There is a grandeur in the landscape, lifted up and uplifting
and dry, or dried in brightening air.
It is matched by an earnestness amongst the people
who have been hardened in the ways of nature and cooperatives
but can now hold higher hopes out for their children, who are
open-faced with dark and shy and curious, serious eyes
burning through the open groves and scattered plots
and stooping limestone crags, towering
over the poverty of older lives, sheltered with their animals;
Living together in resilience in adversity, for however many
years and days of grace and gratitude god sends…
He had fled
as a child from the world of flood, a refugee unwelcome in his pack
who had felt afraid from the first; to find another place of faction
in which the weakest could show strength, where features concealed his fear…
His hands bled:
not minding strings of razor wire, he clambered on our fences,
he beat a bloody pulp against the bureau’s battle tank of process
but brushed aside the complex holograms besetting our enrichment
He would change.
Disliking men on task, on principle, he found enough belief
to claim control, to assert agency; but let his vision shrink into true faith
as roots turned in towards the cautious tearing agony of shifting shapes…
He was new:
on the right, his beard grew fierce and strong, in which he could rejoice
beneath a hooded eye, though his left profile was smooth and fair
like the face of a teen who had been young, without enjoyment.
When my hair was long
and worth cutting with style
I would turn my face to the wind
so I could feel how it blew
as soon as I opened my eyes.
Now I count the breaths and stand
in shelter, feeling for grip
as December blows in from the north.
Facing the blast, I look for a path
that will let me provide for the young.
Under a low sky, scraping the bounds of the earth
a stillness mists around us that makes the world opaque
and shuttered to the light,
in a landscape framed through glass I had neglected,
blaming eyes I’d bruised by facing the absurdities of life…
eyes blinking, shocked at what a scan now shows
of our society, of smallholders from a broken hilly country
who’d decanted on a corner of the plain, who’d encamped
and learned to specialise in arcane fields
in order to survive.
We were unencumbered – so we thought – by overweening majesty
but circumscribed within our island habits and sunk in careless sleep:
locked inside our skulls, choking down our lack of words,
we kept quiet to eschew the curse or taint of heresy,
like lambs among the emptiness of cynics standing by / detached;
We were still small people absent leadership, or faith or hope or vision,
who gave precedence to scoundrels and took nonsense for an answer,
cowed by jackals, led by donkeys, following false prophets –
their tenets brightly burnished against sense –
who pretended to console us at the funeral of logic.
Now many have decided to make the best of it they can
and seek to save themselves,
as we shake our fragments into line, of sorts,
to stumble (sheep to slaughter) off a cliff,
so ending our experience by freely choosing chains
of private personal catastrophes;
craving purpose, as we go blind into the night –
beyond our daily bread –
but not unhappy, in our imbalanced way:
lost if not mistaken.
The machine man clocked in for his shift and went down
in the rattling lattice cage, swallowed whole.
He took his pride beside his fate to go down:
Down in darkness on a thin September day
below the gear at Woodhall’s Virtuewell;
Down through the narrow stooping ways of dust
chiselled deep beyond pretence and arrogance;
Down into the shafted maze of galleries
and lamps and damp and fearful gas;
Down to face his fall below a breaking prop.
Part of him resurfaced in the ambulance waggon
that shook a broken pelvis (and shoulder, ribs and legs)
along twelve dreary morphined miles towards the mercy
of the grey and gaunt infirmary… where he went down again:
Down to meet the surgeons in their antiseptic halls;
Down to months of care, preparing for the knife
which clinically killed him by infection.
Down, he left a pregnant widow with ten children
to manage in the hungry years;
Down and gone. But unforgotten in our genes.
As the teredo tunnels in, destroying for its life,
its warm and fertile purpose ending in itself;
so the worm of doubt lives in my ear and burrows through:
The worm has been fine-tuned by open source,
placed expertly as if by one who knew the weakness
to exploit, and how; to feed its fill on friendship’s tap
to sow its seed in passing, that slithers into life
to parasite poor words that cannot be unheard, still less unsaid
and to distort the silence of dissent, so meaning is replaced by any sound;
Meanwhile outside, its hackles raised, the world turns upside down…
As doubt racks up its toll of days, its mire of debt
that cannot be repaid, becoming part of us,
its tinder never dried in drought or fire-burned to renew;
so iron anchors rust, transformed into dead-weights
our ballast shifts, the keel lies skew, the compass falsifies
and shock absorbers serve to amplify what anyone can hear:
Immunity has turned, there is no truth, no-one is true
once trust has been denied –
and we are all displaced, to undermine, to hollow out;
Landmarked in a place we’d never seen
we walked along the dike, across the marsh,
heads down and wishing we could huddle
against the buffeting of the endless wind
that chased its shadows in the reeds
bending, bowing, circling in their beds
until it hustled out across the sea –
to places where our dreams had been…
Before we found a shelter in the sails
that had driven down the grinding stones –
now opened, trusted to receive
an unexpected vital moment’s strike:
a moment, even two, of clarity and warmth
to mark a passage through life’s mud and salt;
so we can imagine how to live, into a future
different from the past.
And you said you knew / how the supports all worked / though they were engineered and unobtrusive
You bastard! How you indulged your agony / of misplaced confidence, at best / or a flow of fresh mendacity, stinking in the sun / spilling over purpose, one step off the curve / a vision out of focus, lacking depth of field…
as you observed, in cold and brittle politesse / in baffled, bunkered equanimity – ha! –
the columns leaning out, not in / splayed by their own weight / across each other’s lines / before the roof was even raised / to welcome innocents abroad / who’d come to worship here, and play –
let alone the masterpiece / we could have made inside….
But you said you knew / how the support would work / within the frame I’d barely found.
You bastard! Who will build the shelter now / in praise of openness?
The morning rises with a tide in flood,
a swelling warmth of swallowed salt
that lifts my body off its feet
then muscles up and through the chest
as it overpowers a racing mind with calm –
or the tastes of sweetened rum and the delights
of islands that once dreamt a feathered man,
imagined in the humid light, a force of colour
radiant in palm-carved air, hanging….
but vibrant with a pregnant pungent life
which if inhaled infects the heart and fills me
with uneasy sweeping dreamy peace. Peace
that may forget the old molasses and mosquitoes
of a Caribbean twice a sentence, twice a grave:
a candied killer and attractor, destroyer of the men
who made sugar for the craving and reward
that brought wealth beyond their avarice for the few
and a fevered anguished aguey death for many;
islands liberated but still branded by the stain of slavery,
when one was damned and ten, a hundred men were owned
to make an ancient sin industrial: the power
and the desire to erase those people’s names
and chain their children to that rotten block –
the foundation stone of empires, the anchor of our trade.
We’ll go polling once again
to satisfy the calculations
of their cynical party managers
and their backroom infighting –
backstabbers in a nationalist disguise.
But we are not the Turks.
Perhaps somewhat like the Dutch,
we’ll troop into the flimsy booths
in our shabby local halls
and sit those bastards down!