A Siberian Cold Front Takes
Over the Last Week of April
Siberia, I do not need your clouds today,
impaling me like a fork in a cheek.
Not that you don’t feel free to crowd my life with ancestors,
memories of bear paws and shrill white distances
cracking the civilized seams of my brain.
Today, Siberia, my head aches with your steel humidity,
cold as a slug’s mucous skirts,
slick as the stone pipe of a shamanka.
I’d like to refuse your telegram.
I am not the she-bear taken as wife by a man.
I will not give birth to the bear boy hero
who’ll save the tribe.
Take back your message
to the grandmothers who poke at the ashes
of my end-of-the-century thoughts.
Tell them to pack their travois of Arctic wind
and haul away the dull gray blades of these clouds.
Hurry on. Skip my generation of stars.
At the lip of spring
chapped by your kisses,
the numb thud of your heart stunning wisteria, tulips,
the bulging red buds of peonies,
time is short.
I fall daily in love with impossibilities- -
the screech owl flying in front of the new moon,
the rufous hummingbird who puffs his throat
like a lung of electric carnelian
through the window,
the man shaped like a grizzly bear
but I know that
just as I feel my womb contract
troops are massing on the other side of the globe
for another war
too quick for even their long talons to stop.
from the drunken boat
Day Trip to Warham
for Henry Cleverly
A chalk hillside, carved centuries ago
so men could watch the sun
and plot destinies by its angle.
I watch it now, my head filling,
the world narrowing
to an acute.
You are beside me.
I sense the human need
to turn and look but
am rivetted by light,
by an effort too great
to face you.
There's a distant fear;
a shape-shift to something
twitching my tail.
Voices turn inside out,
an empty glass clutched
to breaking point.
The light is too great
for filtering through semi-circles
of chalky grass.
Somewhere, miles away,
there's me, clamouring
for the dark.
24, rue de Cotte
for Finola O'Mahony
You depart in a whirl
of last minuting -
reminders of what to do,
of where to put myself.
Then you're gone, leaving me
to climb the four flights,
the ancient wood curving into itself,
held intact by two centuries of footfalls.
My feet must make adjustments,
to the climb,
to the six-sided floor tiles
in your apartment.
I'm still slipping,
and though you're not here
to pick me up,
I feel you in the mint walls;
the four roses drooping
after a night on the town;
the champagne stock-piled;
the sibilant hiss of the stereo
tuning into jazz.
And in that family shot -
we stare straight ahead,
you, the only one
not looking at the camera -
keeping a benign eye
sur la petite soeur.
A writer's life
I get to the Ferlinghetti part
but my eye keeps
from the print to the tiled floor,
to the powder crystalised around a cigarette-butt,
to the large madame checking the séchoir,
rippling the air as she shakes out sheets
she folds into huge squares.
To my left, the thumping swirl,
a constant spin of towels and underwear.
A black sock becomes for an instant
an agonised L pinned against glass,
then disappears into the vortex.
From NTH POSITION.COM 2003
I want to tell you something:
for three nights now a bird has sung
in the road trees. A water song.
The neighbours are complaining; no one
knows what species the bird is. No one
even sees it. Pools coupons
titter against chain-links. Chip cartons
scuttle past time-delayed,
time-locked shopfronts. Then the bird
starts to sing.
You'll hear it with the window open,
even when the first rain gathers
to a downpour, hallways sweet
with the residue of road-tar.
Then you can grin, or watch me grin
at woodpigeons in wet weather
sat in the road trees, suffering
damp white collars. Like divorcees,
not looking at one another.
From Midnightin the City of Clocks
Carcanet (OxfordPoets) £6.95
i.m. Andrei Tarkovsky
"There is no remembrance of former things. Neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after." - Ecclesiastes
"Nato planes have accidentally bombed a hospital." - News broadcast, May 1999
In spite of ourselves we return to the same place
simply because we cannot recall ourselves
ever to have been there before. If we did
we would not come back again.
It is why things always end in the same way.
I blow a speck of dust from my hand.
I watch it drift, tiny - so tiny - up.
It seems to hang for a moment then gently
it falls, slowly, softly through the late night
onto the table. Silent. Infinitely delicate.
At the same instant somewhere brute bombs
blast into bone and blood through stone and tin.
Surgical air-strikes. Surgical. Missiles
like space-ships into children.
Why are they hurting me? Have I not been good?
Listen. Nothing. It is only the night
beating in my ears. I had thought for a moment
I heard crying. I thought I heard
something strange above me coming closer.
It is nothing. Only the house around me.
Only my children sleeping.
Bombs into blood and bone. What a way
to celebrate Christ. What a way
to cross a threshold, to mark a millennium,
to close or open a door, to punctuate time.
But then again, why not?
Cancer and I are old friends.
He has spoken to me often through the eyes
of the people who made me. An old friend.
He's welcome, but like all guests
there's an etiquette to be observed; to be polite
he should know his time. Mostly he does, he understands.
And given that, he's a gentleman. He leaves time
to organise things. He's civilised.
He's not a bomb.
Thank you god of future times for the gift
of forgetfulness. Why would I want to remember this?
What is a gift if it is not a sacrifice?
If a gift has not entailed a sacrifice
how can it be a gift?
What is it worth?