Genesis, Exodus

Seen from behind parked cars and walls of privet

the endless august afternoons appear

stacked in terraced masses.

 

Haunted by a weight of days to come

a child plays hopscotch alone,

dry soles scraping dry stone,

waiting for the afternoon to end

and drown in a sunset orgy of red.

 

The sound of ice cream vans and fairgrounds

can’t break the trance.

No great sorrows rock the suburbs,

but the sea is a long way off.

 

Going inside she stares in the mirror

trying to see the face she should invent,

in her dreams something struggles towards birth.

 

Red iron water seeping out of the clay

through the black betrayal of last year’s leaves

makes her think of all those buried queens –

will they rise and take the world again?

Silences

Here great forms of light and darkness,

material, immaterial, feel their way

across each other’s faces, moving blind,

cloud, mountain,

flash of blue, lake’s underwing,

a shred of deep sky caught in the rolling ground.

Broad dividing sweeps draw the eye

to the foot of the crag, steep valley’s rim,

and on, to the horizon.

This theatre is for elemental arguments

whose resolution’s never permanent.

A slung path threads immensity

flung down on either side, suspended

over gulfs of sky. Clouds forever

build worlds above the one I walk in,

for the wind to dive into, and burst apart.

Marsh flowers tremble, draw me

into worlds within. I vanish,

hidden by desire, longing to separate

into my simplest elements, water,

bitter mineral, slight sediment,

to be lost in what surrounds me. So far,

custom has pulled me back each time

to the talking world.

Nineteen eighty something

Asked for one grain on the first square,

doubled for each of the sixty four, he laughed too soon,

not having done the calculation.

Pondering the game, the possibilities,

at first near infinite and narrowing to none,

the masters sit, earth turns, the clock ticks on.

 

Through desert dust storms, thin figures walk,

appearing, disappearing at the edge of thought.

A tremor, brief as the twitch of a dog’s flank,

devastates a city. Millions of screens go blank,

then millions chatter. Weeping survivors stand,

hoping against hope, hands cling, dig and clasp,

stitch wounds, give blessings, tot up disaster’s profits.

 

Across the world, as the troops went in,

they left their bloody handprints on the walls

to say: we died here. Deep in caves,

a spat mouthful of red ochre shaping their absence,

they make and unmake the human.

 

On the tarmac, heat shimmer still, the plane

appears forgotten, but headlines change again,

and hidden troops prepare. They say the deadlock

is breaking at the talks, but at the North Pole

freezing night now grips the seas to silence.

Seabirds that screamed round the ice cliffs

have flown south, where the long day grows

at the other pole. Power watches power

at the fringes of frozen lands

where a storm depression whirls through in an hour.

Slow lichens expand their starry clusters,

Ancient snows break off and fall to the sea,

and prone among rocks the creeping forests lie.

 

In polished offices official talks go on;

in corridors hands exchange the sweat

of secret bargains. Speculators wait

for the moment to make their killings

in the waking markets to the east.

Having made hers, the leopard watches

sniffing night savannah smells,

acrid herself with her sharp cat scent.

Westward, further from dawn, gun butts

splinter doors, ambush the heart,

night fever of uneasy dictators

collecting sleep in muffled screams.

 

An unexpected move has thrown the champion.

Behind the greasy glass the tiger moves

with silent snarl through the jibes of children.

Through desert dust thin figures walk

in flapping rags, towards a faint hope.

Sacks of wheat and weapons come

in the gravid planes that wait to land.

 

Check. From almost infinite choice it’s gone to none.

From shanty towns the millions come

before dawn, somehow in clean clothes,

dead asleep in buses to and from,

dreaming of running water for their children,

houses, health, a good education.

 

In northern seas, whales circle in singing nurseries.

Great bowls incline to catch stellar whispers

turning like flowers on their perfect bearings

to catch the little pulses of the universe.

 

The constant sweep of sunrise, forever in motion,

reaches the Pacific, a wave of voices follows,

smoke rises, the morning race begins,

while the moon returns to full,

and in the deep pool they change formation

at the freshet’s head, the dappled river trout

in the dark water standing still.

 

At the talks they’ve reached the summit’s high point

and stand there in historic handshakes

held too long for the sake of cameras,

wide smiles seeking to hide the calculation

that chills their eyes. There’s hardly room

on the peak of this occasion

for camera crew, for hairdressers,

interpreters and cue card holders,

edging past each other for yet another take.

 

In some locked underground room

across a grey screen the people come,

forever walking towards the lens and beyond

through time and over memory’s horizon,

the displaced and hungry trudging on,

sometimes full of hope and joy, sometimes with none,

moving in ever greater numbers towards the unknown.

Manchester: Oxford Road Station

The moon crawls over the stars,

a great snail

that leaves its glistening trail

in secret places.

I break it in a puddle with my toe.

The lovers unclasp stickily;

they left the waiting room to grope in privacy.

The signal swings up silently,

the image in the puddle joins like mercury,

and still the train won’t come.

 

Now two coal ages fuse to one;

their continuity’s the moon

whose silver film makes reptiles of the stacks

and scales of the slates on back to backs.

Church and tall chimney

landmark old certainty

with phallic gravity.

Once they ruled

this northern world.

 

Most religions agree on hell –

it is the spur to the final sell,

and if the truth is hell on earth,

then all the more reason for heaven’s rebirth.

The preachers gave the people to production

in exchange for the sunday sermon,

where they praised the virtues of machines

compared with human frenzy.

If they swallowed life hereafter.

then, poor donkeys, no laughter

could persuade them the carrot was strapped

to the stick that hammered their backs.

The preachers winked at the madness in the method

and joined the profit takers of the gross,

whose public alchemy, flesh to gold

rose to their god’s nostrils, purged the dross.

If religion couldn’t dull the pain

there were always the brewers to fuddle the brain.

Temperance then could be the cry:

“I won’t touch a drop until I die!”

With children this went down especially well

and gained their pence against the threat of hell.

 

The next great discovery

was the gentle art of philanthropy.

While their fortunes fattened in the banks

they ensured their place in heaven’s ranks.

Whoever has learned nothing for their pain

will find the lesson given them again.

Easy to divide and rule,

we buy the story, find we’re the fool.

Must we buy again the one on war,

though it’s been sold so many times before?

 

Money is the lie we tell,

hoping to cash in as well.

We live by prison law,

extortion and protection,

hoping to squeeze from others more

than if we refused oppression.

The prison officer’s a prisoner too;

so much the worse for you.

We fear the tedium of time our own;

it stretches and grows terribly long.

Utopian dreams turn out to be

concrete false economy.

The apparent freedom we possess

conceals from us that it grows less.

The state can birth you, death you, cheat you

watch and count, but never meet you.

Distracted from reality by tales of it,

we dream the wrong dreams, live borrowed lives.

Our spirits are hungry

though we’ve swallowed the earth

and we ourselves are tales told to the starving

about large dinners.

 

I listen for the train’s tune

that speeded up this headlong time.

The trance of the wheel and the cog

dull time going through,

but we’re prey to thoughts that dog,

and interests that accrue

whatever we say or do.

Lives plagued with interest,

that is the bond’s bequest,

and devil history will have its due.

 

Canals pursue their anal course.

Tidal waste of boom and slump

litter the river bank.

The dog star lurks in the iron antics

of gas holders that mock breathing,

a stealthy rise and fall you’ll never catch,

like the hour hand on the clock.

 

I’m a shape without a face

at the platform’s end.

The lovers have forgotten me.

and still the train won’t come.

Condor

He rises, glides without a wing beat

up another curve he just invented,

bending the thin air to his purpose.

He turns his head, forever watching,

and his still standing in the airstream forces

a fine music through each flight feather.

Not that he cares. He lifts a wing tip,

shoots off to the far side of the valley,

becomes a black speck on the huge clouds

that have spent their energies

in rain shrouded lightning flashes,

and swings back again, a pendulum

suspended stringless from infinity.

Young and curious, he can’t see where

we fit into the scheme of things,

then loses interest, goes his way,

and far off, soars again,

feathered physicist investigating

each dimension of his element

with easy genius, balancing

huge forces on the tilt of a wing.

Immanence

The blind valley’s full of mineshafts,

sheep stamp in the roofless house,

at every corner a bird flies off.

 

Each step disturbs the listening grass,

the sun’s work on the worm cast,

the beetle labouring in his universe.

 

Lichen writes on every cliff

a lucid, undeciphered script;

ferns tremble in the draught.

 

Bones whiten on the crag,

slow crystals multiply within.

Water makes visible the wind

 

that’s driving a fine thin tune

through the twigs of the crouching thorn

to chafe it into flower again.

 

 

Exploration

From the intimate grotto of your ear

to the broad sweep of buttock is a finger walk

down the spine ridge to where

the tops are windswept but the clefts are bushy.

This archaeology’s best practiced

between experienced lovers. Your hipbone

is a gondola rowlock three quarters buried;

the body of the boat’s here too, its ribs

just below the surface. The sea once worked here,

but our dogfish days were done

with that first recapitulation,

the embryo’s uterine refrain.

I won’t dismember you my love,

so don’t include your innards in my inventory,

though I know your heart hides in there

And other wonders lurk in your cavities.

At every orifice I make my offerings.

The buried boat has sprouted

shining roots that plumb the dark

while the main stem reaches up

and spreads its crown beneath the skull vault.

Even now you’re voyaging

as boat and boatman with a pass of dreams

down to the red floor of being.

This wordplay makes me want to wake you

for a further course of sensual anatomy.

swan

stepping into another world,

time’s walls seem to melt,

and looking in the window

of the long low boat, i see you with a kettle in your hand

and call you.

 

our talk ranges wide, dropping and picking up threads like

weavers improvising a fabric, preoccupations, sudden recollections –

i settle slowly to your pace

and watch you prepare food, good root veg and cabbage.

at the far end of the cabin a candle flickers

picking up the sheen of old wood grain.

outside coots croak, ducks quack, the occasional splash

and distant trains rumble through.

 

you mention a lone swan that perhaps has lost his mate,

that spends time close to your boat, following your movements,,

knocking for food, not seen for a few days.

 

the gentle rocking of the boat, the flickering candle,

the dancing reflection of the street lamp playing light games on the water –

we are afloat on the generous void,

rocked in the water’s embrace, familiar, mysterious,

drinking dandelion coffee and talking of houses, the death of parents,

problems with boilers and insulation, then you speak of beltane

how seven swans flew over –

 

then you say: and here he is –

 

and there outside is a great swan, white on the sleek dark water,

and we feed him through the window; his grand severity,

his hunger, his whiteness, his otherworldliness,

as if summoned by the mention of the seven swans –

but he is also a real swan, pecking at the window

and the small canoe moored alongside,

drawing blood from my finger in his eagerness.

 

and this night remains time out of time,

here in this multiple, hungry world,

our finely woven floating moment.

a quivering

water-drop

brimming

with rainbow flashes,

cracks sunlight,

into pure red, blue, emerald

frost melt

gathering

on a winter briar’s

translucent thorns

shivers

and drops

spider silk

catches sunlight

gleams gold-bronze,

flexes

in a ripple

of breeze

a breathing moment

dances

into being

a universe

had to conjure itself

out of nothing,

first stars

had to burn and die,

give birth to new stars,

make constellations

of fertile elements,

planets had to condense

from dust,

life had to be laboured

on anvils of gravity,

worked to summits

of delighted complexity

to make

this

small

fragile

transient

moment

of wonder

anybody there?

that moment

when the mysterious unity

that has haunted us

since the beginning

finally dissolves…

 

is that the end?

could that explain the silence?

no-one there to answer –

the mind recoils

from the smiling enigma.

 

what freedom

and no-one to experience it –

what joy,

and no-one to feel it!

what a wonderful joke

and no-one to laugh at it