A Jokoban

(Japanese incense clock)

A smouldering grid on a cypress stand

jasmine interval, periods of patchouli

musk and camphor schedules, frankincense chimes.

How arid the reliance

on an oscillating crystal’s precision

the tiny force between wheel train

and escapement, a miniature replica

of how the engines of our minds

or lives have been shunted together,

industrial clank for a heartbeat.

 

Instead, imagine saying I’ll meet you

when it turns sandalwood, I’ll get to it at myrrh;

had we but cedarwood enough, etc.

 

A different self stands outlined

in the doorway of the senses

that remembers childhood as a music box

its formal stations replaced by the dairy horse

before dawn, newspaper boys’ cries, postman’s whistle

ice-cream vans playing Greensleeves

siren at shift’s end from the factory over the creek

a crystal radio’s static.

 

Once, trudging home from your first job

you turned into a row of shops somewhere

you’d never been before, and looked up

at their dingy, Victorian façade, followed

their pilasters and cornices to the top floor,

its dusty mullions half lost

in low, hanging mist that ever since

feeling it on your face

has evoked the future’s possibilities

 

saying it will happen in light drizzle.

We could use luminous

to mean all the possibilities of time read backwards

like eyes in old photographs

reflecting the future’s oncoming headlights,

as I squint to read the watch on someone’s wrist

standing amongst the camel’s-hair coated lot

smiling from the mantelpiece; or lit up as the distant town hall clock

my brother and I competed to see from our vinyl crow’s nest,

the friendly utility of its hypotenuse.

 

Time released by burning grains

doesn’t unwind but is brought to us

as if by kings in bivouacs across the desert’s electric zones.

From the creak and crease of their saddlebags

they place sandalwood and myrrh beneath

hoists glimmering in back yards

reflecting the Southern Cross directly above.

University of Canberra International Poetry Prize anthology 2014