Sometimes a river seems to listen,
brown water, curled white feathers, a yellow leaf
turning and resting, as from time to time
your voice running round person after person, their parents, life history,
my fingers turning over dead leaves, feeling how leathery they are,
how easily I can tear them apart
till I flash out at the next thing you say
and then a long pause
while we watch foam eddy under a sycamore
and detach itself, as if a counsellor
has slipped out of the room and left us together.
there’ll be a house in red sandstone
among green hills
beginning to heave and stretch.
Early morning, someone will have lit a fire,
smoke will puff a wavering speech bubble
across wobbling dry-stone walls,
mist will blur the valleys.
At this moment a man and three women
will be walking down a dim corridor
towards a chapel
an ancestor built out beyond the kitchens.
A car will hurry along an unseen road,
a pheasant hurtle into the air
over a crack
where tower blocks will be thrusting up.
The four will choose well separated seats,
break hesitantly into today’s psalm:
How can we sing
the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Why don’t they look out of arched windows,
take in what hills are doing nowadays,
that the house
is alone and alien among them?
Elusive blues, haze of splintered sunlight,
no edges; no hint of rays
bending off as they’re alleged to
ripening grapes on an invisible hillside;
Yesterday the guide said, Sturgeon live here,
ridged snouts and monstrous eyes
in at most eight feet of water;
no sign of them
only a bell, clear and insistent,
Come and celebrate mystery,
What’s the point? It’s all a trap.
Out here morning sun
is drawing a cluster of masts
clear and sharp against the poplars,
angles of reeds, jag of boulders
black smuts that shape up as swans;
and I stare at a still surface
that plays me with dazzle
a sudden wind can scoop up
spray dense enough to drown a swimmer.
her chest-of-drawers between two windows
unclear grain-lines under thick glass
flimsy metal handles rattle if touched
shallow drawers jerk onto unfamiliar scents
lily-of-the-valley she said but it wasn’t like flowers
a powder puff loaded with pink that clogs her skin
silk stockings she slides up white legs stretches her toes down
into the tips as if for someone else to see next to them
her knickers her petticoats
she’s downstairs now stringy arms reddened hands
poking the point of an iron into corners of pillow-cases
grey hair wild across a cheek
‘Right-hand top drawer,’ she said and I’m dithering
their left my right but to try both put my hand in
rummage for the hanky she wants
in front of the mirror which are the true eyes
those I saw her with last their backs to my shoulder-blades
or doubles staring back reversed and tricky
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