August ’91, the Gulf War over, Kuwaiti oilwells almost saved,
Kurds beleaguered, Marsh Arabs gassed…
From Schipol’s Duty Free, slow with tourists,
to Immigration at O’Hare, slow with Croatian refugees,
seemed like a long day with an early start…
But for icebergs still loose and multiplying
along Greenland’s uncompromising coast,
the tawny, unmarked miles of tundra,
the empty, unpeopled miles…
The canal dapples the office ceiling.
Upstairs, the fugitives are still as dust.
A siren unpeoples the city.
Into the waiting sky, with the raucous gulls
and the chestnut, her words like breathing…Her life
has turned, beyond all her desires, so
brutally to art…They packed and waited:
beyond, a locked compartment to themselves
and telephone wires curvetting by –
then countrysides of shuddering, noisome wagons.
She died alone.
Buzzards splayed their wingtips against the sun.
A Phantom entered the glacial valley,
its fuselage burning – the pilot
and crewman still at the controls, their choice made.
In school, it was story time – magical
oak woods, changelings secreted. The children
heard a rushing like oceans. Their teacher
saw the fire approach and two young men,
with a hundred years of technology,
burst upon the huddled village’s
common land…Children dreamt of foreign men
gone to dust in a golden fire for a
neighbourhood of strangers.
Walking behind you – your chignon, your tanned
forearms, your calves, your white, pleated skirt
swaying, just the suggestion of that
bottom – into a sunlit pub on
Wenlock Edge for gin and orange and a pint;
watching Macbeth through inexorable
drizzle in a Shropshire market town –
‘It will be rain tonight’. ‘Let it come down’;
drying off in another pub, hearing
someone recite Housman loudly:
‘When smoke stood up from Ludlow…;’
Bernini’s colonnades lead to the centre
of the known world – of hewn porphyry,
of granite kept in its place, of usury.
Irony turns each illuminated page,
celebrates the dissemination
of the word, funds the seeding of Europe
beyond oceans, in jungle, across pampas,
over sierra. Only the clash of
vultures and the seas’ predictable tides
can erase carrion from argent sands.
How light the Saviour is! The Virgin seems
to hold him with such ambivalent ease:
a supplicant offering a sacrifice,