They are long gone.
Long gone from the now tame valley of the Saane.
In olden times
they were abroad here, fleeing from storms
and sheer starvation:
the wild blond-bearded men dragging baggage
of tattered womenfolk
and meagre, filthy pigs and children; desperate
for shelter and a home
in our inhospitable, narrow mountain valleys.
They’re just a rumour now,
lost in a legend. Only some autumn nights,
when storms rage
all around the comfortable farmhouse
and the sturdy stable,
we keep the lantern burning in the kitchen
and huddle close, hearing
the harsh barbaric voices, hammering fists
on double-bolted doors,
dogs whimpering, the desperate lowing
of the cattle as
the seven thousand Friesians stare at us
from empty sockets
on their endless aimless journey in the dark.
In the small hours
I listen to the busy
comings and goings
the paper thin facade
The hills like dusty waves –
and that’s an eagle, surely,
floating over El Horcajo.
A herd of black pigs
snuffle close to greet the car
along the bumpy track.
stalk the courtyard
stabbing at grains of corn.
Behind the wire-mesh window
a yellow digger dozes
in the evening sun.
Dusk, and a restless bird calls
in a foreign language.
On the edge of sleep
the sound of phantom cowbells.
In the small hours
thin dogs howl from hill
to distant hill:
discordant whale song
in this sea of soil.
I wake in the still of the night
and scribble a note in the dark.
I wake at dawn; in the half-light
puzzle over the hieroglyphs
whose meaning I cannot now
make out – and suddenly
catch a glimpse of my father’s life
on his side of a half empty bed
to a semblance of light, a mockery
lost in time, groping for things,
anything to hold on to,
no matter how silly it sounds
to those who cannot understand
that figures on invoices
to add up, buttons on dishwashers
wander, and the phone
only connects you to strangers.
After the geysers come the restless nights.
I’m my own Yellowstone: as sulphur mists
dissolve the rim of consciousness
my superheated soul spouts similes,
mixed metaphors thud from the mudpool
of my bubbling brain, hissing hyperboles
ricochet off the walls of lodgepole pine;
from underneath the floorboards fumaroles
steam acid vapour. The silver lining
to these endless nights: sleeplessness
crystallized in syllables; the scalloped edge
around the hotspring of my seething mind.
A blackbird binds the fragments of dreams
with the twine of his song;
a scattered archipelago of reality
emerges from the night:
clang of dawn deliveries; rumble
of dustmen’s carts on cobblestones;
the dragging steps of the Golem
after a night’s watch over his precarious city.
A welcoming bathroom, this: blond wood and glass,
the white enamel washbasin fashionably raised
above the shiny white top. And it was talking to me.
The air was alive with hissing and burbling, with ticking
and clicks, snatches of songs; and borne on this stream,
now, and again now, half-caught, the ghosts of words.
Doubtless a rational explanation applied, involving valves,
matters of pressure, bubbles of air trapped in pipes –
but still: that room had a message for me. In the dark
it was whispering secrets; in the small hours its hisses
grew desperate, offering the answers to all my questions –
and I lay listening all night, too tired to understand –