Time’s a thief, but careless… these memories.
September reeds quaking, the high weather
hushed, a coolness of mist settled, and we,
old combers scuffed by beach shingle, the years
of intentions and this resolve of place.
Each day differently, as though something,
something there, you, walking, running ahead,
meaning this, an informality rubbed
the same colour as the sun, waves dreaming.
Such things must be imagined first, preface
to the world and its intimations, here
the sky falling west, red and full of stars.
Out on the sea’s edge, the sky’s edge too, meets,
is met, between them the swift keel only.
To forget about time, its rush and pulse,
that these nebulae continue, that it
is sworn, expected, the pinched gas haze spans
this deep breathlessness and we then, then this.
Sediments prove old places, their alarms,
each machine blankness the thinness of it
and still this longing, these minutes folding.
Here are the days, we say, here are the lives.
Brooding mystification collected
this dew on the cill, pooled, steady droplets,
in another life a river, a thing
moving, and we, discontent, gathering,
the nick of time evasive, its milled grain
borrowing the taken sweetness of it.
Language in leaves, the pitch to river edge
sliding slow down muddy fall-away, fell.
The river that was one, forks now, pursues
each shadow, the shadows once together.
Here at the edge time changes, and the times,
the minutes making them, roil and wash,
a seething soak filter feeders call home.
The shadows slip dodging among wharf posts,
clattering crab pots hauled to deck singly,
sequential sets dusky or dawn-wise culled
for festivals, seasons, their certainty.
Rig this, righting, the sail’s trine filled and west
hard as the sun goes, a cold sky mirrors
nothing, nothing not known to you before.
Remember this, in the first breath of things,
their shapes, all this resource, the stem cell spark
and the dead walking forth, all on this day.
The house, the well, the trees beyond, follow
the cellar’s footprint, well depth, that which is
known in the sap’s pulse, the sky bending down
in rain, in each season a new god’s face.
They, on the lawn, in long flower, in green
and May’s bud-burst pink and yellow, all there,
known to each other, these generations.
I, not born, not come to that company,
in its caring, in those photographs all
made to dimity pressed and pleated,
now centuries since those summer poses.
My kinsman, sometime in that country, west,
the ship and those hands clearing the tidal creeks,
the land theirs with the working of it, some
living on there, shipwrights, lawyers, others
restless with royals, to wilder acres.
A hundred years upcountry, soldiers now,
England a long way from these savannahs,
the king’s tithe less seeming where the soil cropped
and militia, few, then regiments, all
fl ag colours bled, Allegheny long march.
That winter damp powder froze, the farms ruined.
After Germantown, after Brandywine,
before redcoats broke, near American
oak his stone, remembered death date, and why.
Early last century, Virginia
on the Carolina border, acres—
ours, and we down to the old farm once, I
was a boy, great-grandma a hundred
lived on a while yet, by the picnic yard
everybody and others called by name.
And was born just after Appomattox,
a woman here before the west was staked
to the lower forty-eight, before trains,
before the soft shell hardened, lives rooted,
tobacco staves heavy leaved, hung to cure.
Nothing much said, seeing her at the last
in Roanoke, paper lungs, paper face,
and her speaking first, last hummingbird breaths.
Mother past eighty now, the voice softer,
distant and still Virginia farm drawl
by satellite over the Atlantic.
Hands too gnarled for letters, scratchy cursive
hieroglyphics, leaving just these voices
disembodied, memory ricochet
for news, some little confidence to keep.
Only now stopped running, never looked back,
no one there to, no one to explain to.
I made these years from what was left, each one
shaken down to minutes, and time nervy,
never really there, hunters, hunted, each
down the Indian road to the salt lick,
the mineral need and its following.
On the beach, walking with you here, Europe,
America, lives shunting idiot
calling where poems list seaward, blind metres,
blind in this knowing, together still, still.
The old ships, timber split for the New World,
the old ships, first days and their cold harbours,
chance saddled, riding hopeful to rough ports,
taking land for service, knights, that realm theirs,
all that finery those centuries made
traded for pine trails, fevers without names.
I was thinking of Mary Doniphan,
the wilderness, 1770,
on the Ohio near Tarts Falls, dying
in childbirth, weak from wild skies, the longing.
The easterly binds the gulls, the balance
of grey flight just clearing surf surging in,
pulling marble wash underfoot, and glass
polished in sea sand’s tug or tuck, glass green
with the sea’s own colour, its autograph.
Land trailing back, before the sea was here,
Europe a short walk, and then the earth shrugged,
land slumping, letting in, letting in cold green,
the strata silts eroded, making do,
this driftwood, this fathoming incline down.
The village that was here was drowned, its bells,
in this deep, towers, their iron ghosts sounding,
the last one standing, the few of this lost
tribe, one by one, and I the last of these.
Nearby trace foundations, Roman villa,
Viking tumulus, Saxon boundary stone:
the boathouse sinks into the mud flats, ooze
stuck stilts, beyond starburst glass breaks, same sky,
history sepia lust, its quango
gold hoard turned in ploughing, sudden bright things,
pressed ore emperor of sugar beet fields.
This sweetness pearls and pulses, the night made
succulent, these images, footloose now,
unrepentant and for sinners this grit
stays and the quaking rummages, stirs roots.
These maps, diaries, death plague burnt notices,
and this wakefulness, prove severally
raw verdicts, memory, devouring.