NaPoWriMo 2011


1

Smoke

eyes slur
each scintilla

into another                 another
                        another
another

(ad infinitum)

a smoke of stars      rising
from each horizon

each night a pyre
for what day lost

              the story takes shape
in the darkness                        between

not spaces in the array
but clouds of the dust

from which all is born


2

Reed Bunting

Gentleman farmer, or priest of some damp
parish? No. Louche artiste,
plays the ghost at his own feast
on the green stage summer leased.


3

Jökulhaup

And some perfect morning, so clear
your breath is all that clouds the air
while the sun makes music of meltwater,

to take that first step is the worst mistake
you’ll ever make. Upstream, out of sight,
under layered centuries of ash and ice,

is a wound that keeps tearing and healing
until the moment the familiar babble
becomes a babel of forgotten languages.


4

Custard Apple

Guanabana. Sweetsop. Chirimoya.
Mostly, it’s the human heart.
That skin (sometimes thick, sometimes thin),
as if moulded by the fingermarks
of everyone who touched it.
When ripe and green, it gives a little
under pressure, is easily broken
into or cut open to a snowscape
studded with hard black seeds
that are pure poison when crushed.
Sometimes, it’s a new, green
many-mountained planet, a world
of fragrant sweetness whose orbit
crosses yours for just long enough.


5

Untitled

We’d climbed so long, we had no idea
how high we were. Found snow still lying
on the low, scrubby peaks. A generous dusting,
and here and there, a deeper drift,
in hollows and hiding places untouched by sun,

but the almond trees were white with blossom,
the mimosa was bright in our minds,
our eyes, a plume of cranes was rising
from the valley floor and would be gone
beyond the mountains by the time we woke.


6

A year as new
as any other.

Braced for the body’s
many infidelities

while out there,
at this moment,

the old, familiar images
arrange themselves

to await your entrance.
A deserted street

swept by the careless brush
of the wind, the leaves and twigs

ready to scour out
all trace of your passing.


7

Of the night
I’ll say nothing. Mostly,
it was warm enough,

though once I woke
in what passed
for the still hour

and pulled the past
close about me. Stars
rained down from galaxies

that hung little more
than an arm’s length away.
Sometimes there was howling,

the hunters, or the hunted,
but always on the far side
of the impatient river.

We were silent until the sun
exploded into the chattering treetops,
scattering flocks of every colour. 

 
8

Buzzard, Soaring

There are wheatears in the sheep fields,
blackcaps in the shelter belt,
restlessly intent on what
their small gods provide.
Above, a buzzard describes
the far-flung limits
of its own dominion,
raises broad wings
to its own deity,
spirals into
the fire,
becomes
ever more
godlike.


9

The Summer

It is rushing towards you again
as you stand
congratulating yourself

on your escape from winter.
It is an unknown, unstable
particle that will pass

straight through you.
Only years later, maybe in some
seed-sown August twilight,

you’ll find it has left you
subtly changed. And now you’re
rushing towards it too, an insect

sensing light and heat,
ready to break yourself
upon its deceptive velocity.



10

The Pines

Alien, ubiquitous,
they loom at every turn,

make deserts
of the low hillsides.

Yet they trap a stillness
that can't be weighed,

make a rumour of the rain
outside. We've made our bed

on sharper needles, have found
no better place to hide.


11

Wurrgeng.
June to August.
Creeks stop flowing. Floodplains
dry out. Fat magpie geese
fill the shrinking billabongs.

Gurrung.
August to October.
Turtle hunting time. Heat reaches
it's dry season peak. Woodswallows arrive
On the wings of the first thunderheads.

Gunumeleng.
October to December.
The monsoon makes its first overtures.
Streams start to run. Barramundi appear
in the estuaries to breed.

Gudjewg.
December to March.
Humidity is everything. In this
greenhouse heat, new life explodes
out of the spreading arteries.

Banggerreng.
April.
Skies widen as the thunderstorms disappear.
Floodwaters recede. Streams run clear.
Trees are fruiting. Birds raise their young.

Yegge.
May to June.
Cool, drying winds fan the first fires.
Water lilies pave the still wide wetlands.
Consider this the tipping point of the year.


12

Water will find a way,
define the contours
we didn't know were there.

Water works while we sleep,
makes islands of all of us
while we're not looking.

All life returns to the water
eventually. Where there's smoke,
there's water.


13

Black-throated Diver, Lochindorb

Sky hung heavy on hills
still black with last year's heather.

Sky sprung with the drip-
drip of meadow pipit fright-music.

Sky groans under the weight
of wind-worried cloud.

The water is more shattered window into
an abandoned croft than mirror.

The bird is here somewhere,
is nowhere, then

is a head held high
in the troughs between each swell,

is one sleek, perfected thought,
not there and then there.


14

Petrichor

Eighty-nine days dry
when the very idea
of this taut, grey twilight
plash and hiss
off sun-crisped leaves,

the way the first drops
smoke from baked earth
into the seed-sown air
seemed quite as unlikely
as any god, let alone

his blood
from scarred stones.


15

Azul

Each time, the mind’s migration. Sky-blue
sky. Enough to understand
I live on an island. The distance
at once turquoise, cobalt, cyan. Blue

as eyes exactly açor-blue. Shades
of the hawk, caught a moment on its
amphetamine rush against a sea-blue
sea. Caldeira-blue, hydrangea-blue

and the lights coming on
on ships in the harbour.
A navy-blue, and now the night,
lunar-blue, celeste-blue, shot through

with silver-blue star wounds
that only heal to a horizon
blue with mountains behind heat haze
or slipping in and out of cloud, like

the piecing together of dreams,
like realising there are other
islands, and the inadequacy
of the word for blue. The sky

high and no limit at all.


16

Not for the first time, you are left
to reflect that optimism isn’t something
that can be got over, like chickenpox
or the loss of a childhood pet,
but a lifelong commitment
to never quite being satisfied, a homesickness
for a land you don’t remember leaving.
A small tract of beautiful but rugged hill country,
no doubt, one in which the trains run once a week
at most, and carry only vital supplies such as tea,
the better newspapers and a wide variety of cheeses.
Beyond it is a low range of blue peaks
you plan to get round to climbing.


17

Our train is a clockwork toy
in primary colours
sent stammering
into a sun-bright suburb.

The blazing presentiment
of summer all along
the city road is still
only knotweed and willow-herb.

This impossible sky
must hide the same stars
we’ve held to blame
so many times.


18

Down river, maybe a mile
or more, the whole forest is burning.
A pall of black kites, perhaps
a young eagle or two, spiral around
the leading edge of the flames,
waiting to snatch the small creatures
fleeing in panic. Stories abound
of kites carrying burning brands away
to seed new fires. They gather
then separate with each imperceptible
change in the wind, wing and eye
alive to the heat that holds them there.
'Fire and rain – they’re both the same,'
says Chris. 'They both redraw the forest
faster than the kites can map it.'


19

Newton Field

Nothing heroic. For once, the names
no use at all. Memory evaporated

into thin air, the merely anecdotal
made history.
                        History written
by the guilty, and always, the innocent
appropriation of other lives.

The village is not some secret language
of remembrance. Mute witness,

reluctant host, an absence
that sometimes catches at the throat

like mist off the autumn river, smoke
among the spring orchards.


20

Metamorphoses

These things we knew.

That the dark mud of the mere
swallows the flocks of autumn nightfall.

That the rood goose is born
from the barnacle’s shell.

That the hawk’s winter hunger
becomes the cuckoo’s spite in spring.

That the fireflirt’s song of summer kindles
from the embers worn by the robin.


21

Brimstone

First posting from
the summer country

an early draft
caught by the wind

and filed
under buckthorn.


22

Quito

city of eternal spring
                        source of the flowing sky
and its continual reinvention of itself     a sequence of clouds

the dawn mist     the smog     by evening the eternal autumn

of wood-smoke
and light-clusters impossibly high on the cordillera


23

Prayer For Fluency

To untie the tongue, or better,
to tether it to the cortex

that sifts and collects
the substance of love, not the letter.


24

They’d imagined that, maybe,
get to a place like this
and the emptiness
would creep inside,

open up a space
where none had been before,
a hole always in need of filling.
They never supposed for a moment

that it might shrink all absence
to the size of one of thousands of stars,
the densest thing in the known universe,
but distant now, more distant

with every turn of the earth on its axis,
and predictable in all its movements.


25

Starlings unfold the song-maps of their days
over gardens soft with barbecue smoke.
From the gable end, then, a badly-tuned radio,
the squeal and clatter of an old wheelbarrow
out on the allotments. A siren, receding
somewhere on the bypass. A chaffinch’s alarm call
tested for future use, and a cat, crying
to be let into the house. Three ringtones
snatched from unsuspecting teens
watching a lorry reverse behind the all-night
mini-mart, and a backing track of whistles
and bells, for punctuation, or extra urban realism.
The day’s first blackbird, and the last,
both performed as though he meant it.


26

Butterflies

One flew in through the open window
to settle in the middle of O Level German.
Our teacher welcomed the sudden arrival
of new vocabulary, had us repeating Tagfalter
for the rest of that lesson, but the translation -
‘day-hinge’ – was a disappointment.
Too mechanical, too literal. Only first thing
this morning, waiting for the words
that will flutter the stomach, the still, shadowed
understorey of my chest, I found one folded
on the kitchen ceiling, markings subdued
on the wings’ undersides. I cupped it outside,
eased it on to the buddleia, watched it warm its colours
in the low sun while the day swung wide open.


27

Monument

No elegy in stone
to be smoothed away
by the heedless tides of history.

No statue, or modest grey cross,
crumbling under its own weight,
glimpsed by passers-by.

Fields redrawn
by flood and storm. Names
that amount to the same old story.


28

Libation

A whole history
poured upon
the brown hills
the shrunken river
the crumbling stone
and still

the small gods
are gone
beyond reach.


29

Wind threads the eye
of the house. From 80 miles
a sea-fret’s in the upstairs
ready to ask remember when

we still believed
bad weather
came out of nowhere.

Outside you could
write your name
in the layer of Sahara dust
on all the cars.


30

The dead are clear to us.
It’s the living who ghost past,

crowd the pavements
and brick-paved lanes,

spectres spun of reflection
and speed. It’s the rows

of empty redbrick factories,
the scrapyards and the canal,

the figures killing time
beside the flyover

that this camera captures,
not the streets streaming

with coloured light,
the gathering storm

of shooting stars
burning with their own velocity.