All the things we could not do

We went only as far as the shallows before summer
days backed up again into the trunk, yellow raft and
damp towels and life wrung down into a pronoun.

We stepped no further than the curling foam where you could
safely wonder at the planetary curve, bulky panoramas
edging their way nearer understanding.

Quick, that fusion of taunt and terror shivering
down hot sand, though we did more than skim the edge
holding back the primal seas within.

For this was morning and it would be long dreams breaking before
our endless rum-lust for fear snapped asunder
with all the things we could not do
carefully and not at all.

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Galapagos

Reaching outward towards some island
traced out in hyphens and hieroglyphs,

in lamp-lit hours, drifting shapes,
cinnamon-tinged mysteries of life’s arrangement.

How: inventing a story to fit that sweet desire
for how things lunged forward with or without us

into a Galapagos, held in distant regard,
some classic inched down, only a name.

The all-divulging sea

In the steady arclight
of afternoons past
bewitched by imagination
trading memories
for the eel-skin future

warbling and ajar with loose change
those small schemes
whose butterfly netting
swat at skyscrapers
hardly leaving a stain

your back pressed up against the window
of some line you read
once this morning
or in a somewhere moment
all its indented caverns aflutter

while bursting in again
the moon falls quiet
restless and reflecting
as the all-divulging sea

Earth, smoke, dusk

Years later it would spark and burn,
suspicions though from the back seat
mistook country murmurs for smoke
as the mountain road wound,
curved and never let you look
beyond a fraction of a minute.
Melways in your lap spoke signs
as the navigator peering out
sending passage from over the shoulder,
over straight ways becoming loud
as light scatters in slits and slots
cut through by holidaymakers out of time,
wanting to step out of time holding
aboard the few spare days
miseries like sour fruit, skin tight.
Little did you see, rattling by
through the pass because
the days depend on knowing
as you glanced ridge-wards
looking for landmarks
through the jagged horizon
that where there will be ash
the forest stands again now,
dark smear, twilight,
crumbs, leaves,
day’s sprout.

Sea-spray

I have been reading the sea,
through one of its many windows, you might say,
if you knew the bliss and waft of foam,
inviting fingers of the waves, their willing arms
talking dust and detritus to swooning tips.

Hold the stain of these pages
by the spine of their dull watermark, sand-blessed,
up to the shade of youth,
faintly superstitious and quiet
to all the bellowing infinities.

The tide of days sweeps in,
soon and now.

A little longer we will sit here,
catching the near-far silence with wondering,
entrained on the here and soft horizon.
We will wait, still longer, until the mist
gull-high and dream deep fills the soul.

Magnesium days

Writing to be read, not read into,
a sleight of hand that glimmers sweetly
up in a whirling test tube
caressing quick-burn dreams in its sight
then dispenses into chemical days.

And time-bound, it feels like
yesterday’s ferment, soured, sweet
a busy chef stoking the feast
and genuflecting in our direction
so we might barely scrape the glaring bright.

This would be magic, not only awe,
in other ages, other lights.
Instead this elemental world asks nothing
though we reassemble its toy-kit parts
into misery and dreams and approval.

Creatures of habit

“When I was young” becomes a catch-cry for knowing another room,
walls smothered grey, where someone now sits
craning their mind towards now’s never, where we always meet.

The breathchain leading nowhere, goodbyes proffered as interludes
hanging in the chill of life’s mimicry line and shadowdance
where the divisible left and right come limned

in twain and entwined, panting, fleeing, carving the hollows,
smoking out commands, chatter lines and indelible strings.
If there is a pattern, it is always knowing patterns

were once there, with someone to recall them before words
and without more movement than the drag of blue tomorrow,
what skies smells of, because the blue of rivers

reads the earth and its solace and sighs.
Something about the dust falling to the beat of stories, like us,
serving pulses and masters and days, we creatures of habit.

A grammar of taste

The sky speaks.

She (or he, it is still too early to quite decide) is caught up in that hour before morning loses its solitary scent. Ignoring the kitchen’s light switch and working from the ingrained comfort that comes after months in the same place, her mind drifts, loose and roaming, to where the traces of dreams are yet to be fully scrubbed from the eyes’ grimy corners.

From the window of the apartment looking into hers, four flights up and across a slightly nauseous gap she has learned to bear, a camera flash, or a too early glimmer of sun. Or just a lamp flicked on for long enough to confirm the hour is yet small enough for a return to the luxurious coma of sleep, a few more placeless, anaesthetised minutes before facing the day. Sometimes a light is just a light, a trick the mind offers us, rather than a question. Sometimes it is also the hand behind it, reaching outwards and guiding.

Her fingers (and we seem more sure it is a ‘her’, if reading mannerisms and outlines allows us a clue) clutch an orange, bought two days ago, moving slowly over its pores. With a thumb nail, pressure and a little leverage, soon the bittersweet notion of citrus breaks free. She expects this to happen, knows it with a familial reassurance, but smiles a little anyway, content with this tenderness meant for her alone, this moment. It is a singular pleasure, one of very few she’ll permit herself throughout the day. With its stubborn weight of routine, soon the rigid hours will own her again, she will serve them. Soon, she will check off tasks and the hours, meetings and nods and handshakes and a mind knotted up in the daylight life that eats into night, where even then are there few shadows to escape into for their little pleasures.

As she pops a segment into her mouth, this could be her madeleine moment – someone should call her now, coincidentally and early, that they might together appreciate the cool spice and tang of this shared reprieve – but her tastes these days come more from the self-improvement section, not her childhood indulgences. She gave them up, gives them up, in order to keep reaching and floating and moving. Past loves have faded, for the most part, and they say exes are best remembered in their most rancid form, to fan away regret, rather than regurgitated from that confusing emotional pit. She prefers not to let her mind turn down those corridors, though what can she do in those unscheduled absences when the wind rushes in, umbrellas are unfurled from sleeves, and couples link arms to hurry down grey-slopped streets together?

Best to remember that she knows where to draw her mantras and heroes from, now. The commute to work, still by train on a practically gentrified line, is filled with a self-talk of generic phrases congratulating her on upgrading her attitude and wardrobe, reminders and rehearsals about how posture and volume lead to partnership, faint echoes of Mrs Waugh in fourth grade and those constant reminders about “stiffening up your spine, girls” that now seem to be the best-selling creed of bleach-toothed success stories.

She cycles through her morning playlist, much of it at a tempo fast enough to psych you up for an adversarial joust or performing CPR, whichever comes first. Days require you to be versatile, even within the monotony. Chomping at the bit for action, her foot detaches from her thoughts, in a tss tss tss, a nodding blur that almost matches time with the train’s steady rattle, a free and cracking whip of motion and force and elsewhere. Her mind works up a sweat.

Portrait #12: Woman contemplating an orange near daybreak.

She’s caught up with the way the rind slips her little hints of memories, though she doesn’t get to choose which ones. She’ll go there anyway, resting an elbow on the chopping board, and even taken somewhere else she almost notices that the light may have flashed again. It seems she’s tallying up the purchases she’ll need to make, a mental inventory. The necessary maintenance and chores and taking out the trash that will be added to calling her mother for a second time this week. Add extra chocolate to the list, coffee beans, new tumblers. No new tumblers. No more tumblers.

Can’t we get her to focus, even in these empty minutes before the freeway whirs into life, on something other than the here and now?

The sky is watching, or will be watching, speaking in tongues and rays and indecipherable little hints that we ascribe a mind of their own. We must give her a grammar of taste, a way to name the dangling emotions and savour the run-on thoughts as more than a slow stream of juice that wets lips and appetite.

Speaking to an empty room, though, the sky offers nothing this morning. Nothing that will be taken.

But it has time, it will be here tomorrow too.

As she exits, she pockets a fruit for later, and hurries off to join the whirring crowd.

Moon encyclopedia

I see a campsite, to begin,
a composite against shale sky caving in
to mallow breath and dulcet laughter
as the night drinks itself into the after

where I would take you, there and back,
to tilt imagination, make its axes crack
unzipping yesterday, demand the dormant sky
reset its cloud-tuned course and so defy

the silent hour –

(when, for need we sent the youngest out,
a ward against morning and memory, and talked about
never falling into iron-tongued tomorrow,
its noun-spent names, life’s clam-shell sorrow)

    – until the guilty yawn
breaks our lull and talk’s new torn
by fingers dipping into an endless and unending much
where between arcing, slender thoughts, a touch

as if each listener might be delivered such
in a same instant of conjoined breath
an ever clean-smelt from air: our moon enyclopedia.
Before the never dawn, we’ll stay together there.

Rules for splitting syllables

I am always catching up with the past
but mostly its fears
nestling skull-deep and muscle-stitched,
restless hints behind the eye that twitched

and it has worked me over
like the tree whose yearly carapace
circumnavigates a sea of years
becoming more like itself, more the tears

a child feels, rushing anger at inconstant rules
for splitting syllables and making meaning
out of watching the earth rise up
severing, bisecting and dissolving love

having made pacts with myself
I have been constant
in breaking them

the way I tie shoelaces and tomorrow,
or move my brow from mystery to sorrow
I stay in motion
hoping to fling myself free

these yesterday syllables binding me