No 15 - September 2001
A boat is moving
slowly, but who
is rowing and what
it brings I can’t
Denise Levertov: What Harbinger?
Lightning without thunder above Dijon -
2 am, no rain, the sky pitch, flash-burned -
imprinting unknown hills in charred shadow
beyond a straight Napoleonic road
in fractious discharge. Clean sheet-white light.
A Polaroid. A holocaust. Vision deferred.
On the Road without drugs - the point missed,
though sharper. Saturday-night-in family towns
where jazz is still a distant rumour.
Drive till 3. Sleep in the front of the van,
stuck fast in tar-pit Neolithic dark -
Europe’s lonely spirit speeding past.
Reluctant passenger, dreaming place-names
from wine-labels. Too far-fetched. Wake up in
Nuits-St-George. Bread in Beaune. Coffee
in (we think) the Mâcon country. Between,
Pommard, Volnay, Puligny-Montrachet -
nor any drop to drink. Nor any drop to drink.
Squeal of swallows over Nimes, their summer-
plaiting industry alive since Caesar
first fetched back the crocodile and palm-tree.
They sling their nets as low as bats at evening,
ride high thermals while the morning sun climbs,
skim stagnant canal scum the rest of the time.
A night of storms in half an hour. The slap
of soft diamond, stripping streets, reveals
the old wild-beast arenas underneath
a hot circus of bellowing traffic.
Morning deposits bottle-glass mountains
by the spit on which we baste ourselves in salt.
They called me Tiger, my legionnaires.
Those, that is, who knew what a tiger was.
More, I suspect, than would believe an archway
could stand up, half-destroyed, in open air
as I well know it can. They built a fence
to keep the tourists out, my masters in.
Sunburn. Heatstroke. Hangover. The whole lot
knocked down to the accidental bidder,
who now owns: dehydration, dayglo red
back, nausea, headache and bemusement.
Treat with: yoghurt, Earl Grey, baby-lotion.
Avoid: pastis, Merlot, naturism.
“Grey-Ears”, me, or “Bastard!” if I was
helping myself from their lunch-pails. Never
understood why they wanted to carry
a river across a river, lift stones
so high it killed them. The new lot make signs
in dog Latin: “Don’t degrade this bridge.”
Cave. Kaah-v. Roll it round the vaulted roof-space
of your mouth. Mystery-smelling, half magic,
half gestation of something ancient,
ritual, immanent. A labyrinth.
Not a bit of it. Cheap wine-store. Seven
francs a litre. Sterile, and secular.
J’en ai marre! Her voice crashes with (I guess)
a casserole-dish. She’s had enough, as have
the dogs, who flee the yard, invade our flat,
wagging. He comes up, blood on chin, warning
us the German Shepherd pup is parfois
aggressif, flushing out the unshorn poodle.
The coconut soap, melting in my hand,
is life, of course. The street I’m standing in
the Notting Hill crescent of ‘82.
But why all the traffic? And who is this
Mozambican girl shooing kittens out
the door? Who’s watching her? Whose memories?
Van Morrison sings The Streets of Arklow
into a Languedoc July evening.
A Portobello morning crackles out
through one of Malcolm’s compilation-tapes,
and blinding honeymoon Arklow streets through
our own late-Summer accomodation.
This is a city that sleeps. From some way
distant, then, the small-hours siren of an
ambulance starts, pulses three times, shuts
up, its lone engine whining. The broken-
glass girl downstairs miscarried, rumour says.
She with the dogs: En ai marre, Aggressif.
Yellow for the sunflower-people, crammed
into fields, stadia, lined up by routes.
The vine’s paradoxical greens: upper
leaf shadow-cool, vegetal; underside
all bright hysteria. Lavender blue,
or mauve sometimes (colourblind flagmaker.)
French seaman sails for Alex., ‘39.
On shore-leave falls for local Jewish girl.
Converts. They marry. Sleep together once.
His ship’s then sunk: all lost. In ‘56
she brings their son across. He fits. A French-
Egyptian Jewish psychoanalyst.
Coffee. Rough collage of rush-hour engine-
growl and tyre-whoosh below the balcony. Air
cool, moist, overcast with a green smell,
unplaceable for now except to bring
back the girls of ‘74 and raise
this question: Où sont les Gauloises d’antan?
Same father every time, I swear. Pair
of kittens every birth - one queen, one tom -
black like me, like him, and going on now,
what, two thousand years? Fertility beneath
this Tower’s the norm. Before I chase them off
I guide my children through their shaded paths.
Submits to four hours in the van. Switchback,
racetrack roads, into the Cathar mountains.
Two hours’ heresy of sun and water, then
on three hours to the heretics’ redoubt:
Carcassonne’s protecting walls, built to hold
the Inquisition out, keep her hemmed in.
You’re robbing us again, predecessor:
our wife, your children. Even the sun, sea,
obscure Midi roads are not immune
to your ghost-banditry. Will you recoup
your losses in our dreams, to the final
Go. Let’s have done with you.
Universes explode, and all we can
say is Aaaah! Lightning. Thunder. Miracle
is, no-one s starshell-shocked. Green. Red. Fire-gold
spermatazoa careen to distant
nuclear chain-reactions, the stars flinging
themselves to entropy. Is this enough?
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The