Stone Suite

Terraces, Jerusalem hills

At first you hardly recognise them for what they are:

a child’s flanks slowing the eye’s downward trajectory,
the earth’s forehead wrinkled, as if trying to remember.

Cumulus thought bubbles shadow tidepools,

slipping over forests, in and out of key.

Engineered water still runs down

cisterns and channels, then out from a stone sun

into a stream suspended

in nets of birdsong,

distracted among fallen saplings’ italics

until you discern that nudge of earth,

caption in an old text face

—the font could be Byzantine, serifs Ottoman —

to the diffident lore of borders:

something about keeping one’s head down.

 

Chalk caves, Beit Guvrin

 

Standing at the base

a pillar of light

reverses the work’s progress

 

its imperative

drawing the eyes up

to that authoritative

 

disk of sky until

you discern the chiselled frieze

scrolling downwards

 

a conversation

between sky and earth

not as deities do

 

in perpendicular shafts of light,

coins slashing air,

the big bang’s pistons

 

but as things formed in twilight, revealing

themselves to be of both night

and day, emerging

 

between opposites,

once thought to hold something

in themselves of both

 

mind and the earth it touched

and therefore held to be

miraculous.

 

Roman remains, Bath

 

The pool’s transcendent green, a Rothko square, seems suspended between columns: below, in the hypocausts’ portentous gloom, the hushed congregation strains to discern the italicised labels.  The living and the plinthed, carved from or pushed for time, regard one another.  Chitons undulate, their folds insinuating the presence within, motion in granite frames shuttered like early photography of tightrope walkers, jugglers, someone walking in sepia sequence. These crumbling mandibles lose their oratory while the eloquent, steadfast eyes remain.   If, by virtue of the missing head, Apollo’s torso called all the more forcefully for change, time’s vandalism reminds us of his poet: of how the lyre continued to sing in its river that has no source, no mouth, provisioning a song that we might tell of its passage, even as we feel the grit grip at our throat, silt shoal at the entwined banks.

 

Mimosa Rocks, South Coast, NSW

 

Nobody left a sign to tell us why or when someone placed these stones on top of one another with such care: like little, rotund men staring out to sea, the way migrant Dads would stand on their patch of beach while their wives unpacked and slathered sunscreen on their kids’ skinny shoulders.  The stones remind me of the pebbles we leave on graves, to show we’ve been, but these are bigger, stacked onto one another in small cairns randomly across the beach as if a house had once leaned on them. And if, at first, I felt somehow disengaged because I couldn’t tell if they meant anything, couldn’t discern if they were as old as the midden nearby, that did get signage, or were some kind of recent claim, or artwork: well, at least someone, sometime, had found a use for this rubble (tracing the most direct line between strangers through the past: nothing’s random, only a forgotten pattern) and then they’d sure been to a lot of trouble.

 

Werribee Park

 

From an ornate mirror bequeathed by the squattocracy

your father’s face looks back at you.  Greenhouse windows

wink on their ratchets, iron scallops held only

by a web’s instance, over parterres

combed for the winter.  Dutifully impressed

 

by the mangle’s weight,

the cauldron’s heaviness, the handle notched

for carrying, black blades of the stove’s doors

slamming in a row like epochs, the kids sprawl

in tolerant armchairs under a deer’s glassy survey;

bustles and bustiers patrol the parquetry,

deferential shadows enter from the colonnade. 

 

Meanwhile, elsewhere: an early discharge from the Czar’s army,

my great-great-grandfather’s on remission

from the Crimea.  Being pressganged

hasn’t altered his allegiance to a higher power;

he still has to be nagged into having his picture taken

that’s now all we have of him.  He stands

to one side of the album, its depleting villages.

 

We inhabit our absences as best we can

but never, it seems, our patch, not as well as this:

title deeds mounted, the first sub-divisions framed and yellowing,

pointer resting on the fresco for the next school group, rooms

into which we peer from behind history’s plush red velvet ropes

in all our finery: our starched fashions and fascinators

on display with the pearl-handled hairbrush,

ewers, flasks, chased caskets.

 

Lichen holds fast to the balustrades

its green and grey cursive repeating

like slate lessons in the schoolroom.

Time plumbs right angles from sun

to bell-tower, both mined from the same orelight

in which we make our intermittent appearance,

our arms gentle and heavy on our children’s shoulders

down the gravel drive’s arc towards the distant sea.

 

Meniscus, May 2017