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
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
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
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
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
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.