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
drawing the eyes up
to that authoritative
disk of sky until
you discern the chiselled frieze
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
once thought to hold something
in themselves of both
mind and the earth it touched
and therefore held to be
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.
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