New Poems since Cumulus

The palm tree clatters its lattice

of fronds where the bus journey ends

at the park, a cavernous night

near the edge of the bay. A path

is wound here, the way a great tail

trails in pale lamplight. The winter

has closed early a corner shop

and plastic cafe. From the bus

a woman hurries, with brittle

footfalls, down a divergent street,

as sand dilates on bitumen.

The squawk of a gate, and the click

of a door-lock, to hold off night.

Behind the pines along the front,

their splintery silhouette, the villas

are the night-lights at a clinic.

The bay, all but invisible,

seems restive as tossing cattle

that bellow or moan, and whips crack.

A blank plate glass at the hotel,

with lamps by the door and late moths

that seem a snowfall on the moon.

The far side of the bay is dark

as the sky, which is a blanket

held up, with embers at its hem.

The moon could be a crocodile’s

yellow eye, set in a long cloud.

A cry from the park. Nothing more,

but the shuffling of a dance band,

deep indoors. No-one looks out.

On the horizon, the Kraken,

among its vast, matted tendrils,

has stirred now, and begun to wake.

for Stephen Edgar and Judy Beveridge

 

As you travel

if possible

you should turn north and see Glencoe.

Some will say no,

keep a sense

of the Renaissance

about you. (This ought to include the brutal

alongside heroic marble,

and the Prince

in all his insolence.)

I know that you are not among those

who choose

to ignore what history shows us to be

beneath the grandiosity.

Be sure to go

late of a long afternoon  (although

it is dark there in the blaze of noon).

The buses will have gone

at that hour,

when you arrive by bike or car;

and as you stand alone

in the ravine

you can experience the Sublime,

which Burke defined

as Nature that is ‘terrible’

(yet which livens, if the watcher is safe for a while).

Hard to tell

the lie of the land –

those three long ridges each rise to its mound

that is a misshapen, bloated globule

in a swamp, or on murky sump-oil.

The hills are stolid,

a cold lava, stone-naked,

or they can appear

to rear

at the angle

of a bull seal

when it plunges ashore.

There is a constantly seeping water

that is silver,

striated on each billowing slope.

What I want to evoke

is the summer – how it seems to have let fall a sodden cloak.

In winter, there hove

closely above,

from out of murk,

the Flying Dutchman’s hulk,

but with April, a stream is gibbering its way

in the floor of the valley.

Such a place

was like a man who had a ‘gallows face’,

of whom they’d have said

he invited

his involvement in tragedy.

The light at the time I say

is on the loins

of these stocky mountains,

like a sword blade warriors would clean

beneath the arm, on their linen

but not on plaid,

and carried lowered.

The MacDonald clan was hospitable

to a rabble

in the pit of winter,

1692, as required by honour.

At their hamlet of whitewashed stone,

through the vale, they’d taken in

each steaming cow and pig and hen,

and the 129

mercenaries, who outnumbered them,

come to proclaim

William as king, imposed upon

Scotland, too. The chieftain

had been loath

or tardy about the oath,

who lay down

with arthritis and chilblain,

and now must pay a fine.

The interlopers sprawled

along the bench, in each household,

watching the children fed from a spoon,

and drank the whisky, with its fume

like the mist above a loch.

What a piece of work

is man –  how devious

in the spontaneous

refined high level

of his devilishness.

Not one of the troop betrayed its intent;

and nothing was meant

for the hosts, on turning up

a card. They noticed only the hearth fire leap

in a drowsy  pupil.

Ten days passed (an ordeal

of itself) before the signal

at dawn — a bonfire, in which the families woke

and saw how murder broke

out of those faces. A sword went in

the servant girl, where the soldiers had lain.

The stranded or fleeing were chopped down –

they shed a limb

as they tried to climb

on the salt-packed snow,

or saw the sword-tip throw

around them a watery

loop of blood. Blood flew away

like the flight of the galaxy.

Some were allowed

to escape, who’d have to wade

thigh-deep, with just a shawl –

like broken crows they crawled, their call

flapping. When you come into this region

you won’t need to summon

what you should feel –

our old disquiet, of betrayal,

will overwhelm. I have thought

on what is meant

by the weird sisters, these immemorial

mourners, in their veil.

At whatever level

of existence, however deep we plumb,

things still come

in packages, are separate.

If waves, they revert

and are granular again. They cohere, to assert

themselves, or annihilate

what constricts them.  All things fluctuate

on this scale. It is said the truth can set us free,

if only of the illusory.

When you are there, you might feel

that evil is in the molecule.