The Wave: Drift and Echo
The morning sea was burnished flat
To mirror the sun.
It crinkles now with sackcloth.
It is an angry rising
And the wave is its relentless fist.
This implacable struggle, ageless.
‘Sea-fences’ to the saga-tellers,
They clatter shoreward now
As hurdles crash to a leg-weary horse.
Salt horses. They yearn to the land,
Reach – and expire in the reaching,
Scattering to spin, and echoes.
The eye of the wave falls on the sweet rolling field,
The meadow, the dune-guarded swamp,
The wave rides the tide’s moon-surge,
Slides through dune and marsh,
Juicing, thickening the rich green pools.
The raw smell of the sea is on the wave.
It holds a fertile redolence
And the hard stench of death.
Pure as form the wave rides the land,
Breathes upon generations warm with blood.
It extracts them, gently – one here, one there.
Today it trawls this clerk, this judge, this navvy,
This stockbroker bright with gel in his hair.
It removes this town of mining folk,
A city lost to law, a rhino lost to forest,
This species, that,
This small blue mote within the sea of space.
The wave rolls on, rolls on.
The wave is the shape of time.
Before the wind,
this wind knifing soft and cold,
before the sand-whip wind
a flat crescent of beach
closes the far, tapering point of the eye.
At the tidespan,
its scrawls of growth
military-squared in dull lines of pink,
this flat crescent lies, alike
to mime the beach.
It is a primitive cutaneity,
an emphatic wedge,
a perfectly imagined,
The foreign devils come to the Forbidden City,
though I know them as the bible-stern emissaries
of my civilised patrimony.
They enter the Summer Palace, hearts hot with death and fire,
raze a timeless beauty
now brought to time’s end.
I trace the Long March through my century.
Old Qianmen follows the Forbidden City
into the rubble of a cold-shouldered past,
its memories sequestered
in a brutal glory of concrete.
the dangerous wind.
here on an unpeopled beach.
Its name, merely its name,
is a fingerscrape hold on a world that has passed
and is not to be mourned –
or only in the some of its parts,
and these too complex for my knowing.
At the Weldborough Cemetery, in the time of Chang Yong,
a celestial breeze flings shreds of paper to the Heavens.
Pork, rice, oranges, Chinese gin lie here
for the Feeding of the Dead.
At the Blue Tier, in the deepening shade at the forest’s edge
a play of shadow resolves
to a figure bearing twin baskets on a hefted pole,
gathered now to the forest
and the island’s quiet soul.
The Possums in The Book of Kells
‘A strange group of animals’. Mice perhaps,
or kittens perched bizarre upon adult backs.
That does stretch a long catgut, O my fuddled scholars!
They are not mice. Not cats. Not remotely. Soft-eyed,
wet- and sharp-snouted, prehensile-tailed, marsupialine,
these are the possums – the ringtails – of my ovata bush.
Across Wallace’s Line, westward night-lumbering,
they cross mountain passes, the sinking isthmi,
skirt treeless sands, thread belts of forest mast by mast,
shrink past the yellow eyes of cunning hunters,
breathe silently in the roof-tree dark
of trading dhows, junks, proas, triremes.
And fetch up here in Brendan’s Fair Isle,
cosy and secret in the shadowed cloisters
of a County Meath monastery.
They have made a monkey out of Wallace –
and of my compadres who sell them short.
Tomorrow New Zealand. But today the world.