I. Sea Vision
Recurring dream: I stand
on the edge of an enormous ocean. The sea, vexing
the sand, is suddenly driven
to a boiling stillness, flexing
it seems the black depths of its intentions
into a will, and then — collapses!
Now the terrible declensions
of a bizarre new grammar are about to be revealed.
The sky mentions thunder,
but the elements must steel
for the greater nightmare slowly, rapidly unfolding.
I feel a nausea rifle my senses —
end is what my sockets are recording!
I want to rush, regurgitate my terror blindly,
but the body is dammed
by fear. For, all around me
the stretched horizon-lines of ocean are receding,
shrinking out to sea,
the churning brine is feeding
back upon itself, crumpling, crazily falling —
the very waves have turned:
something is recalling
a billion years of mystery back into primal air.
(Crawling or prone, writhing,
the creatures of the sea prepare
a doom: the sand, unceremonious, will suck them
bare, soon the features
of a longing never stemmed
but in the dimmest plasma dreams will reunite,
bent to an ancient song …)
So, peeling back now as if ignited,
ocean is vanishing: the fast unfurling bed —
blighted, grotesque and cracked,
craggy, segmented —
is waxing, darkening in a monstrous extension
bled of design, the steady
dropping of an endless canyon
into roaring incessant space … At last, at last,
a bottomless, unstopping
smouldering moonscape past
all thought of sea is spread into the distance.
I gasp, clutch at the concept
but meet a horrible resistance.
Thought must end here: the skull of history glowers,
the vista waits, complete
with weird and dripping towers,
cliffs that clamber past the grope of what was vision.
My powers fail, I yield —
how can such collision
with infinity be met? Blood no longer bursting,
decision dead, I stand
on the edge, thirsting
no longer for a bygone sea: my will beyond my saving,
I nurse the wedge
at work already in the paving
that is memory … Soon we shall all forget the ocean,
graving our stubborn earth,
our ghettos, with a stranger notion:
We are the people of the rock — that is our message.
Our portion is to fornicate with shadows …
You'll shed no brackish pity for our passage.
II. The Rock
‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Rock.
The age of this monolith is impossible
to decide, but primitive observations of
planetary behaviour are known to have been made
from the summit some forty thousand years ago.
The ancient superstitions once revered the Rock
as “Birthplace of the Gods”, a colossal mountain
capped by perpetual cloud. Indeed, at least four
‘separate traditions still incorporate
this locality in legends of the founding
of their faiths and ministries. The more romantic
in temper talk of the Rock as the petrified
heart of a Titan of protohistory, or
the fabled landing-plateau of a grim vessel
that drifted for centuries (and here the scriptures
oddly coincide) before the dying remnants
‘of the race, a man and woman variously
denoted, needed each other again. The less
oblique of mind subscribe to tales of a giant
meteor whose shattering descent demanded
implantation. Some even maintain that the stone
once guarded the gates of a great ocean; others
that it envelops the final repository
of mythical kings, riddled with tunnels and mazed
‘by strange interior tombs and treasure-chambers.
Certain cults believe that once every millennium
a foundling may venture to address the Rockface,
the reply a conundrum whose key will unlock
a lifetime of perfect wisdom — or deliver
death, instant but cruel. Perhaps in this connection
it is sometimes said that dark, unspeakable deeds
were enacted in the bowels of the monument,
‘which is then defined as a wicked and most
ingenious network of diabolical cells,
a honeycomb of torture-chambers, or a dim
vault where astonishing implements of murder
on scales now undreamt-of were devised. Even so,
some prefer to regard the Rock as the solid
manifestation of Will, the essence of Time;
but this is doubtful … Thank you for your attention.'
III. From the Air
Well, Mercury's ascending,
the twins seem warm and vaguely settled;
can't for the life of them spot the worm within the apple.
Oh, the sky is full of whispers,
they stroll the ruins of a mighty garden;
ancient and stooped they feel an exquisite nostalgia harden,
Well, into a hymn: What
could have been better than this magic wood?
They turn: Life will be just as better, if not good.
Oh, what a monument they build,
what a globe, with its four great fortresses;
stoic servants and samurai, stern scholars and sorcerers.
Well, presently the sphere
is bloodying its axis (the warriors accrue):
We shall die (they scream) if it's the first thing we do!
Oh, no; live, and recant!
(re-echo the conjurors, huddled in song)
Or rue for the rest of your lives, if you live that long.
Well, slowly our twinlings,
much travelled by now, join the general fun:
What the hell! A little bit of pain never hurt anyone —
Oh, and all that knowledge
to plunder, pray to … No nation is rational,
and at least their outlook now is thoroughly international.
Well, at this point
the clouds' patience finally elapses.
The twins, still experimenting, are way out of practice.
Oh, the mercury is rising
and Gemini find fire too seductive …
Voice: I don't mind praise, so long as it's constructive.
IV. Trial by Fire
So, the treachery of words,
and we are left to our devices after all.
We seem to have travelled a lifetime, you and I,
in search of the transmuting flame, feeding
off the warmth of each other's fear. And now we reach
an evening of rain pounding in the gables, the cool
jacaranda dripping its regal blood once more. Soon
I shall sweep the blossoms from the path outside —
someone may still wish to walk it …
We spun histories to one another
while the universe, defenceless, continued to strain
in its bearings; we made out inventories of doom,
squinting out of our private little infernos;
we watched oceans break over the world, draw back
to expose a charred decay. Yet we clung to our measure
of safety because we possessed each other.
And even on an evening such as this, when sex
seems foolish and the intricacy of your breath
on a sleeping pillow merges with summers in a garden
behind a house on a street within the capital
of a land I have long since forfeited,
my ego aches for reassurance and the old alchemy
persists with its demands.
How often we have studied the inscriptions
on passing faces, how clearly we thought we knew
the pain of stone at a city gate. Remember
the day you declared, half dreaming, that a boulder
we nestled like lizards in the sun
was listening, absorbing the rays of our geometry?
I laughed of course, yet when we pressed our ears
into the grain, I swear I heard the murmurings of gods,
agony of martyrs, the joy of a butterfly
forty centuries fossil … But never spoke.
Strangely inspired, you clambered,
leapt from the pinnacle like some heroine of Greece.
That night we bickered on the afterlife:
I mocked your certainties — what betrayal!
So, the treachery of words, this alone is left us.
We've debated eternity time and again
in the dialects labelled Religion,
translated atheism (the most passionate theology),
circled our own unspoken fire,
to arrive, in the end, at — this:
We, our roots pounded and torn
by the surge of a cataclysm worthy of legend …
We, our generations tapering behind us,
victims of a treachery beyond words …
We, who inherited an epoch without time,
a history stripped of its possessions …
We, who incurred the terror-mask of Janus: behind us
the burning, ahead the flame — a passion
so fervent it was etched in catechisms; so cold
we sickened daily at the sight of steel …
who, like our parents
confronted finally with themselves, could
only whisper: Can I believe? After all this, can I
have faith? …
The treachery of language leads us back
like shadows to a torch. The dead alone have been
transmuted. And while we ponder
whether the dead we praise, malign, may listen
to our hearts; while we plot the survival of words,
plan beyond catastrophes more terrible than death,
we discover we can still compass love,
least treacherous of the human declensions.
The ocean too returns for the tide, the rock
will perch forever on its earth. Between the howl of space
and the crawling lava we survive our living
somehow. The jacaranda's full of feathers,
your breath is constant and the month is waxing. Soon
the plotting horizons will devise another dawn …
Hold me. We will yet cheat the elements.