Water Theft

Two outflow water clocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens
A display of two outflow water clocks from the Ancient Agora Museum in Athens. The top is an original from the late 5th century BC. The bottom is a reconstruction of a clay original.  Copyright.


eccentric sun’s orbit tricked the triangular gnomon
yet time’s truth was always connected to its place
ever calibrating gauges across the earth’s latitudes
moment’s dark shadow revealing appearances
which vacillated wildly in the equation of time
influence of the phenomenon of the stars ever present
but impetuous winds of anxiety wore away at old time
peculiar orbits severed for sake of minute precision
turned inward from sky by stealing drops of water
clepsydra ignoring the dances of heavenly bodies
self-referential and able to create its own contexts
beginnings and ends abstracted from the universe
Egyptians still placed the device within the cosmos
Amenhotep’s twelve-column alabaster basin clock
eleven false holes to testify each hour of the night
regulating approximate moments precise drips fall
predictable water drops splash over baboon’s feet
clepsydra’s eternal surface calls out for connection
planets and constellations reveal measurement’s origin
horizonophobic circumpolar stars like God and animals
priests performing rites and sacrifices of the night
device relocated by Greeks and Romans in a courtroom
severity of justice determined in volumes of water
Heropilos counted out the disturbed pulses of the ailing
cures sought in Alexandrians’ biological rhythms
private paces of profane time oozed with courtesans
aberrations of the apparatus slowly improved
later even Galileo determined rates of acceleration
weighing out the dispelled volumes of Italian water
magic of passing away turning toward revenge
for one day the pendulum swept water from time

digital watch snapped into wide leather band
depressed button revealed one-hundredth second
boys gaze at water traversing plastic and rubber tubes
earthy element defined by perfect digital instrument
to them a champion scientific contraption for the fair
clepsydra beautifully spelled out in colourful letters
fine-printed analysis pasted onto stiff bristol board
the apparatus itself emanating curious amazement

sad Tamar approached the boys’ remarkable exhibit
pointing to a rapidly expanding puddle on the floor

“I think your experiment has sprung a nasty leak”

misunderstood galvanometers and unworkable sonar
sunk like silt in the flow of clepsydra’s absolute failure
time irreparably damaged as the judges drew near
youths mumble their alienation from the mechanism
later sitting on the edge of the stage with Tamar
enthusiastic educators honored first-class scientists
they laughed in recognition of their own ridiculousness

but Coyote noticed that Tamar’s angelic shine was fading
unable to conceal the increasing blue in her mood
resentment toward passing away in anger at death
despite the comic presence of the failed abductors of time
cosmos floundering as Tamar longed for Gorgon’s blood
in the great divide massive continents came to an end
epochs shuddered out of ends into new beginnings
dead stars’ light resting in the blinded gazes of man
primordial urge to quantify those ephemeral things
children of time sped away from the centre

A poem by Peter Crane