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Learning to read the lake               Sheharazade and...her Sultan

         The Nuns' Araucaria           Nicotiana Tabacum.L

 

Learning to read the lake

 

You taught me

the language of the lake. To know

from the fenderís thud against the boat,

the frizzle spiralling down the birch,

the thrumming of the palm, which wind

will soon scribble its name across

the open pages of the lake; if we should

fasten the moorings and lock

the shutters closeó

or hoist sail and razor through

the colours of the sky.

And hear the bow whine drawn across a saw

of swan wings, with their background beat.

 

To read, as well, its changing lines.

The precise calligraphy

of the south wind marking

short, tight strokes, the bold

slashes of Tramontana,

the curling loops a rare west wind

scrawls across the lake. The wayward doodles

of the crazy Cus.

And its notes: the eye ripples

of the plunging grebe, the deltas

drawn by moorhens, the points of light

stippled by oars at dusk.

 

Perhaps now I am learning

your language, too.

The quick shirring worry pulls

under the clear surface of your skin,

the curling scribbling

of untranslated thought, the sudden

thrum of your fears. On your parchment face

is written love in cursive, loss

in strokes. I will not read

the gothic hand, I fear

it is prophecy.

 

Your thoughts plunge

beneath the chill surface of your skin.

I wait, praying

for ripples of light in the dusk.

 

Gabriel Griffin

1st prize Ripley and publication in Anthology  2000

published in The Purple Guide to Piedmont and Turin

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Sheharazade and...

 

He likes my tongue. I tell him tales

Of wisdom, folly, daring, wit. He hangs

Snake-like from my lips. Each night I knot

A magic carpet of bright words, fly with him

To fabled lands, hook multicoloured dreams

On minarets, call up lovers overbold to stir

Fresh passion in his disillusioned breast, light up

His gaze with lamps that glow like djinniís spells

And promise splendours yet untold: enchantments,

Wishes granted, rubies, gold . . . a thousand stories

That unfold. I give him dragons worthy

Of his might, the velvet raptures of one night,

Sweet songs for his delight, a houriís veil of tales

To haze his worldly eyes. I surprise him with

The terrors of the seas, great monsters that would

Seize his fleets, the bubbling forests of the deep.

He laps it up, attends to every word I say, wants more . . .

 

and so dawn comes and I may live another day!

 

                                                         . . . her Sultan

 

I like her tongue. While she tells me tales

It flicks like snake between her coral lips, their shine

Just hazed intriguing by her veil. A thousand velvet nights Iíve

Spied with half-closed eyes the pale moons

Of her breasts rise from silk that scarcely hides

Her lust for ardent lovers conjured from a virile past.

Wisdom runs from me like the sea, itís folly my desire

To take her here and now on this artful rug

Under these dragon lamps coiling subtle fire.

To end her endless tales Iíd tear from her those

Gauzy houriís veils, fill her with delight

Sweeter than any eunuchís scented ice, dissolve

The dawn terror in her eyes, drown her bubbling fears

Of morningís light, slay the rearing monsters in

Her chattering mind. But from this game as from

A djinniís lamp unwind exquisite spirals

Of desire. Iíll play this game out just one more night!

 

(Of course, I never listen to a word she says. . .)

 

Gabriel Griffin

Prized Envoi 1998  and published Coventry Millennium Anthology 1999

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The Nuns' Araucaria

 

Not at all the kind of tree youíd expect to find

In a monastery garden. It squears above the wall

Its giant fingers horning the heavens, effing

Up at the skies. And the nuns who moved in have

Left it there, yet chopped down

The stammering mimosa, the cherry whose blossom danced

A Swan Lake over the boughs, the sacred yew by the gate with

The scarlet berries we plucked and sucked and spat at

The monastery well. But a monkey puzzle?

 

Was it an abbot who had planted it, a symbol

Of lifeís labyrinth or of evilís intricacies? Did he intend it

To stand as a speechless sermon long after heíd died?

Is it a warning of purgatoryís trials or a statement

Of the life we are confusedly living: snared, squittering

In Fateís mesh while the Dark Hunter, unmoved,

Looks on? Or does it symbolize nothing

At all, have no significance, is just a prelateís whim,

A caprice to slip between the lines of the Rule?

 

From my window at night that tree plays games

With the stars; tracing a Nine Menís Morris

Over the mooning sky. Soundless as shadows

Nuns slide under its boughsówhoís to tell if it grabs at

Their veils or pricks them on their way? Or do theyó

For some penance or for a sly joyóclamber

Into its bristly branches, struggle out of their

Caught and cumbersome habits, and wriggle,

Naked and lithe as monkeys, up to the winking stars?

 

Gabriel Griffin

Prized and published in Peterloo Poets Competition Anthology 2006

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Nicotiana Tabacum.L

ď... a viscid annual or short-lived perennialĒ

   

 

In Umbrian fields; stooping, tanned, straw

hats over cotton fazzoletti, they slowly pan

down lines of green; the flowers, cow-lung

pink, clustered in a brazen showing.  Heat

shimmers the scene unreal; a card discarded

from a faded pack, its colours smudged and blurring.

On shaded terraces we pour cool wine, gaze while

they heap the baskets, carts, and straighten,

sighing; take the loads in lines to sheds,

seeds of sweat and tiredness shining.

 

                                    *

 

No, thanks, I donít! Leaves shrivel, twist,

contract like hands with fingers yellowing,

losing lymph like leaves their cool ellipses.

Heat swirls the smoke haze of the shed;

in the darkening day a choking, bitter scent.

 

                                    *

 

You cultivate flowers of your own; their petals

soft as ash, flyaway as clocks of dandelions.

Cut it out! Or down, at least. Youíre young...  

You laugh, inhale, breathe blossoms newly blown,

whorled, impalpable, feathery as down.

I close my eyes; see petals flake, fall, form

loam where spores seed, mycelia creep

and black fungi slowly grow.

 

Gabriel Griffin

4th prize Writerís Bureau  2002 and published online

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