Ahead of Us
In the black crow and owl hours
when consciousness should be
stricken with rest,
swift iron groans, inaccessible,
jerk our thoughts half-upright.
Freight trains speak their barely understood language
in and out of deafening silence,
each turn of the wheel a syllable on the line.
We think of them as clambering wrongly
out of the night
but they belong; the spreading blackness is theirs
by right—we who semi-conscious
hear their wheel rumbling and high pitch horn
as dim, barely understood
shudderings and shrieks
are mere eavesdroppers on darkness.
Freight trains moan on the line.
What does their shaky language spell
and carry? What is its urgent load?
What refuses to dissolve,
its tongue determinedly calling us
into the determined dark?
On Not Flying
A reply to Chris Kelen
The noise never stops wherever you are.
It spins feverish inside your head
with the gravity of the world,
its whirled obligations, roles, responsibilities.
Above the world you are taken into time
that is wholly relative. Here on the ground
it’s absolute, and absolutely resolute.
It determines our days. It hands out
our jobs, like a teacher at school.
It gives us this day’s demands, and
forgives no trespasses. Just do it!
Starting now. It gives us everything but itself.
And so I stay silent to friends, miserably silent
to getting ink on paper. We lay waste
our powers. I respond to emails, obey the phone,
take my seat at the worn committees, give seminars,
give classes, edit a journal, wipe the desk of papers,
stack the desk with papers, talk my head off
for what is, with irony, called ‘a living’.
Parsons once had those. Ink fixed on paper
will never be the world, the richness we recall.
We fly hardest who don’t take off at all.
On the Verge
The older you get
the more small things matter.
Get washing sorted, the dishes
stacked, the ironing board out,
plants watered, roses clipped,
the old table clumsily restained,
the junk dissected;
it’s suburban clean up time
and on each street’s verge
half the stuff of our lives
In Adelaide, radio reports of Australia
bowled out again, in Israel fires, the eastern wheatbelt
licked by floods, WA’s
dusted in drought.
After, on the tip of the dark,
sitting alone at the café,
an unseasonable breeze
and surprising rain
skim the tables;
young people laugh past
to the bars, the restaurants, voices
tipsy and frisky
with anticipation, to them
the flimsy rain doesn’t exist.
A drab, nothing day in a way.
But this evening one call from my son
in Taiwan, to say he’ll be away
for five days—he wants me to know—
and all the small, mundane world
and everything it holds
suddenly sang its vivacious,
gracious, light-hearted mystery.