John Baptizes Jesus at the Odney Pool
You had not known you belonged to such a region
until Spencer took you there, until he showed you
Cookham, where God made a detour down High Street,
past Fernlea to the Odney Pool,
mineral-laced water near the Thames
where the artist once swam as a child.
All’s inverted now. Heaven’s here--
in the languid pool, where, amid the bathers
in their ordinary, black-knit suits, God’s only Son’s
made known. Here’s John, an odd man in skins,
bristled and untamed, and Jesus, his face
that of any villager. No one seems surprised
as this little miracle unfurls. The scene is crowded,
narrow space filled with the press of bathers
on this afternoon of gossip, summer voices
left over from childhood’s drowsing.
Some of the villagers are napping, stretched out
in quiet leisure on the bleached stone steps.
Others gaze calmly as John pours water
from a copper bowl over the head of God’s
beloved boy. Why should they stand amazed?
It is you who are changed in this anointing,
seeing the world through the painter’s eyes,
its cold waters turned tender and familiar
in the fading light, this low cast that alters all.
Remote things join in me, Spencer wrote.
Life quickens here--
Of course, they’ll all depart too soon,
making their way back toward tidy houses,
predictable patterns, now rearranged--
but look, before you leave,
at the broad water-meadows that flood each spring,
where colour’s splashed
on this dully-lit summer day,
where you seek some last pleasure
in the pale English sun. And there--
you can just see those three lone trees
he painted, trees his young daughters loved
for the way they seem to march past
the horizon to some other world--
and always back to Cookham, its quiet lanes
where none of us is missing now.
This poem first appeared in The Los Angeles Review.
Margaret Mackinnon’s work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Image, Alaska Quarterly Review, Los Angeles Review, and The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review. Her first book, The Invented Child, received the 2011 Gerald Cable Book Award and the 2014 Literary Award in Poetry from the Library of Virginia. Naming the Natural World, a chapbook, was published by The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review in 2018. She lives in Richmond, VA.
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