The year we married, rainy season lasted
so long the rice crop failed. People gave up
trying to stay dry; abandoned umbrellas
littered the streets like dead birds. One evening
that summer, a typhoon broke the waters
of the Imperial moat and sent orange carp flopping
through the streets around the train station,
under the feet of people trying to go home.
The stairs to the temple became impassable;
fish slid down them in a waterfall, heavy
and golden as yolks. That night, I woke you
when the walls of our home began to shake;
we held our breath while the earth tossed,
counted its pulse as though we could protect
what we'd thought would cradle us –
then the room went still and you moved away,
back into sleep like a slow swimmer,
your eyes and lips swollen tight with salt.
The next morning, a mackerel sky hung over Tokyo.
The newspaper confirmed the earthquake
started inside the sea. I watched you dress to leave,
herringbone suit, shirt white as winter, galoshes
that turned your shoes into small, slippery otters.
After you were gone, I heard hoarse and angry screams;
a flock of crows landed on the neighbor's roof,
dark messengers of Heaven. Did they come to reassure,
to tell me we'd be safe, that we would find
our places no matter how absurd it seemed,
like the fish sailing through the streets,
uncertain, but moving swiftly?
He senses danger and is gone,
the water bulging in his wake.
You needn't ever count upon
this sight again, and so should take
the memory and then move on
You'll never know what rendezvous he'll break
with liquid arabesques – nor how he'll trawl
fresh eddys, find new shoals to dredge.
His underwater playgrounds call
within him like a lover's pledge.
He'll wear the river like a shawl
in slicked–back freedom, near the water's edge.
For I will consider my neighbour Stefan
for he is young and active all hours and a joiner supreme
for he bangs and hammers happy as a tot in a cardboard box.
For his sunny temperament is easy to bear
for he smiles and calls 'How'y doing? OK?'
as another slat is set
for he is young and ambition calls
for there is nothing brisker than his life in motion
for he never ceases restoring his fence,
creating his summerhouse,
repairing his ferrets' hutch
on wet, windy, snowy and sometimes sunny weekends
for he is, of course, young.
For he wears gold rings in his ears
for he has gold highlights in his hair
for in his garage he saws and drills and cuts to shape
gazebo frames and doors and tiles.
For his lawn is filled with left-over posts and slabs and tools
for he is, of course, young and not tidy.
For I watch open mouthed his wobbling and swaying
on kitchen steps and rickety ladders.
I fear he will fall
for he continues lurching and swerving, but he survives.
For he is, of course, young.
Towered five times my height. Imponderable weight:
I gazed up at the curlbeard god's stone stare, remote as Nineveh
single wing raised to warn, each chiselled feather
meticulous, not about to ruffle- forbidding.
Circled black-lacquered Cretanware sinuous
leaped by sinewy youths, who gripped savage
horns, jauntily backflipped; bronze-cast
became Poseiden visible- earthshaker.
Morphed in story to Minotaur. At the maze's heart
roared huge hunger until, severed,
his beasthead sprawled, winedark blood
scrawling blank stones- indecipherable script.
Translated into taurine growls athwart a path,
a ton of ill-temper. Poised on surprising
small hooves pawed his patch of earth forbiddng
Do not go near the bulls. As if
All empty fields, now, primed for charge;
each milky herd's suspected- fear
beyond reason. Horned avatar from ancient caves
takes flesh, thunders under my ribs.
My brother is pretending to be in Vietnam.
He emails at Christmas from the basement,
how he loves Hanoi.
The Tiger beer, just fifty cents, funky kids
in fake Nike, riding fast on scooters
through narrow laneways of noodles or
gravestones, or Chinese lanterns. Pho kitchens
on footpaths, women carrying baskets
of bread and mangoes. Cyclos.
Boat rides through rice paddies
where people harvest stones.
An elephant in the back of a truck.
My brother does not want
to come home.
He emails us hourly,
leaves his firstname.lastname@example.org
He hopes a travelling mind will lift him
out from under our influence,
the wave of the New Year buoy him
to higher ground. We pretend
we can't hear him padding around
beneath our daily lives. Boiling
the kettle. Using the bathroom.
The weight of our house is great.
He cannot climb, one foot
in front of the other, up
I miss him.
at a strange and noisy pace,
that feels somehow normal.
"Mr Happy" travel agents.
The Temple of Literature. Women
carrying baskets. Elephants. Bananas.
Kitchens balanced on poles.
The truth is, it was only part white;
the albino blackbird that came to your garden
two winters ago – but into my head
comes this ghost of a bird, shadowless,
a white absence, blind negative
in the snow. No reflection glides
over the lake where he flies, light and boneless,
no sound from his throat.
And though you say they never survive; the rare
or different, destroyed by their own kind
I see how he speeds out of the distance,
gathers weight, and darkens, over the miles
till he meets his own blackness, grows
into lustre; blackbryd, ouzel, merle
who quickens the heart as he sings
each night from our gate-post;
his mouth's open crocus, his eye ringed with gold.
1. Threat of Terra (2001)
A snowglobe in the shape of a landmine
attached to two wires that shake intermittently,
set on a background of black velvet and glitter.
2. Siege Mentality (2026)
A view from the clouds of luscious green country,
veined with a network of canals and rivers,
ringed by a fortress of dams, then desert.
3. Instant Karma (2017)
A deserted townscape in the middle of a storm;
a church steeple at the centre: no evidence
of people, animals or plantlife; some rubble.
Oil mixed with sand on canvas
4. Spot the Bomb (2005)
Aerial shot of a crowded bus stop
at rush-hour; a mosaic of umbrellas
against a grey city street.
5. The Spoils (2010)
A child's right shoe capsized in the gutter
adrift with the stream down a slope, until
it reaches a grate, drops forward and wedges.
6. The Source (2029)
A moving 3D vector image
of a single H2O molecule.
The North Sea, oilskinned, under wraps,
Has staged these street-lamped afternoons,
Its wings, its sky's hydraulic flaps
Powered invisibly by moons
As dusk sparks up and slowly draws
Above the pubs and burger bars
To drop clean through the coast's glass floor
Its perforated packs of stars.
In shelters where they come to score
Their colonies of hoods and caps
Float on the oceanic roar
Inside a shingle bank's collapse,
Its snarled-up lines, its drum of stones
That slow the sea's spin-cycle, drown
The ring-tones on their tin-eared phones
To pull the sky wordlessly down,
And still they shell-out, still they think
He's brilliant as he strips them clean
Of store-tagged I-pods for a wink
And warm foil-wraps of Ketamine;
And crooked, as Octobers craze
With smoke and soluble sunshine,
Blood spiders through rag tourniquets
In autumn's faintly tracked decline.
In a smudge of tail-lights you watch your soul go,
then you spin round corners you would have taken
slow before you gulped back the rum. The bottle
rocks on the backseat.
When a soul slips off, does it shed its body
and the drink that drives it? Or keep guard over
falling debris? Nights like this drop like voices,
warning that all roads
end in vapour; nothing turns blank so gently
as a hairpin bend on a high cliff. Headlights
catch the grassy verge where you lose control, rouse
breakers like sparklers
from the wind-scrubbed inlet. The impact crushes
bones to powder, slows up the sinking. Husks of
crumpled metal, covered in rust and seaweed,
smear at the bottom.
You expect a flashback, a potted bio
of divorce and automobile replacement –
how one breakage led to another – film noir
bleaching the blackness,
but instead stars blister across the sunroof.
Cracks appear. You wait for the tunnel sponged in
light from some new world. But the car splits water,
floats in its shadow.
All I can think is, if it blows right now
three of us will die with J.K. Rowling
twisting our wrists; two with The Standard;
one with a bible in a zip up case,
rice-paper thin and underlined, and me,
scissored between the half rhymes of
a sonnet you have made, and that I have never read before.
It is all innocence, surely,
this stiff blue slip-shiny bag that this slight man holds so
carefully on his knees. Something for his daughter,
he loves her so much it burns red under his black T-Shirt,
like a torture scar.
Or it's some food of celebration, ordered weeks ago and planned for.
He will pull away tissues and fold them back to the soft applause
of his mother, and his sister will smile. He's going home.
Our train hisses then halts in a swelling of white tiles
between tunnels and the population shifts around us,
carrying their old stories, making new.
I wet my lips and, to prove myself a fool,
sit next to him. The smell of his sweat
reaches over and flicks my lips and eyes.
The sharp blood and bones of a working man.
I shall clamber back into your book, and mime the words
like incantations, like prayers.
But if he stands up now, cries out
closes down the circuit, will my last thought be
'but friend, there is no God.'
Or will I see, in all that light and sound,
a dream of my lover, looking up from his work,
suddenly certain something, is terribly wrong.
Will there be time to see your book fly from my hand,
before I am nothing more than my flesh,
and all the pages flutter down unread between us.