Give the house back to the night creatures, fat transparent geckos
suckering the walls, beady mosquitoes, kamikaze moths.
Be still now, this is the time of blank-eyed courteous night.
The sickle moon dips and disappears, replaced by the lighthouse,
pulsating over the rocks. A single red Hibiscus flower shrivels
and drops. A last mournful jet winks across the sky,
giving the island a miss. Our swimsuits drip across the balustrades
and the fridge changes gear.
This is the time for retreat when babies lie prostrate
sucking invisible teats and valley headlights salute roadside shrines.
Steep gorges hide their underwear, rusting wrecks, cigarette butts
and punctured lilos plastered to the rocks.
Now the sea remembers how it felt to be filled with fish.
Tour guides lock their safes, bartenders forgive their last customers,
badly paid waitresses walk home fortified by tips.
An insomniac priest genuflects before an empty niche, illuminates
another electric candle.
Dream now in the stultifying heat about the twisting sea.
In Santa Marguerita’s home for the aged and incontinent
a coven of nuns dream about their weekly bathe.
Wedged in black inner tubes they bob in billowing nylon overalls
and baseball hats. They crochet in their sleep: vestments and table mats,
a magnificent lace virgin ascending, arms outstretched.
Twenty sweating men heave her up and down vertiginous village streets.
Confetti rains, cracked bells clang, chrysanthemum fireworks burst,
and four bands compete simultaneously, Verdi, Wagner,
Jesus Christ Superstar, a medley from Cats.
The puffing Bishop shamelessly blesses all in the stir-fry heat;
islanders, tourists, toddlers, copulating dogs, nougat sellers
and cash machines.
We swim towards the dawn and our flight home.
We’ve swallowed the uppers and downers of August.
There are no casualties. I pad up to your room to count your head,
ears freshly pierced, a little altar of souvenirs. Here you exist
leggy and shy, only for the promise of tomorrow's last swim,
beyond the rocks at Calypso’s Cave where Ulysses,
captured by the turquoise waves, spent a little time.
Imagine your garden now, open to every
rose-sniffing tourist, pressing themselves
against your studio glass, just as you left it,
the packing cases, fragile, this way up,
your leather cap and overalls iced with plaster dust.
Then I imagine you lost your grip
on a careless cigarette the night of the fire,
but your arthritic hand grabs
my pen and scrawls across the page,
enraged. Go on, put me straight!
Take me up the lip of the stair and lead me through
the different chambers of your life, this house
an empty nautilus. We look out at the waves
lapping St. Ives, and you, so fond of pronouncements
about art, talk about the giant light that prises
the lid off Carbis Bay, but all I see are small children
wriggling on the beach like bait.
Let’s share whisky and you can tell me how your triplets
have grown. My god, how they can eat!
and how tomorrow you’ll banish them away
to boarding school, and then you’ll work, work, work.
We watch a delivery, a hundredweight of scented
African teak. You take my hand to feel the grain,
the rush beneath of undiscovered shape.
And out the corner of my eye I see the piece
you call Three Forms, three polished marble eggs
rocking themselves to sleep in this tricky light.
Imagine how you ached so much to own this house
that just before the hammer fell, you fainted
to frustrate the underbidder, who relented.
Tell me, is it all tallied up now, written on the slate?
Your work, this house, the knapped flint walls,
the carefully curated photographs, Cape Primroses
setting seed along the paths, the silver bleat of children
floating away high over the garden like lost balloons.
Now I’ve finished the book about the museum, I can’t help returning
to an illustration, a microminiature of Pope John Paul
carved from a single human hair, mounted in the eye of a needle.
The pontiff is wedged in the tiny silver arch, arms outstretched to bless
or struggle through.
Now I’ll have to think about it all day, poetry is like that.
It’s tempting to think of something else, the squirrel in my back garden,
why it moves like nothing else, stop-starting under an invisible strobe.
Spring is clearly thinking big, sending the early clematis into a frenzied
search for space.
To clear my head of wonderment I walk to the café and eat
a bowl of lentil soup, but a persistent fruit fly circles the spilt sugar
and I’m forced to consider flea-circuses, trying to imagine what kind of
person fashioned their gossamer harnesses,
and that exquisite tiny golden coach jerking across
the polished table top.
I’m back wondering if the miniaturist: a former violinist Armenian émigré
the caption says, left his homeland in a hurry, taking only the thin suit
he stood up in. On arrival in L.A. he turned up the lapels,
emptied his pockets to find a diamond sharp needle, a mote, a fleck,
a grain of rice.
I wonder if his wife grew resigned or excited by a man obsessed
with their nights together hunched over the microscope,
the distant rumble of the Montebello Highway, the porch screen flapping,
letting in the dust. Waiting for pauses between heartbeats
to carve each stroke, an act of devotion.
Women who long for babies share a curse.
Like a dying gipsy's well aimed spit,
it turns them green sick in the cloudy night;
when empty bellies wail and wake them up.
It fills them up with grief and hot sour thoughts,
that drop like peaches stealthy in their dreams,
to rest in echo chambers of their hearts;
safe from the labours of a real live birth.
They dream while others swell beneath soft coats
or stay close to home fearing an attack
by fecund women standing on the street
who gossip, lick the salt and chew the fat.
Some pull reason's rabbit from their hats.
Some run ragged as they grasp at straws,
haunted by babies; breathless and deceived
by a slippery craft that won't be moored.
And when the longing follows them around,
a little fellow dogging every step,
he trails a bottle, abject, lost, unformed;
he stalks their wombs and brings them phantom flowers.
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