(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