They come in drenched with rain
or from some unspeakable game
into this grey-walled classroom
with the greyer light outside,
speaking Cantonese or Mandarin,
complaining about tights stolen
or mislaid, these Chinese girls I teach.
At night, they cry under their duvets
of brightly-coloured Tiggers and Pooh Bears,
long for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Shanghai,
escape from brutal England; the execrable food.
Half-term offers some respite; a landlady’s gain.
And all the time. This rain.
This corner of Queensland, near the coast,
has burning fields of sugar cane that smokes
neon-pink in the sunset of dusk.
Here, distances are Siberian. Steppe on steppe
of stars turn out: noctilucent in the blue-black
skin of night. Bright as postage stamps,
the lorikeets play tag from tree to tree,
merry in Regency green. Contemporary.
On Kelly’s beach, crooked as English teeth,
the black rocks copy sentinels, and stand
aboriginal against Caucasian sand –
light as Chardonnay !
In the pool at the Las Palmas motel
(early '50s, Festival of Britain style).
we swim under shooting stars, and think of
sacerdotal Chekhov. Toughing it out on Sakhalin.
From my window seat
on this Boeing 737
flight to Anchorage
I can see, looking down,
of tiny, liminal communities
with their palette of green, amber and brown.
We’re flying over
Vancouver Island now,
into brilliant sunshine, snowy mountains
in the distance, and a last wedge of blue sky
before we reach Alaska, when
all becomes white,
impenetrable cloud, and this late October
fin de saison day turns suddenly into night.
Today the sky is whiter than snow.
The sun rises: red as Bac n’ Pieces
in the Arctic Coastal Trading Store
at the corner of Ankovah Street, where
the frozen ocean, solid as Pompeii,
is a tableau of crème de menthe green:
a freeze frame, repeated again and again.
Black as bullets, cartoonish snow-mobiles,
batman out of this frozen Gotham,
on to the tundra, with its skating-rink ice,
as buttermilk polar bears with curranty eyes,
gather under the gothic arches of Bowhead
whale jaw-bones: famished; framed,
gigantic, mythic ghosts: immense; immane.
The Northern Lights weave coloured
curtains in the sky. Browerville’s a bracelet
lit by stars. Huskies in their dog lots
bark all night – hushed by snow drifts
down the streets. Upturned, a Chevy
lies abandoned in the snow:
shouldering the blows of the Arctic wind.
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