Start with weather. It’s the polite thing to do. As in
can I ever move far enough away
from monsoon wind, swooping heat
and slim green parrots, dropping dead off mango trees
to speak the language of frost heaves? As in will the frozen lake
I skate inside go the way of polar ice?
I know the point is to keep things light. As in ladies
whose cause it was to write a few lines to friends back home
before dressing for dinner in watered silk and powdered face.
We’ve had four days of rain, though the mutton’s fine
as anything Jane finds in shops back there. Wish you were here.
The full page sent one way, while the hand that wrote it sails
into empty blue. As in the doomed Titanic carving its straight
wake toward America on documentary TV. Friend,
I’m up all night, listening while the imaginary
crowd shout in brisk grey wind. Bon Voyage—-
simulated, moaning violins, the camera
panning a faux oak staircase,
the cardboard ship full of light and pretend
women, who put down just a few lines each night:
who flirted with whom, temperatures requiring furs,
careening from one theme to the next and all the while, unseen,
below, are other women who press and mend and make
their bright world go. And under them, the hill of ice.
There’s always weather under you. And so we dress
the doll of days in penmanship and bone lace.
I’m following the moon from room to room. I’m writing
to you. Hello, friend. Tell me the news. Pollen count? Great shoes?
whether they will ever return to us is a hard and indeterminate thing
whether the scrunched-up mind in its agony can parse the parakeet’s tracks
whether between the powder and the peeling face anything actually matters
whether the dope’s doubt is preferable to the toper’s torpor
whether my pearls live with Orlando’s wits in the moon’s cold scrapyard
whether guilt’s deranged orbit is what jellies the tar of parking lots
whether the Lord is my coelacanth who shall not weep
whether the foul-fleshed solecism is the queerest of fish
whether my beached pearls in their solace rode death’s sad carousel
whether the lost will come back to us in an agony of parakeets
whether the courtship of crab and faux-oak finial will break into peeling song
How to believe in signs? A hurricane climbed the coast all week. Today, the tide is low: a flower bed of crab backs and Nike soles,
scattered teeth of a comb. Ghalib said the lost return in the tulip, the rose. But only a few, the survivors----meaning, I suppose, that the struggle
to bloom goes on, beyond dust and storms. A black plastic bag, half buried in sand, billows like a shipwreck’s dress.
Once, in a dream, the love I’d lost came back to tell me, The dead love rhyme. He hung above me in the dark, a chime----
tomorrow, sorrow, marrow, borrow---- What is it they miss most, the inevitable or the surprise? I doubt
if Ghalib ever saw the sea----the crashing of trash and sparkling foam. He stood on his own crumbling shelf of earth, his brother disappeared
in riots, his lovers swallowed by court intrigue, seven sons in the ground and no money to plant gardens above their graves.
Walking the wrack line, skirting bouquets of seaweed, the hollow spines of Bic pens, I think he would have recognized
this break and roll. In my mind, he’s finished for the day, pouring a measure or two, raising it in a toast
to the empty room. He stares down into the calm, dark cup of wine. There’s more than the past drowning my feet. There are gulls
swirling over debris. They make their calls. I watch them plunge into the cold and harvest silver bodies, whole.
Coast of Bohemia
How sand makes meadows in the quartz-light riling. Tempering sea
to gentleness & hiss over the gleam of musselshell scoured hosts
shattered to guesswork. Each heelprint diminishes & something is
erased. What first seems a shipwrecked dress, the paltering
eye (hungry for humanness) botched from a sand-hauled jib. Still it is
true something is crying: saltgrass, trinkets laid on a mauled
tarp, a shred of oft-sucked lace clutched in her pink, improbable fist. Lullaby
too rough. Pity her eyes which can’t yet fix on how a storm
breeds fullness in the sky & this half- light’s guesswork of coast.
Whether the lost... No oracle will reach her nighted longitude –
just Coincidence, the healer & a roving gull taken at first for something else.
The Coast in Winter
You’ve donned a crown of snow,
while the ambulance throws colour
on the sky, as if this were a holiday.
Something has been erased, it’s true—-
I listen for the hiss of all these flakes
meeting the shore, where we walked
yesterday. You spent half your life
on an island and never learned to swim.
You cupped my face to hold me steady
and explained, how once, in a kingdom far away—-
where it was never cold and you were young
like me—-ninety women drowned themselves
in a village well. It’s true. Some things
are erased, and some can never be,
no matter what the tide may do. A history
of strokes, the paramedic tells someone I can’t see.
I remember I tried to teach you at a hotel beach.
Crawl stroke. Breast stroke. Flutter kick. I was nine.
I said, Put your face in the water. Don’t be afraid.
You have to put your face straight in.
It was a holiday, but I’ve forgotten where,
the hotel built to resemble a castle. Now,
women in white shoes tow us through
a corridor, a storm of doors and faces: Patient
presenting with confusion and a lack of strength.
It’s shallow, I said. It’s safe. You can’t drown here.
I used to try to imagine ninety women
in their finery. More silk than water
to drown in. They say a stroke is like a star
exploding in the brain, a Catherine Wheel
over the harbour. Just yesterday we walked
the winter beach and listened to the sheets of ice
sigh and then cry out when warmer waves
reached higher on the sand. One brilliant day
erased and something else burned into me.
We’ve camped on this coast, in this country,
for a time. A king and a daughter, in quartz-light.
Open your eyes. Don’t be afraid—-
We float. Your gaze dissolves then rushes back
to find my face. Imagine, once, there was a holiday—-
the sea was calm, the sky electrified with snow.
The colour in water
…………………on the shoreline’s shallowing
…………………stones in a lake we had almost driven past
on holiday near dusk
………..I was five and hardly a person yet
and bent to pick up
………………………..a gleam in the silt
………prised at the shell’s stubborn locket
its insides revealed at
………..last to me
…………………………….I shrieked and fell in
…………….cut out the breast of my friend
…………….the doctor rebinding the drain at her wrist
offered to refer her
………..to the in-house counsellor
……………….his patient to be a scholar
………of some renown
………he shrugged as if to say what can an NHS
consoler possibly teach you
………..you haven’t learnt
………………a lacuna was originally
………………no more than a hole liable
to fill with water
………the same holiday my father claims
I spent half an hour
…………………….hidden among the mid-height boughs
………ascending panic Mummy put me in my
anorak under the hand dryer
………..while the sky reflected
…………………………….the darkening lake