Overhead, yes, the shark hangs
like a Renaissance saint, in whose eyes time
falls like a sediment, and no doubt
the machinations of a moray eel’s jaws
are more dangerous than teeth in a glass
and it is not grief that makes the upward,
filling mass of little bells – the jellyfish –
drop again as a heart does into sorrow,
but it’s in the basement’s deep and damp Atlantic,
among the transparent skins of fish
and the skeletons worn with a monstrous clarity,
that the greatest exaggeration is made
as Vampyroteuthis infernalis heaves into view.
That name. It reminds me of Prudentius
who said the corruption of language
is at the root of sin. Once Satan’s tongue was split,
object and name slid off one another
like function and form in a tumour
or lovers making and remaking their union,
but still remaining alone. What crosses
the divide is not itself, but what has found
itself in another: an ecstasy of mind
where like is like is like… Dear metaphor
– read ‘lover’ – we invented heaven,
imagining sky as a fish might the land:
alien, beautiful on our tongue.
The walls in the lounge have holes like bullet holes,
but our walls do not have bullet holes.
Over the hallway, the ceiling is down as though bombed,
but our ceilings are not bombed.
The bathroom plumbing is exposed like a wound
in the body, but our body has not been wounded.
You are not in the house or garden,
but you are not dead and your photo on the mantelpiece
is not a memorial. The war does not shake the foundations
of the house, but the house is shaking.
We are not committing acts of which we are ashamed,
but we are ashamed. We have no simple enemies.
What is done in our name is not done in our name
but sullies us, is ours, is ours like our name.
If I look, there is no surface, no hinge,
no bracket or screw, no line of aluminium,
no striation to secure the foot, rung
by rung, no place the ladder gains the earth,
no place the floating weight lands, no full part
that is not obscured by shadows falling
from the pepper tree or by old, caked mud.
Up to the thin leaves, up to the adornment
of red peppercorns, there has been a year
of standing, a year of ghost foot on ghost foot
angled to the tree and climbing. As the storms
pass and the wind dies then rises, as the air
melts into an ancient insect busyness,
as the still nights of swallows and wine
ascend and decline: there has been this year
of slow non-decay, of infinite definition,
after which I come, with charcoal in hand,
and cannot make anything connect.
They say it’s rational to turn inwards
to your obsession, to wake to it and love it,
but I tell you, when the storms come down
and the rain falls like stones onto the river,
I can’t open my eyes to its sting.
My childless hip
starts up its ache along the beltline
where I hook my thumb. Then the waves come
up over the canoe as if to drown me
within reach of shore, and I have to think
of where to jump to should a caiman
land at my feet.
But it passes. And then, above the cataracts,
where the water eases and takes the rain
like a boiling mirror instead:
always a greater treasure of fish,
and then a greater one still in the tiny creeks
we call igarapés
and into that slow-moving catch
as bizarre as a netted dream, I sink
my heart’s current, the lines of its wonder
tracing the body of my fish
from the promontory of its ancient head
to its long and breakable tail.