The things in the sea

Two things in the sea
We came to see,
One, the great No,
Monumental and black,
And one, the white Yes,
Lucid and clear.
We stood in the mouth,
The world at our back,
To hear the things speak.
Two things in the sea
We came to hear,
The drums of the No
And the hush of the Yes.
We stood in the ear
Of the world at the sea
And whispered our wish
And wished it would hear.
Two things in the sea
We came to taste,
The salt of the No,
And its bitterness, Yes.
We stood in the hand
Of the world on the beach
And counted our lives
In mouthfuls of sand.
We went there to ask,
To see for ourselves,
The puzzle that rises
In seeing the sea —
The curtain of sky
And stage of the sea,
The speech of the tide,
The quandary of being.
Two things in the sea
We came to see —
To see the great No,
To see the white Yes,
Their drums and their hush,
Their salt and their sand.
It did not show
Or speak; it did not
Hear, or care to know,
What wish we had,
What pain we bear;
It did not answer
To our fears, though
The things in the sea
Were moving there,
Beneath the foam
And grey, they neither
Let out any word, nor
Sent us on our way.

Originally published in Perseverance Poets’ Collection 1991-92, 1992

‘Red streamer’

The Palace Hotel is nothing more than an ornate shoebox thrown on a hill. Bushes have had their hair cut. Trees are tall and lean. The lawn is green felt. There is a driveway snaking elegantly to and from the entrance. I am standing on the lawn in the middle of the dream of luxury. A car drives up. Two Americans step out. I know the woman but not her name. Her daughter is with her. We exchange a few words and decide I will take a photo of them standing in front of the shoebox. She leaves the camera with me as she drives off with her daughter to park the car somewhere out of sight. I frame the palace façade in the viewfinder of the camera, trying to get the right angle. The light is diminishing quickly. The woman and her daughter come back by foot but as soon as they reach me it is dark. There are no lights anywhere. The moon is out. There are no stars in this part of the country. “Why are there no lights?” we ask. We wander around, arms stretched out in front of us, trying to find an entrance or an exit. We are frightened and asking ourselves, “Why are the windows blocked so that no light comes through them?” We find an entrance and go inside. Inside is a great hall decorated with little more than a few plush chairs and sofas. Middle-aged and old people are sitting and standing around the room. No-one talks. A woman in grey breast-coat and knee-length skirt, very prim and proper, hair bunched tight to her head, obviously a complete bitch, enters the hall. She says something about breakfast being served at 5-30. I immediately think that this is an odd time to have breakfast: too early, or too late, depending on which way you look at it. “What sort of dump is this?” the American woman says just before she and her daughter run out the door into the darkness. They obviously don’t want to have breakfast at 5-30. I run after them to fetch them back. Outside the palace there is no reference point. Someone’s voice calls out to me. I think it is a man’s voice but actually it is only a rasping whisper coming from the trees that line the façade of the palace. I reach out to grab whomever is there. I get hold of it. It may not be a person at all. Is it a dog? It runs away from me and I am falling over. I slip and fall to the ground, legs up in the air and my right arm being pulled down between my legs towards my feet. I’m horizontal. Whatever it was I grabbed has turned into a long red splash, lighting the road and lawn beside the palace. It stretches out across the lawn like a red streamer. The sky is lightening suddenly into an icy sea blue, the form of the palace and the color of the lawn becoming visible. Though I tried to hold it, the red streamer curls and twists, climbing into the air. Breakfast is being served.

This dream-story was first published in The Ninth Satire. It is included among dream reports because it was originally a dream. In later years I abandoned attempts to turn dreams into stories and concentrated, instead, on finding a way of writing dreams that allowed them to remain, more obviously, what they were.

How we sleep

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?— Midnight Oil

This particular white-fella, rather podgy,
over-employed, committed unionist
and Nikon-owner, gets to a time of life
(not even thirty) thinking about superannuation
and which plan is best for safe retirement.

I cringe through the whole year,
complain quietly of terrible excess
in times restraint is hard to bear, and
manage some murmurings about “the Treaty”
— but that’s all. So, how do I sleep?

This far, I must admit, it’s been easy:
buffered by green suburbs, relative riches
and silence, I could not fail in ignorance.
Some excel in it, are proud to destroy,
build on the ruins, and have no fear to rest with bones.

I have slept by forgetting.
Without pills or drugs, dope or whiskey, to sleep
it is enough simply not to think,
as though a thought or word
would make the whole house burn.

In my watchmaker’s hands

Showing my palm to the watchmaker’s tongue
He licks the time-line right down
The crease of my present senses and

The clock stops just there.

Now, I take or leave god
Depending on the weather
And, like most of us,
Consume astrology in small doses
To guess at twists of plot in life.
As for clocks, there’s no mystery,
They are purely functional:
We tell them what to mean.

Like nothing else, these sudden stillnesses of love
Make me wonder,

Not what spring keeps the galaxy spinning,

Rather, how
In my watchmaker’s hands time dies,
How my stupid body lives!

Idea for a garden

The beds in this ward are for certain death,
for diseases even dear relatives fear and hate.
There are new lovers, though, as well as old,
who make a plan for paradise in this hell.
          When sun fell on a light sheet covering
one man’s ribs, where carers look
for signs of life, small movement, someone
had the idea for a garden.
                    Friends brought small bushes
that will be always green, signifying faith, endurance,
bulbs for sudden happiness, stones and pebbles,
showing some things never change.
          They gather there to make a prayer
of simple actions. Some to the God outsiders say
forsakes them, some to the hope small happiness
will last, they sing in whispers, put wishes to the edge
of lips, where a wind takes their words away.

Dimitris is not dead

Another poet wrote, unpacking myths
And colors for dying days, of meeting him,
That special feeling, and published
To confirm undying admiration.

Last night, though, Dimitris was at dinner,
Wearing his old, aqua beach trousers,
Comparing recipes for home-made bread—
“Two parts wholemeal, one of plain …”

“The tasteless olives, promising to look at,
Should be jarred in vinegar, water, a little oil.”
“And Greek bishops—the word for them
Is despot—have reigned a thousand, stable years.”

Who knows if he will live that long, taking his pipe
Out to the porch, smoking under a quiet April?
A little thin, perhaps, but as for ‘death’—
He has thought of it, and then thought better.

Originally published in Quadrant, December 1989. Dimitris Tsaloumas died in February 2016 on Leros in Greece where he was born.

Domestic suburban vignette

“40, and the kids at university,
I will sit at home all day listening to Hinch
and reading Derrida; myself in the mirror,
the perfect picture of bourgeois complacency,
the daze of my life as incomprehensible
as a bar of soap.  —And, of course, I will want
something indefinable and leave my husband to get it …”

40, and the kids at university,
I won’t take shit from anyone
wearing a uniform or wielding a B.A.
who bursts through the door and wants to rape me
(phallogocentrically speaking);
punishment for writing about mirrors
or old photos of my mother.

I’ll write about firemen and policemen,
the axes and truncheons of daily life,
the ease of speech in Newtown cafés,
about the light at the end of poetry
and the bizarre satisfactions of golf;
I’ll write about all those things, like one
who knows their true meaning, when pigs fly.

“And having left him for good, for the thing
I wanted, there will only be that square of light,
the mother of myself that all mirrors are,
bringing more, little, unhappy Mes into the world;
more ghastly women, multiplying like rabbits
before their mirrors: Lacanian, suburban, neurotic …”

I’ll be here, because he’s there, away from him,
nestling in the comfortable poetry of distance
between us: because it’s not just that book
by de Sade my husband taunts me with—
it’s the whole damned city  and its monuments
to poet-soldiers of commerce—I want distance from,
we need to escape from, finally.

Who will circumscribe me, size me up,
push me out, out here, then call it wilderness?
The boiling kettle, boiling over,
tumble-dryer, its revolutions,
this dangerous Sunday supplément, that is me,
that so disturbs them and makes them go limp
and fall over themselves with desire,

sits every morning with the smell of coffee
in front of the window, practising domesticity,
and perfecting it, against every possibility of violence
or dissatisfaction.  It’s an idea that tears down buildings
and won’t allow the city of men to sleep at night.

Originally published in Nocturnal Submissions, Number 1, 1991