&

FA

Starling Calling

A strange woman has sent me a poem.
Who is she? And what can be her motive?
Does she dwell close by or far away?
I know what she tells me is her name,
But is she a truth-teller or fabulist?
Does it matter? Here in cyberspace -
Me Tarzan xylem v she Jane phloem.
As for me I'm a natural swimmer,
Dancer too, profile like Valentino
And a lutanist to outshine Orpheus.
Or shall I - a jesting pilot - lead her
In the direction of the true north
There to be discovered in my dotage,
Doddering, though not yet on a zimmer?
And have we been cast as steel and tinder?
If so then who's the flint, and what audience
Will admire the sparks that we engender,
The flames that spring from our repercussions,
The illuminations, the epiphanies?
And when our joint novelty is passé,
Who will love me as a glowing cinder?

SB

Starling Responds

Whose name from whose beak?
Across oceans stuffed with turmoil,
blue as ranges receding, green as seas
of white pine that once began at these shores
and endured farther than anyone dared walk.
That is a darkling place.
The words that might rise
like fortunes within the magic trick
bowling balls of a childhood
stay put.
Instead these ones, in answer to
that tinder. Or are they called tinder
and the others steel?
Flint makes them make a force
that can make a ruin.
Someone will be watching.
From a place neither ocean nor forest,
from a window in a city lit with switches,
from an iceflat screen.
The words in the nowhere
of code. Little on-offs, little digits,
little flashes held in plastic.
The brain: a maze of gaps.
Between particles: the possible.
A bird opens its throat.

FA

Cloud

Where once there were twites and meadow pipits,
Peeping in passing, today in damp silence
Cumulus cloud presses down like a pillow
On the upturned face of the heathery hill.
Sometimes the air is lucid and one sees
The town spread on either side of the river
Like the barbs on the rachis of a feather,
Ripe for preening by some almighty bill.
Its belfries and steeples, tailored to advertise
The presence of a living God, lift up
Their long bony fingers into a void
Abandoned by despairing seraphim.
But now the mist enfolds me like a duvet -
As comforter, incubator of fantasy,
Also protector from the Evil Eye.
My vision's gathered in a veil of scrim.
If this is a preview of the afterlife,
It passes quickly and the spiky city
Reasserts itself; below is the river
Over which herring gulls shamelessly yell
While circling slowly in figures of eight.
Mute swans drift with all the time in the world
And the citizens stare at the hills, crying
Look, look, the cloud has lifted, all will be well!

SB

Last of August

Late, a wasp alights on a dropped crabapple.
A low highway roar and sparrow twits.
The air, brisk though still.
The drone, low though there.
Nothing will happen in the yard all afternoon.
Then a shift in the sky and the colours lighten and intensify.
As though a knob were turned.
Infinite ceiling, says the screen.
What clouds there were now hang south, over the lake.
The water darker under them.
A cabbage moth, a fly.
The air a loose net of things.
And again lighter.
A frond wags.
Not hello.
The red plastic shutters on the white plastic house heat up.
The flowering almond innocuous all these months past blooming.
A done deal this isn't.
In the math of it, there is no answer.
No need for a window onto it.
The air a pocket of lint.
As useless as the world.
A squirrel moves across.
From here to there.
The air a bag of air.
A wasp moves on.
A cricket does what crickets do and the air quickens.

FA

Southern Ocean

Force ten Antarctic gales are shrieking
And tearing the crests off giant waves
While leopard seals are down there treading water,
Alert for anything alive and vulnerable,
And pods of killer whales, too, or orcas,
Cast about in the enveloping coldness.
Meanwhile in Berkeley Square the nightingale
Sings on as he has done since nineteen-forty.
They tell me the angels at the Ritz
Are backing musicals this year; our smiling
Cocktail maestro, serving among the mirrors
And strip lights of the modish buttery, pours
Desensitising slugs for the well-to-do
And nicely spoken; they all laugh softly.
In a room off Wigmore Street some fiddlers
Practise the scherzo of a string quartet,
Berg, possibly, and a fragment of Webern.
But the Southern Ocean is still there, you know,
Far off, boundless and screaming to itself
In the darkness, with Paolo and Francesca
And turbulence beyond our understanding -
And still alive with leopard seals and creatures,
Eternally eating and being eaten.

SB

Café du Monde

Years ago we left late winter
for incipient azalea blooms and that river,
smaller than imagination and muddier,
muddy as the coffee ground with chicory
and frothed with milk and poured
for us to drink alongside that selfsame river.
Upon which so much depended,
though the levee was so high we had to climb the stairs
to find it there, that slow grey going somewhere.
Cranked open back home, the canister of coffee
emanated There: the crinch of our sandals
on the powdered-sugar floor, the damp
curl of hair. It didn't taste the same
though when that can ran out we ordered more
and more until the river spilled.
Then we ordered more again.
The New Orleans of the mind
now lives behind a scrim but still the croak
of a fogey's "When the Saints Come Marching In"
makes its way across.
Meanwhile, really . . . .
Whatever goes on goes on down there
for whoever's left and whoever's come
to see what's left.
Up here, it's about to be winter again.
In a vacant lot, beside concrete steps
that rise five times then end without an edifice,
a little chicory still blooms, blue as nothing.