Smoke on Water
I am searching in this poem
For courage, for words
To speak to you with
Who have so often said to me
‘We write the surface only
I am surer of it now
Than ever before.’
Colors you bring me
Must be worked out in water
Sepia in grandmother’s hair.
She is dead now
A mere surface, burning
As courage burns
In another’s poems.
This world divides in two.
And what is the fuel I bring you?
I think of you
In your house as lights fail
Trying to make
A smoky lantern work.
Your thumb with the mole
At the rim wedges the glass open
And I do not know how to go on.
You come to me and I am full of noises,
That curl in the crevices of ribcage, hollows of wrist,
You stroke me, tiny syllables thrum.
In winter light I quiver and twitch.
You stroll with me to a teashop on a dusty street
And think — Here’s a woman quite beside her self
Shall we take tea at a table set by the Muses —
There’s Erato fleeing a room
Of starched linen, glass vessels, fretted gold
And cold Melpomene whose petticoat is sodden,
Whose lips have sipped all the tea in India and China,
She still cries out for more.
We met in a run down town
We were past the summer of our lives.
Before we met I was frightened
Of one word – God.
Now I whisper it
As lotus leaves shiver at dawn,
As mist boils in the belly of the river
As a swordfish leaps spray to its death.
Now I feel your hands
Stroking hair back from my face.
We clasped each other in a house of bone
As Ashoka’s lion leapt out of sandstone
And the painted rose smouldered,
Its petals wasted in a blunt mirror.
Deer Park at Sarnath
It seems impossible to begin
To speak of those gone ahead
Intact, fired by breath
Through flowering mustard
They race past a main road
Northwards to the deer park.
In the terrible kindness of the dead
They whisper as they pass
Inscribe yourself if you can
On brick or bone or slate
Then surrender it all with grace
Rejoice in these trees
Cut in rock
With seven kingdoms visible
Is still no stopping place
Clouds consume the palaces
Of the gods
Stone chariots stir in soil
All Sarnath is covered in dirt.
There is no grief like this
The origin of landscape is mercy.
There’ll come a time when I forget your name,
Blood knot that makes the iris bloom
Gnarl of darkness in the tree that grows
Beside the mountain of the ancestors
Mango tree, jacaranda tree, jackfruit tree,
The tree with many children perched in it,
Chattering monkeys with clouds on their backs.
I’ll forget the mirror in which I saw your face
And mine cupped together, stout waves of water
That swept us close in a house of salt,
Cormorants with glistening fish in their beaks,
A warm leaf you pressed against my cheek.
There’ll come a time when I forget your face,
Lip marks rinsed from a window pane