Journal » Trout 13 » Ode To Drainage [Gregory O'Brien]
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Ode to drainage

Gregory O'Brien

Como canta una ciudad

Federico Garcia Lorca

As a pipe sings, a city
sings. And so I am clad

in eight hours' darkness, each working day
wading through this city's

working parts. So much history
down here, so much

to fall over or fumble
with: Lost skates, rollers, pedals

the whir of dying batteries and
one afternoon a bicycle

half a mile down this, the city's
longest street.

All these items preserved in
in ceramic darkness

while everything above rusts, rots
and decays. In this solitary city

occasionally a voice approaches
as if to meet me: an aria

a phase of sport, a scene from Shakespeare.
Wellington Drainage System, with your

miles of arteries, you are also
a brilliant mind, a cathedral

of the inner ear
with your endlessly resonating music.

A car driving over a man-hole cover
heard from three metres underground

now that is a symphony if ever there
was one. Your lost pipes,

endless passages, entire systems
gone, without trace, dismantled

by tree roots or simply, inexplicably
discontinued. For a city

like a novel has clandestine passages
an underbelly or history which

includes, in this case, the Wahine Storm
which came so far up these

stormwater drains that lesser versions
of the storm were enacted

in pipes and S-bends and even low-lying
handbasins around the city.

Venturing down your dark voice-pipe I wonder
what else you might yield:

giant wetas, penguins, generations
of eels. Like the pipe-organ at church

with its vertical arrangements, a soaring
piercing note or something

of a coarser nature, grumbling oceanwards, bespeaking
your dark, strenuous work.

But it is the plumbing of brass instruments you most often
make me think of, that lift

the man-hole cover from my eyes. The music
that lifts the man

whole. The sky a state of mind
I carry with me

to these depths. The city seen in its best light
in complete darkness. Remember

what the ancient world was most respected for:
not the Domus Aurea, the Golden House

of Nero, but the Cloaca Maxima—the Great
Sewer. Oblivious, at best

indifferent, do your citizens realise, as they sleep
that electric torches are patrolling

the deeper night beneath them
and as they read these lines

in their living rooms, there may be a game of cards
unfolding four metres beneath them

until such a time as the players are summoned by
small radios and led on missions further

afield. Remember the huge wooden ball that rolled
for centuries through the sewers

of Europe, to clear them, and went on
rolling, city after city

(or so the classicists would have us
think). Which brings us back

to the necessary equipment, the parked van
hard hat, cake of industrial

soap, these boots the full height
of a man, the sound of water moving

under ground, black air twitching through these
veins. I clear my throat, my eyes

water, the universe and its root systems
trickle, a passage

is cleared, a river flowing from
here on out, a line of verse

tended by a pipe man. For that is how
I define myself—a pipe

cleaner, here in my element, amidst the shimmering
prose of the ceramic

underworld, where the bell-towers and turrets
of a lost civilisation rise

upwards to touch
the earth's surface.


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© Copyright 2006 Gregory O'Brien & Trout.