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Archive for October, 2010


'La Clef Des Champs,' René Magritte, 1936

When the landscape breaks, shards of painted trees,

clouds, turf cascade in crystal slabs onto

the carpet – and the landscape is there still

on the next pane. Over the brow of the rise

are the world’s kingdoms: deserts silenced

by polished bone; uneasy rooms where

sepia furniture flowers; canvas; wood;

the gallery’s wall solid as money –

asservir le bourgeoisie through draughtmanship.

The artist’s mother was pulled from the Sambre,

a suicide – the night-dress shrouding

her face. When the world breaks…breaks…there is death

only or servitude.

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‘…hardly any Jews!’, The Matabele Campaign 1896,
Colonel R.S.S. Baden-Powell, Methuen, London, 1897

The British in Africa seem always

to have verged on the comical. There was

BP chasing a Matabele girl

through bush. He was ahorse, she on foot.

In tranquillity, he sketched the scene – the girl

bare-footed and -breasted, himself at a

gallop – for publication. She escaped –

but Rhodesia was made safe for Cecil,

the continent for Aids and exploitation.

Jingoist, philistine, racist and snob,

was BP conditioned or conditioning?

The darkness at the heart of Africa

is white man’s metaphor.

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Riding the F Train that August –

from Queens to Manhattan, Jamaica

Estates to Times Square – were all

of the hues and tongues and tribes and faiths.

Dead at our door, on our return,

wings stretched as if in flight,

lay a hen harrier, a female.

You chose to bury it gently

in the warm September earth.

Five thousand miles away, we watched

the towers fall. Later, building Babel

replaced the grace of humanity.

So many of the peoples of the earth

had gathered there. In the plaza’s fountain,

a bronze globe had turned perpetually. All

went to dust in a whirligig of fire.


Atlantic waves broke on the empty sand.

Undeterred by us, a beetle crossed the dunes.

Almost due south was Casablanca.

…in all the towns in all the world

We followed the war by satellite. Graven

effigies fell. Truths unfurled like smoke, like spume.

In the estuary – where ships from Tyre

and Ostia Antica had hoved to –

at low tide, small crabs emerged, waving.

in all the gin joints in all the towns…

Wretches, saved, like you and me!




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From the terrace at Polesden Lacey, it was

the guttural calls caught our attention –

then sheep flowing fast over rising ground

like a pale yellow banner in the wind,

then the shepherd himself, then his dogs

flattening themselves at his command.

By the time we reached the valley bottom,

the beasts were penned – lambs from ewes,

the latter funnelled for the shearers.

The bleating drowned the whirring of the clippers.

From the high bridge over the Tweed at Kelso,

we watched a fisherman upstream cast

from a skiff – his companion sculling gently

to keep steady in the current – when,

suddenly, between us and the men,

who, of course, were facing the wrong way,

two salmon leapt from the river six feet

or more and, turning,  re-entered the depths

silently. Oblivious, on those costly

waters, the ghillie rowed, his master fished.




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You were here last year in your mother’s womb

at this cottage high above the straits.

Now you grab for buttercups, daisies, clover,

self-heal – and edge toward sleep in the stillness

under the parasol. Ringlet butterflies

flit across the grass. Blackbirds forage

among the mulch of last autumn’s leaves

at the margin where garden and woodlands merge.

A pheasant rattles somewhere out of sight.

Watching over you is a privilege.

Some time since last year, a sheep, lost in the woods,

died at the lawn’s edge. An elderberry

sapling is growing through the skull. The trees –

ash, oak, beech – are loud with hidden insects.

Nearby, a pair of buzzards is breeding.

They soar above us suddenly, calling:

pee-yah, pee-yah – hover, then bank away

over the tree line. And just as suddenly

the air is replete with other birds – swifts,

swallows, house martins, a jay, a herring gull.

On the mainland, roiling clouds envelop

Moel Wnion and the Carnedd range beyond,

their iron age settlements and the sheep runs,

and thick rain, all shades of grey from pencil

to gun metal, fills Bethesda’s slate quarries.

A military jet rip-roars the length

of the straits, simulating the Persian Gulf,

and a small factory ship thrums steadily,

hoovering mussels from their beds for Spain.

It’s a chancy universe, little one!

But here the sun still shines. You are waking.




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