'The miracle of loving what dies' - Albert Camus
The miracle of a girl who – at school
in summer in the twenties,
dawdling with her friends in a brine cavern,
among the carved passages under the fields –
after getting back late one afternoon,
was ordered to talk to the class about rock-salt,
and did so, amazing herself and them –
the miracle ablaze in her as she spoke,
as she speaks now about her grand-daughter,
who inherits the shape of her eyes,
for whom the world is also ablaze, lit
with the miracle of friends and her friends`
friends, who know nothing at all about rock-salt.
Miracle of the sea,
brine-white sand. Miracle
of summer, the roasting sun.
Miracle of the smells of the bodies of friends,
Albert and Didier and Marconi in Algiers,
born the same year as my mother who never knew them,
moving among the shining leaves of ficus,
the warm wool and faecal smell
Didier carried around with him,
while the same summer, the same moment,
for her it was the taste of salt,
it was the scent of heat,
sweet drinks, liquorice,
river-mud under the schoolroom window.
The delicious sea outside the schoolroom door
of Albert and Didier, children in class
in different countries, clothes,
an odour of joy, sometimes of rage,
beauty, and its second face, distress,
dissolving, like crystals in brine, to memory,
and launched on the river outside my mother`s classroom
were ships that reached Algiers smelling of mud,
just as those from Norway smelt of wood,
just as those from Germany smelt of oil,
As more intense the sun heated the city,
Grinding plaster and stone to a fine dust.
To those now dying who were children,
children in school, children in the sun,
who never met because of the tenuous drift
of a world still local in its extremity,
I say it was a miracle you lived,
That you lived on and beyond that summer
Into a world luminous as those fields,
Rivers, streets like overheated
Corridors, leaves of ficus,
Smell of the bodies of friends,
That you lived on with friends,
Remembering eyes of the same
dissolving colour, the miracle
of chance and strange silk,
miracle of brine,
miracle of death.
And of a girl
now an old woman,
with difficulty undressing herself
for the process. The difficulty
Of the no-less adjacent
but real and surprised wonder
of life going,
of trying to recall,
in delayed passages of speech
as if for her unpresent friends
instances, facts, this, that,
bits and pieces, rock-salt.
from Dinosaur Point
Mile End Opera
The man with whiskers of ponytail hair
growing out of the back of his shaved skull,
the woman with the Anna Ford face,
catacombed under London with other strangers.
Cornered, like prison visitors.
Swaying with the machinery.
Also a boy and girl – he's black, she's white.
Beautiful black and white.
He's telling her about his college courses.
Things he likes. She telling him about her.
They are directing such smiles at each other
every one is a hit,
so that everyone in this carriage seems happier
A shade less absent. People are listening.
Even Anna Ford is feeling distinct.
Even the shaved/unshaved head is alert.
This girl's voice is luminous with this boy.
Whatever she's saying to him she can't stop.
Just listening, just looking at her
is becoming something phenomenal to him.
And, if she's seen that smile – which she has –
she must know what the audience also knows –
that it's real, that these two are somehow
going to get off at the same stop,
that they've only just met but … what the hell …
This is it! Though they don't know it
we're all shouting for them, leaning towards them,
giving them space, swaying together,
silently wishing them things which in ourselves
we never knew,
or once or twice have known.
'This is it. Do it. Go for it',
punching the air for them in a whole Yes!
The train stops, he gets up, goes, he's gone.
She sits staring into the walls of London .
Early morning sun.
The day is bracing.
There`s some wind in the trees.
The fog moves.
You`re at the mail-box down on the dusty road.
A letter from England?
Yes, it is.
Popped inside those bundles of glossy junk.
Your name on the envelope
in my handwriting
since I`m asleep in the bed you just left.
A letter from your husband asleep in the house.
You tear it open.
It`s a letter
written to you from years in the future,
written from now, just as I am writing this
You start to read.
You can`t go on.
This is dissection.
You are being folded out like a map.
What will happen?
The letter is reassuring.
The children are well.
I hope you are.
Where are they?
Have you left us?
And other news.
A war in Europe.
Public and private deaths.
We`ve had such storms.
The ice is melting.
It rambles. Little details.
Then an entire paragraph on the cat.
Then best wishes. Love.
And the children? Yes.
Yes, they send theirs.
The children get up, get dressed, you drive them to school.
They think you are a little bit distant this morning,
a bit preoccupied, entering freeway lanes
as if reading something, while the heat
presses the metal roof and you open a window
into the oncoming draughts as you move forward.
You have folded your letter back in the envelope in your head
where it will continue not to exist.
The White Mountains
Animal cities crowded to deep time
fointing and unsheeting out of the sea,
flowers of the sea whose petals changed
to mica where they fell.
Nothing contracted from softness is alive
but moves towards a region we can`t reach –
That scarp, down
from Sierra ice
in setting light on Nevada.
Our camp in the Whiye Mountains.
The road from the valley winding
out to some high empty place.
I watch the moon`s half-hub increase its shine
from fading cones of snow.
Out of this world it`s daylight,
the stars grow.
Three hundred miles from the Humbolt River
whose trail dried into salt,
trees are still the oldest things that live,
twisted to the rock with iron threads.
Shone out on the dark my flashbeam ends.
The children wriggle and dream in their blue tent.
That eyes ever opened is an occurrence,
no more than an accident of occurrence.
The mountains are ridged like cone bristles opening
in the sun. It`s still early. The seam
of our air is blue-layered, soft
fine-grained rock for miles, untreacherous,
a breathable piece of time. Our shoe-prints
are loose-scuffed in the gravel,
not yet squeezed to marble.
Heat on bark flecks
In my eyes
the granite unfinished. In a million years all
daylight is the same, landslides of light,
ice from dislodged clouds.
Today we`ll see what the sun does south of here –
the road, the minutes contracting in seams
behind us, tpo memory, each various
second fused to sulphur, to creosote,
to distances without shade.
from Half Moon Bay
Spring in February
This clear day,
at sixteen months
she slips from my hands
yards off the path
to the lambs.
Zipped up tight
in her all-in-one suit
which shines silver and grey
in the morning rays
she wobbles out to what`s there,
a space walker
making her first descent.
Grass on hard ground,
the earth inhaling
a whole still inrush,
she steps just conscious
that the world is present.
I look at a line
of rocks in a stream
that ripples before it cascades
in a gloss of current.
My glance runs like a hand across
the texture of leaden glass
without breaking the surface.