Water Harp

1

At the window, last night’s words, ashen
Against the glass

Black petals in the vase, delicate
As the hour fading from us

Their deep scent stirring us
From deeper dreams

Sleepwalkers, we remember
Not knowing the restlessness will pass

What the mouth said
Before it filled with ash

Somewhere in the room, dawn, its thin light
Whining, already awake

 

 

 

2

Summer days, their confetti glitter
Swept by, a sweat of dew on yellowing leaves

Over the mirror lake
Red clouds fixed motionless, bony reeds
Leaning to see themselves against red clouds

The herd left grazing at the forest edge
Disappears

In the cold room, loose ropes of starlings twist
Round my hands and feet

It is evening, an old carpet beaten

A voice in the room summoned constellations
Named for animals

Stars soon settled in my eyes

I sat in their cold light, dreaming
The killers had moved on

 

 

3

The bronzes on the avenues, the distance
Each from each by definition stately, precursors
Of a lost sublime

In the dome, the shrapnel of prayers
Echoing through the vault, the precipice
Between the Word and these baubles of belief

Our refugee descriptors for an empire
When it fell, the worthless treaties, dead currency
The warrants and informers

The town quiet, its languid lanes sheltering us
Our new lives, the bougainvillea trailing brightly
From the terrace, the stones still warm in late sun

Cold winds carved the shadow lands, in the drains
The day pooled red as haemoglobin

The flag’s colours bled out, its field of stars
Folded to its secret heart

The names on our visas the names of those
Already shadows

The names they gave us

 

 

4

At the factory gates, émigrés

Pale fists of breath in freezing air

Nostalgia vanished with the visas
Names of far places, candle-tipped prayers
The old lives a missed heartbeat

The future a slaughterhouse, sliced from icy rain
And the steam of scalded carcasses

Here, the bell-mouth moon clearing low cloud
Here, the Lexus, hot-waxed, its brazen horses

Never answering to the voices, the poplars
Clattering, raising souls, bough against bough

Syria to the east, summer’s broad river
A memory, antlers of lightning, grounding
In Palmyra

 

 

5

The sound a man makes, his heart beating

He practices his shadow face, the one he uses
Not to be noticed
In the doorway, watching the soldiers pass

The patterns of headlights, patterns
Appearing in darkened rooms, chemicals
In old technology

Patterns of boot cleats on faces, epoch of ice
Its thinning crust, the shadows across it
Watery as flags waving

Whose flag

These camps, this rendition

The sound a man makes, his heart beating

 

 

6

From the dance of atoms, extracting
The eclipse, the collapsed star, the bread
We share this day, breathless
In love’s anxiety

That we will be accepted, the accent
Shaping the tongue to this new language

The heartbeat hangs for a moment
Past, and future, and you
Waiting for the next breath

Study heaven, its overture of cold orbits

The seized locks of doors long closed, behind them
The witnesses, the incorruptible signatures

 

 

7

The past, its setting forth
Decades from this morning’s light

On the table, this letter, the cipher
Of lost days postmarked forty years ago

In it, hours burnished
With expectation, you at twenty, still beautiful
A stanza of Dante tucked between the pages

And promises to see me, when

When

Over my house, sleek shadows through clouds
American Strike Eagles, shifting
South on afterburners

Today’s anniversary, unexpected, an old life
Its scent and dreams, slips the bonds
Old bones made, thin blood made, the mind
Today, a moment’s clarity

In this box of old papers, the past delivers up
The dead

Overhead, grey images bear down

 

 

8

What no longer holds
Cannot be held, in God’s defiance
Stones raised upwards

Falling

Here, all is weeping, the water tables rising

Steel storeys sunk back in earth, fugitive

The view to the horizon, untroubled now

Cities sacked, gassed patriots
Slumped in shallow holes, at the pit’s edge, angels

The spades they lean on
Heaven’s breadth

I could not outrun the patience of graves

I have borrowed your heartbeat to tell you this

 

 

 

9

Black iron folded in fire, metal fable
Of hammer blows

Plunged, its thin cry

Soft shadow notes
Trickle through the room, worms slinking
Through the chords, corrupt adagios

Shadows like heartbeats

The room ends in olive groves
The women’s aprons heavy where boughs shook

The weathervane, the way home

Compass stars, falling

 

 

10

Of the uncertainty associated with memory
More anon

The curfew hour
And you outside the gates
The heath path fading behind you

A peasant girl in black stockings
The scent of her herd in her shawl
The cloying sent of animals brought down
From high places

In your dream this childhood
The town’s quiet shuffling awake, its alleys
Someone scrubbing the stone step of the house
That must be yours

In this dream

You look at your hand, the same
Then as now

Pulling the stone along the blade
Its edge gleaming

In your pocket, your iPhone
Chirrups

 

 

11

From our footsteps, mist
Shaping itself into crooked eaves, walls
Damp with rotten straw

From our footsteps, rooms
We walked through, mist shaping
Itself into doors, shadow hallways

And still, voices within, hushed
Through rotten straw

To our invitation, the answer
Hidden hastily, disturbed

The fire was dead

Near the hearth
They sat with hands outstretched to the dead fire
Eyes lowered

Their skin like ours, pale, our footsteps

Mist

 

 

12

On horseback, across low hills
A woman, quiver
Slung from naked hips

Above her, her hawk, circling
Between high blue and woods
Black with cypress

A man steps from the woods
That he is seen, his willing trespass

The hawk
Falls drunkenly, in blood’s intoxication
In the glint of golden reins, a wave
Breaking across the hills

The man believes he looks into the sun

Too late, he raises his iron shield

 

 

13

The horn I buried thaws

The captive keys bleed through clays

Faintly, the first note clears root realms
Sap realms, returns last autumn’s echo

Thrums, makes ravens reel, buntings
The feathers of birds crushed to quick-time

In the meadow, Europa
Stroking the bull’s heavy head, June hazy

So sudden, its blue surrounds

How lightly, these premonitions
Seep into the sun, the horn’s bell
The bright brass frost pitted

My ragged nails, water

 

 

14

A mill in the woods, beneath it
Once, water met the wheel
In closed orbits

The floor gapes, a ravine
Below, the living that was made here
Silted over

I never thought to stay, rehearsing
Such small horizons

The song of water, of tumbling blue filaments

The song of husks, their finer dust
Suspended in the light

In the eaves, birds clack dull refrains, the weight
Of stones unrecovered

Whose ghost guards the stricken spire, salt tears
To turn the spirit wheel

I set myself beyond the boundary
Too late for this inheritance, a way through
These memories, a door

A password for the watchman

 

 

15

A knot of lanes, loosed to sunset
The trees fending late light, its glint
Tracking field ditches, modelling depths

Between the living and the dead
Only this dainty dappling

The lobby of the old hotel, waxed wood
Scalloping walls green as billiard-baize

Time thinned, doubled, flipped mirrored

A dog sleeping by the grate, a Sunday, laughter
From dark corners, a serving girl passes

Until I look at them, nothing exists
That is my belief, to maintain the mean
A subterfuge, the centre of things held
As a breath is held

The leaded pane reflects my face imperfectly

Late light on green walls, shadow games

 

 

16

Love, remembered in its spark and dare
Soothes dreams

The sun, too, soothed with late cloud, the sun
Lolling sky to sky unseen
Where poplars divide the fields

On this side the earth tilled squarely, dark
Where the plough passed
Row upon row

The other, pale with stalks
The wind shakes

I drift without harbingers, dreaming
These trees rooted across one field
Alone, its commodities

In this asylum sleep
Thirty-five poplars, thirty-five dreams

Once, before the sun learned to run
She and I

The day, and what we made it

 

 

17

To this memory of a room

Which does not exist

To this room which does not exist

To the cold stillness of the universe
Its condition

The flat-line of light years
Always distant

Our Lady of Entropy, of consent
To this condition

What allegiance, where is thy peace
Thy fortitude

Of time
And the clouds’ entreaty, the mandate
Of atmospheres, of boom days in Galilee, of footprints on the water

In this life, we say, here is my body

 

 

18

The serpent beneath the skin, its shadow
In the blood, guilt a body’s weight

The amends the rosary made, the heat
Of it measured in your fingertips

The dusty shelf, the washing-up, cups and cutlery
And the sluggard soul, dirty brass and blood, to repent
Or burn, as from your own dream to awake

Saying, here is the road, finding yourself
Beyond the chains of consequence, the mind’s veil
The world on its cross, cold meat
On a butcher’s hook

The altar chiaroscuro in the oily light, wicks
Skinned metallic

Illusion, these ashen scales

You were always free

 

 

19

In its sudden imagining, in perfection
Honour and longevity, in the life the years made
With you

In all that is seen, in the subtle
Repose of dreamers lifted again to the waking world

Where the sky’s pressures band or trail
And long cloud hangs limitless
In high cold

In compensation, for soldiers, for the eternal present
And dust, and the stillness after fear
For the widows
Walking back through rain

In the wall’s complexity across the land
The land’s bequest where boundary was set
Now scattered, dreams
And their markers undone

In the room where you were born, in the routes
The stars take, their elemental heat
And your first breath, and we who loved you

Your life, in its sudden imagining, in perfection

 

 

20

To remember that other life, wilderness places
The beasts and seraphs and the stone grief of widows

The river rising through the old maps
The fidelity of contours silted
All I recognise of myself cut between the banks
This code of dreams braiding in the blood

Another country, another century
We, children in an age of flowers, timeless
So seeming, as though passing one’s self
In the street of one’s birth

Complicit tenses, the bonds
Of compromise, of the will and its inheritors, of the dust
In the road and your body’s dust, of hellfire, of the flood
And all before it

Of the Bible, its body-count, Jehovah thuggish in the shadows

The river widens, to where, where

Between the quick and the dead, these words

A first breath, its undertow into these lives and places

These revolutions

 

 

21

And was not saved, memory
Alone remaining, the clearing where the felling ends
Still, the weight too little, birdlike
Against the priestly resignations

A few words, the last leaves of them settled
Now, a name spoken firstly
Before satellites orbited through our rooms
Before atom-tipped rocketry bled through our dreams

Then this, the voice fading as the grain fades
Patternless along sawn, sweet pine, its length
Set to this day, and this hour

Here is my memory of it, her bones thin, through
Burning fountains, through water shaped to mark her voice
A lightness

Clouds, making and unmaking

 

 

22

The products of my life, the stamp
Of elements, cloak subtler disclaimers

The mind turning from itself, regarding
Time unrecovered, the sap of entitlement
And tomorrow

Always tomorrow, the working years
My life made, the bolt’s torque resisting shear

And love, immediate, its conduits
Electric, her tongue plump with promises
Her lithe nonchalance that the sky
Is merely haze pressed blue

Cold space swallowing itself, star by star

In the garden, at the washing line, she stoops
To sheets and pegs, her weighted curves

Their catchlights, downy blonde
Abrupt at noon

 

 

 

23

You have escaped your hollow heart
The faded gilt of book spines, cold coffee
In cold rooms, your body
Your mind settled into itself, familiar ghosts
Calling to you, this way, this way

The old house, crumpled floor by floor

The downspout at the window, mimicking
Rivers another century flowed through

The rain, pinched into black channels

And you remember the riverbank
Its spooling vista, the evening warm, insects
Hovering, the sheen of their flights caught
In failing light

You stretch out your hand, touching
Rain splashing, ancient water, clear

Unrepentant, you are waves, their memory