The Springs

by Nathalie Sorensen Email

Pressed hard against jagged craters and

sweeping lava flows of dead volcanoes

frozen to stone eons ago,

the bones of the Roman city lie exposed.

Low stone walls, delicate, orderly

delineate streets and squares, homes and shops.

Here and there fluted columns stand

as they did two thousand years ago

when this was Glanum, outpost of empire

in the wild western region of Gaul.

I stand on a ridge of cliffside, peering down

looking for something,

not stones, not fragments of carvings,

not broken figures from friezes of war.

I am looking for water.

For in this hot dry city, I have read,

there is a spring, an ancient spring

known to the indigenous people of this place.

I see them, the Ligurians, the old ones

before the Romans, before the Gauls,

before the Western Goths who sacked this city sixteen centuries ago.

They gather round their campfires in the gloom

telling of the hunt, sharpening arrows,

refining bits of wisdom in the night,

and pulling clear pure water from their spring.

Back down in the city

I search through the streets and alleys,

and come upon the spa of Valetudo

goddess of health-giving waters. There she is

carved in her niche, headless,

still presiding over her bath --

down well worn steps, a pool of

brackish water, festooned with algae,

holding the dregs of empire all these years.

Then I see them --

more steps, leading up, away

from Valetudo’s spa, straight up the mountain.

High on a pinnacle, high over the city,

there is the cleft in the rock, the orifice I seek.

I clamber closer and peer down. All is dark and dry

no sound of water.

I listen, pitch my ear for echoes

beyond the dry grass, the volcanic rocks.

When did the sacred spring last gurgle through this well?

My whole being bent to attention, I wait

but everywhere, silence.

No faint murmur, whisper of flow,

no scent of wetness coming through.

All I hear is dry grass rustling

cicadas shrilling in the heat,

and I am comfortless as I depart.

Months later, I am swimming

in the river by my home

in the river I call home.

The mist is golden in the early sun

the undulant surface green, green and amethyst.

By the bank a white water lily,

gently rocked by ripples, opens its heart.

I drift in the tranquil current dreaming

And there they are, the ancient ones, gathered

here into me, smiling, complete.

As I calmly stroke, water washes through my mouth, soft and clean.

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