9781907401664

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.

About Time

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.

Lovers, Belarus

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.

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

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.

 

9781907401664

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