The Common

He’s trying to make big plans –
project a narrative that starts with him
and ends with him.
But the sky keeps changing,
the clouds are too near,
even the air changes from one moment to the next: hot-dry, wet-cold, damp-warm.

Attempts at compromise get him nowhere,
the spiked gorse blocks his path.
The sun is low and bright –
a peculiarity of the light makes
the underside of oak leafs
in the next field long-lense crisp.

Conclusions elude him,
his thoughts are too linear, too starched.
All is green but not lush –
green, muted green, grey green,
yellow green, black green, white green,
green rusted to red brown.
Even the white-pricked pink purple
thistle flowers belong to the green,
exist only in relation to it.

Near a roll of discarded barbed wire fence,
rusted and confused with grass and thistle
are some branches, cut to a length.
Each is bearded with white green moss,
jolie laide, these are as close as he gets to an answer.

Rituals

The water is flowing
and even in the sunlight which decorates it
with patches of blinding gold
it appears cooling, shade made liquid.
A pigeon bathes in it,
Bobbing his beak to drink from it.
He is alone-
There are no other pigeons nearby.

A market trader is laying out his goods.
He sells gold jewellery,
Rings, bracelets, necklaces.
He arranges them carefully on black cloth,
The bracelets and necklaces lengthwise,
Losing their circular nature.
The sun catches these golden lines
Making them solid fire.
The cloth is only half covered,
He has work to do before the market busies

The poet stares at a tree,
Blushing with pink blossom,
The multitude of pink petals offset
By olive green leafs
and grey-brown branches,
All backlit by the sun.

The pigeon, the trader, the poet
All engaged in necessary rituals
Made pleasant by bright sun.

The Bathers

Stripped to the waist,
Three men stand expressionless,
Coated with greying hair
Which catches the toilet’s lights
In pretty flecks liked panned silver.
Are they here every night, these bathers?
Their human vinegar barbs
The air like thin bile.
One scrubs his arm from shoulder to wrist,
Coating it with thin soap gel, lathering,
Rinsing it messily, leaving water and soap bilge
In messy puddles on the Formica around the sink.
Another presses the hot tap with his elbow,
Drowning his vest with its yellow stains like limescale.
The third dries his sodden socks
Between the grey and yellow plastic of a Dyson Airblade.

There is little talk-
What there is is maybe Romanian.
These bathers, these men of fifty
Must have families,
In Bucharest, in Hunedoara, in Dolhasca
Who sleep at home
Who wash at home
Thanks to this quiet, hidden, public indignity.

The Cormorant Dress

I watch him for a long time,
His outstretched wings straining away from his torso,
Creating a black feathered axe.
I have watched him dive
So precise in his assault of fish
Then patient
As he waits for his wings to dry,
Blood sloppy around his beak,
Fish-flesh pink around his jowls.
He dives again
I paint his rock with glue,
Sun bakes it dry around his webbed feet,
His beak and jowls strain upwards
As his wings thrash.
I shoot him with an arrow
His shrieking peaks
Then recedes.

Sea is still, waves limp to shore.
The island too feels flat
Though stepped banks of shale rise
And everywhere trees of many types spring up.
There is coolness under their canopy,
Where you can smell streams
And hear wild dogs bawl.
It all may as well be scrub or sand,
the sea too could be baked to salt dunes
For all that it has brought me.
Six times I have signalled passing ships,
My arms cormorant wide.
But as each came nearer I hid
And prayed they had never seen me.
For weeks afterwards
I reconstruct in paint what I’ve seen,
Use my cave-wall’s rocky inconsistencies
To recreate the lines of a man’s face or his whiskers.
Their painted eyes warm me,
I talk to them at night.

Did the sailors imagine me a ghost?
Me, the only body who breathes and speaks
On an island populated by ghosts?
It is on the days after rainstorms
That I most miss conversation
Another soul to say
‘Keep the meat up high- that at least we can do!’
I imagine, on these days,
The hundreds of other islands out beyond the horizon
And the people, sitting together fireside
Taking one another’s company for granted,
Blithe spirits who cannot imagine themselves cast out.
They live blindfolded, as I did.

I mark time on a fallen trunk-
First a line lightly scratched with a bone awl,
Then carved with a bone knife,
The tenth I rub with hot ash.
When I reach a thousand
I gather grasses from each corner of the island
Arrange them in leaf bowls
And wait for them to dry.
I hack the trunk apart and burn it,
The grasses provide smoke of different colours.

I lost years to sloppiness,
Now every task must be completed with precision,
Meals especially-
Pack each wild onion tight with herbs,
Pluck every bone from the rockfish,
Cut diagonal striations into the skin which
Allows the fat to crisp.

On the fifth day after they left me
I left my baby alone while I fetched firewood.
I returned and the cave floor was
Painted in splatters and streaks with his blood
And he was gone.
I never found another trace of him.
In revenge I killed five litters of wild dogs,
Slit each dog’s throat
And combined their tiny pelts into five coats.
I wish that I had never killed them-
It brought me no peace.
I burnt those coats years ago from shame.

With even frequency whales wash up on the beach,
I pull the sinews from their monstrous corpses.
Pulling sinew through birdskin as thread
I stitch the cormorants together as a dress,
The black of the feathers so irredeemable
As to become in places blue.
I hope to finish it in the next thousand days
And wear it as I burn the fallen trunk
And watch the pretty island grasses
Escape the island as smoke.

The Intrepid

A man sits on a single-decker bus-
His gratitude for the mundane,
Even the unpleasant, surprizes him.
What is that cheap aftershave?
Behind it is the odour of a fattish man.
A black woman’s long braided hair-
Where do the extensions begin?
The plastic handrails swing softly…
He is even grafteful for the travel sickness.

He leaves the bus, the sky is thickly blue,
A new denim blue scratched at
By whisps of cloud.
Sun brilliantines the upper floors
Of the buildings opposite him.
Careful!
Anxiety begins to gnaw at the man’s gratitude.
He checks his breathing-
Is it clear? Is it?
While he flicks through second hand books,
A woman begins to hoover,
The dust scares him,
The hoover scares him.
He worries about his breathing, hesitates,
Then leaves.

He turns the keys quickly in the lock
They sway, ringing unprettily…
Back at home, the gratitude reappears.
He has seen heat shimmer above the railway bridge,
Making liquid the view of houses beyond it,
Like the lines that distort his view
Of the dried flowers on the windowsill above the heater,
Like these lines, like this distortion
But not hopelessly familiar.