors and windows of ochre coloured houses that promised to preserve and contain but in the end gave way.
Filling squares and gardens, the flood strips the village of precious markers of time and status. Water always finds its level and in this way there has been a flattening.
In the street beneath the house things float by, and she pays attention to what rises to the top after an upheaval of this kind, as the river washes away the books in the library (float), the cars (sink), the geraniums (float) and even the statues (sink).
Looking south beyond the terracotta roofs of the village she can see the familiar line of water has become both horizon and middle ground as the river consumes the fields that divided it from the sea. She is on the edge of things.
Looking north she sees only the swamp of the garden, my own private bayou, as the heavy clouds obscure the view of mountains that had been a touchstone for so many years. The way the light was caught and transformed by their peaks throughout the day, every glimpse of them was not enough.
She returns to bed, uncertain of what is expected of her.
‘Authorship can only be co-authorship’
This is an extract from a longer text, entitled The House of Water.
Many of the words and ideas in the text are those of others. Some are italicised, others are harder to detect, in a bid to blur distinctions of ownership and to think around writing as commoning and conversation, a collective activity as well as an individual one.
water always ﬁnds its level
‘[Water] finds its own level, always. That is, water is always seeking balance and has a place it has to go.’ From adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy, a ‘radical self-help’ book inspired by Octavia Butler’s work of speculative fiction, The Parable of the Sower. In the novel the protagonist develops a new religion where the main tenet is ‘God is change’. brown argues that change is enacted by emergent patterns which she encourages us to seek out and study in order to build kinship and resistance in the face of the climate crisis.
my own private bayou
From Astrida Neimanis’s We Are All Bodies of Water, a text that has been at the back of my mind since 2018. A nod also to Roy Orbison’s Blue Bayou, and Timothea Armour’s unpublished text based on the song, performed as part of Soft Shell at the Poetry Club, Glasgow in 2019.
The image that appears alongside the text depicts a series of sculptures made in parallel with the thinking and writing of The House of Water. Made of unfired porcelain, they will dissolve if submerged in water.