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A hard taskmaster, the sun

A hard taskmaster, the sun.

No half measures. While I dig furrows

in the earth, he digs them in my face.

He is insatiable, drinks our water

and now sucks us dry, our landlord.

No escape; can’t take the sun to law,

nor reason with him.

Each day we ask, now, where’s the rain?

Clouds pass far off; each night

comes sheet lightning, no thunder.

We close our mouths against the dust,

against complaint, a waste of breath.

I will complain, a grain in the mortar,

ground by light. Substance wears away,

husk and kernel, all to dust.

We have the coldest shadows on the earth,

have eaten our seed potatoes,

so what’s to plant? The plough raises

nothing but dust.  Will you drive us out?

We cannot live with you, nor without you,

you who return each morning golden. We,

lost in the wrinkled mountains, creep

over the earth, earth houses, earth clothes,

heads down, following the oxen.

We are as stubborn as you,

we are your children.

Soundings

Fish inhabit the muzzles of the guns,

corals encroach and in the surrounding sands

garden eels like spotted, shy umbrella handles

weave up and down in the dappled undertow.

Below deck the octopus considers

with human eyes and high round forehead

the careless war’s drowned riches

while offering affectionate tentacular embraces

to certain tasty morsels in the dark.

In the surgery fish flick fussily

over operating tables where sponges dwell

and warty skulkers hide in corroded boxes

of kidney bowls and crusted scalpels.

In the drug cupboards lobsters lurk,

performing careful autopsies on distant cousins.

Small crabs sift the evidence once more,

and everywhere a drifting soup of life

is pumped through delicate fringed syphons ceaselessly.

Sharks pass through on their rounds,

grey custodians of the fighting decks,

while in and out of portholes fly

the legion single-thinking shoals in silver panics.

On the bridge, fish made up like minstrels

for old fashioned summer pier end shows await

their tiny hygenists, who fly

into gaping mouth and out through gill

with professional speed.

The siren shells that sang the ships to sleep

are crumbling; lost certainties

are overgrown with corals.

That fine balance of community

reminds this body that it’s no unity;

ancient recollections stir

those divers rising up to mind.

Photo album

“Is that really me?” you ask,

humour finding a way

through loss of memory. “I think so.”

Unmistakably.

Watching you, I wonder

what is the essence of the self?

Does death really unpick all?

You cleverly conceal

the moments when you quite forget

who I am. I arrived too late

to be woven in, yet feel you know

what I am if not quite who.

You offer to introduce me to the dead

who look out from the pages of the album.

“Such a charming fellow this one.

I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.” Doubt

clouds your eyes a moment,

but you say no more except:

“my goodness, what hats we wore!”

You pause at a picture of the house we sit in, say

“Such a lovely place, and I believe

we live there still, but can’t be quite sure …”

Your hand goes to turn the page but your mind

still moves between two pictures, back and forth

and we are caught here –

I for some reason have the image

of a silk dress torn on barbed wire

some long lost afternoon, venturing down

towards a river in full summer glory.

Suddenly released, you at once forget

that two impulses undid each other,

and with fresh energy you offer

to bring us all together, living and dead,

for that ritual cup of tea…

Remission

 

Everything stares back at me,

nameless, grey and solitary.

Nothing moves, can’t lift my arm,

Speech dies on my leaden tongue.

Meaning drains out of the world

as if some frightful plug were pulled.

I rest in my paralysis

to conceal my helplessness,

a moment of absolute stasis,

but I dare not stay like this

or the world will turn to stone

and nothing will ever move again.

The stillness tightens; I struggle in it

like a wrestler at the limit,

silently pushing to break the mould

and, motionless, to move the world.

It is as if time’s spring has slipped

fractions of infinity are infinite,

and so the aeons settle in,

enormous, familiar, smothering.

Then suddenly it starts to shift:

cold iron shutters slowly lift.

I am incredibly set free

by the arbitrary power that held me.

I question nothing, but grasp reprieve

with the hand of one who must believe.