Here is a selection of poetry from the collection, Breathing under Water.
If I am water then you are stone, hold me.
Dont let me go. You need me
as I need you. As solid rock embraces rain,
you are the channel to guide me
like the marble canal at Alcazar Palace
when the sun blazes down, you lead me
to the citrus scent of lemon blossom trees
in the sheltered courtyard, you hide me
where the pool encircles the fountain spout:
water, stone. Fluidity needs form, you persuade me.
Together, we are music. Tiled colonnades shade me
in the cool afternoon garden. You beside me.
When I am the harbour,
you are the lamp shining
from the lighthouse.
Your beam is a warning
When I am the lighthouse,
you are the sailor
navigating the shore.
In your hand is the anchor.
When I am the anchor,
you are the boat.
I hold you close
when the storm blows.
When I am the boat,
you are the harbour.
Both of us are nothing
without the water.
East of Mariana, at the bottom of the sea,
there’s a thread of air to a submarine
and that’s where you can find me.
Reinforced glass and thick steel protect me
from the suffocating weight of shadow and ocean.
I’m deeper than anyone has ever been.
It’s not like outer space constellations,
reflecting light from suns to stars, but
a mysterious medium of mud and night.
I turn on my lamp. A mucous-covered fish,
transparent, with horns, swims towards me.
Blue saucers for eyes, neon gills ignite
and in the churn of a mud-storm sea
this fish with no name greets me
Here is a selection of poetry from the collection, Long Exposure at Cordoba.
It was an ordinary picnic,
red printed cloth,
wine flask and bread.
They sat where two rivers
met, flowed as one,
felt the breeze on their face.
On the opposite bank
painted houses, dirt track
to the orthodox church.
Before he caught his breath
her red dress blew
about her legs, lifted
her feet off the ground.
In one hand he held
the bird, in the other
her hand as she glided
up, over the town.
And if he wanted to keep her
swimming in air,
he had to hold his grip,
float with her.
Together over Vitebsk,
poultry yards, cow barns,
meadows, she held out her arm.
The fiddler playing a jig,
soldier with bread, stopped,
watched them fly
over raggy topped fences,
red and green houses.
They didn’t speak of the child
but everyone could see
he held on, kept her close
in the clouds over the town.
Long Exposure at Cordoba
You took a photo in the dusk,
midday pink at the mosque,
repeated shadows and arches
patterned like fugues.
You focussed the camera,
light reading at the centre,
perfect image to remember
the church within.
But when you get the print
the stone is blurred,
my ghost walks towards you
in orange blossom scent.
The clock strikes ten as she walks into the hall.
A perfume of rose petals disguises the stench
of dancers’ sweat and tallow candle grease.
Her dress, sewn by magicians, has spangles
of coloured glass and beneath silk underskirts
she’s hidden her favourite kitchen knife.
Wine in silver punch bowls, sweetmeats
and pastries heaped on malachite tables
and ivory counters. The guests drink and eat
beyond reason as she calculates her chance,
she dances with counts, dukes and princes.
This is the last time she’ll wear glass slippers.
Eleven o’ clock, the musicians still play.
The violinist watches her – she returns his gaze,
steps behind stone pillars to consider: maybe
in time she could elope with him, live in attic rooms
forever. She catches his eye, walks to the garden
through yew trees in jasmine-scented breezes.
It’s after midnight when she runs home,
slips through the back door. No candle smuts
or blood on her old clothes. She mends the fire,
pours a bowl of soup and waits for her father
to return with terrible news: his wife and
step-daughters have been brutally murdered.
She listens to the story about the violinist
caught red-handed, moon-mad from the deed
at the scene of the crime but insisted he’d not
done it. He said he’d a witness but no-one
came forward. She gave her father some soup,
cut the bread with her favourite kitchen knife.
Segou, November 2008
(inspired by Amadou Kone’s love poems)
I watch women wash their clothes,
bathe in suds, gossip about their men
on the banks of the River Niger.
At the jetty, the ferryboy rows, girls clamber
to the shore, balance zinc bowls of smoked fish
and a man carries his bicycle.
It’s my last afternoon in Segou when Amadou
arrives, strong arms levering his wheelchair
up the dirt road to the Rablais hotel.
At the market you can buy clay pots,
chilli, shea butter, plastic buckets, soap
and crocodile claws. Amadou sells poems.
I had malaria as a child then polio too,
he says. I’m training to be an accountant.
My poems pay for school.
Boys, with their donkeys and carts, load
sorgum and millet. You can buy anything here,
he says. I push his chair over ruts.
He takes me to the medicine man where
wishes are sold. Tiny pins and parchment scraps,
sewn and folded, to burn or keep.
Amadou dreams of an office job, a wage.
He pulls his thin legs from the chair, rests his feet
in red street dust. It’s sunset.
We read poems to each other under dim
market lamps. Words, not translated, sing out,
music in different tongues.
Today is a great day, Amadou smiles.
Can any day really make such a difference?
I ask, buy a book of poems.
About us the market sellers stop and listen, light
their fires for the night, hold their hands
on hearts, shout Obama, Obama.
This is the boundary
This is the field where trees were felled,
heaped and loaded on carts, taken
to rot in the orchard, nurtured
in spring for the autumn fruit.
This is the road where windfalls were swept,
heaped and loaded on carts, blown
with maggots, ruined and shovelled
to a mound of blight and mould.
This is the orchard, where apples were picked,
heaped and loaded on carts, taken
to store in turf-roofed sheds, locked
and left for a winter of hunger.
In this broken place, all that’s left to teach us,
barbed wire fences, rotten harvest breezes