Monday, May 31, 2010

Valence 12


you dream of flight with wings with claw some days
you sob because all the elegies for the dead all the strings
played with furious pathos will not stop the clot of war

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Valence 11


pharaohs haunt the tight tendon of night
it is dreaming that makes us human
footprints tracking their own unstoppable destiny
fighting homesickness you wing across the void the planet
hollowing on the verge of collapse while some human-made
god keeps on with his incessant dictation

is it the dead who keep you awake at night
a vision of a planet’s suicide attempt
limbs severed life hung in balance
what kind of shaming will it take to unpurse the future
in the moments before the noose tightens a gutful
of interglacial moments to ruminate on the planet’s past

a species whose collective search for jewels took the wrong
road in pursuit of furnaces and smelting of iron
instead of firelight and song the drying tips
of trees turned into barbs and missiles
overhead sky anvils crash and blast presaging the drop
of earth’s floor faster than a game of drop the hanky

Friday, May 28, 2010

Valence 10


you try to measure the valence of your feeling
runged like a ladder it is playing truant
these are the astonishments of life cunning as gravity’s spectrum
this morning someone spoke of the desire to be unlimbed
this evening you race to the vet on a false alarm for the dog
how to measure that strength of bond is it like helium or xenon

at the time of vespers a huge flock of lorikeets
sweeps along the street a wave with thousands
of particles like a symphony filled with quavers
bones splinter in earth’s chemicals accrue new geographies
anchor on thin strings of narrative built syllable
by syllable valences as permeable as love

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Valence 9


undoing hatred is a pilgrimage of hurt
power unwinds as much charge as a tangle of wire
we squirm in death’s footprint caught in private fogs of affliction
all that energy ebbing in acts of fury the dying swan stilled exhausted
its wings wired its fluttering mind caged and broken
these many-mouthed furies iron-tongued grind their teeth all night long

uncurl your limbs stretch your spine
walk as if the sky’s mantle is wrapped about your shoulders
when your breath evaporates look at the world with a split vision
imagine a hawk-eyed view of the oceans
from that height see the vast pastures of plankton
whalefood float with cuttlefish unoccupy your days

Valence 8


revolutions have a tendency to unwind become slippery
as a greasy pole of jittery climbers how to disentangle
the fissures of power those times when absolutes are abstracted
followed by a contagion of swelling theories based on nothing
but a dream of marble palaces endless cases of whiskey temples
and statues to the self an insect grown large thorax like a shingled roof

behind stand the glassy-eyed disciples trilling with praise
promising to sacrifice all retreat to the woods
for fourteen years eat rotting peaches if need be
post-revolution days turn heavy all the dreams bludgeoned
knives appear and serrated philosophies become the latest thing
the way to leave your very own mark

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Valence 7


you are writing hope in dust composing in a rapture
of fingertips by late afternoon ink stains make blotches
on your skin more patterns to unweave in memory of Penelope
your yarn unravelling night by night delaying that jury
of suitors choking on impatience the siren’s voice sounds
it’s you bound to the mast wanting to unmake those knots

the halflife of patience is short and betrayal follows in its wake
the hero sputters about the massacre the one he says
he didn’t want his lips framing the victor’s tale his face
telling another hands in pockets it’s an ambivalent stance as if ash
and chaos and harrowing cries were not stalking his memory
whether justice is ever done or undone is a matter of want and will

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Valence 6


in Sabra and Shatila only bodies are left
shadows of screams echoes of eyes
that have stopped seeing stopped recording
a nation’s memory will not unwrap when the chain
is nothing but missing links one by one
each memory becomes a wilderness

history is the mind of the patient
crumpled in the hallway after electric shock
fate is an uncut life sentence that fine stalk
of a body bent under the burden of guilt
a left handed idiom that itches beneath the skin
among the cedars of Lebanon gods once lived

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Valence 5


at the beginning of every year we ask whether
the killing spree is over for now all the soldiers
who heard earth’s tinnitus ringing on the frontline
fly home walk through the front gate
cannot explain what they have seen have heard
that there is no longer any grace in the world

in the houses where women keep time with days
over stoves where hunger is the taste of childhood
and thirst a close neighbour no one dares to speak
peace is a mirage a vision at the edge of thought
cities stagnate and are separated from the people
countries are divided like pieces of cake

few speak against revenge slit the veins open
let the blood run a long-fingered violinist
plays a spree of notes emergent gravity looping
as a new virus explodes crossing all the man-made
boundaries taking off on its very own killing spree
rampaging through the gutters into the glare of air

Valence 4


on the tv last night the dead of Rwanda remain
where they died in the school buildings their bodies
preserved displayed as if part of an art installation
hands grasping at air mouths gasping a vacuum
skulls and leg bones sorted by size like hats cloths and rags
skins slung from a fork is it ever enough you never know

in advance what life-dice you have thrown the one where
you get to decide between flat buttons or round ones
on your jacket where foxes minks and seals sacrifice
their lives for your pleasure will you be the one whose foliage
screens the pool’s liquid arabesque where cigarette smoke
wafts lazily in summer air not likely these chances are few

Valence 3


you study the index find grief sitting alongside greed
how dictionaries can turn destiny on a few letters
consider the difference between a water sprinkler
its afternoon sun of rainbows and laughter running
and a gas sprinkler its grey days of mud rag and bone
what a difference our meanings make of the world

you pick foxglove from the garden hoping for cure
there in the corner among the electric ferns is an old nude
green with moss her eyes crossed her forearms
broken at the wrist like a museum Venus her breath salty
you long for the nostalgia of flames foggy windowpanes
streets that cobble between old stone buildings

leaping shadows of gaslight in real-world film noir
galoshes keeping out the damp as you stroll the stream’s
bank your lungs filled with the effigy of cold air
your destination was the Sistine Chapel but Rome on a
Monday has no secrets to give up to naïve backpackers
with budget time and so you wait twenty years

to see that composition now engraved in your dreams
arriving in Cairo might never have happened had you
travelled a day later not the shock of machineguns in the street
but in the hijacked plane sour breath a blurred video death
you talk the half dead tree fern back to life gentle it out
when the time comes to write the word grief yet again

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Valence 2


that widowed ground has been filled with half-grown trees
almost impassable they are topped by yellow-crowned florets
along each side run sorrow pegs a means to navigate grief¬
against the fox-pelt cloud a woman stumbles tear-blinded
and half-demented her mind dismantling itself in a meltdown
so profound that buried poetry rises unbidden

the tiger’s tongue is red at the root like a meridian
dissecting the fearful symmetry of its body
melting in the delicious buttery light of late afternoon
you dream of Petra’s rock red caves imagine the bone dry
severed joints slumped like a ragdoll lumpy and disjoined
cranes settling above that old city in their precarious nests

no ladder long enough to reach them no florin
of pure gold to take you across that stream of air
you know you’d have to pay a bigger price for death
to mint that coinage sometimes you wish you’d learnt more
than just the Hebrew alphabet like raindrops in an eyelash
preciousness is nothingness against silk and stars

in your heart is a great hollow of pain like the chiselled
sound of a cello washing away the world’s grief
a pilgrim on that Spanish trek to Santiago
your world turns illegible with its multiplying echoes
all you can do is eclipse the scream stuck in your throat
like a sow at sacrifice roped to interminable silence


This is a 12-part poem that I am putting up section by section over the next 12 days.


all day long the gods have been screaming
their prevalent song of war and pre-emptive strike
war leaves you gobsmacked words slaughtered in the throat

Monday, May 10, 2010

Elephant cow

When I wrote this poem, I was thinking about the family of elephants - and this family is made up of the matriarch, aunties and a child. I visited South Africa in 2006 and saw this group of elephants in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. The elephants have been here far longer than we have been and I expect they'll be here long after us - and having an elephantine memory - well you can see where this is headed. Mahadevi means the great goddess and in India she is very much alive.

Cellist Jami Sieber has composed some beautiful electric cello pieces which she plays in the presence of Thai elephants (I don't know if Thai elephants are any different from Indian elephants.) You can see her video at

what Queenie says about Mahadevi

Mahadevi elephant mother smelt
another being in the world
she said to her friends
it’s time for us to walk the world
and so they set off with Mahadevi
in the lead they walked across
the African veld

they walked
across the seas to the hot lands
they spread out all across
the tundras in the north
crossed land bridges and
waterways an isthmus or two
snow capped mountains
some of the time they carried
thick fur on their backs which they
shed in the desert lands
eons went by as they walked
seven times around die Welt

and one day Mahadevi said
it’s here where we started
now I know the common smell
those small four-limbed creatures
whom we’ve passed in the latest
circumabulation the hairless ones
there is something about them
that worries me

and as she said this
a group of these small wiry creatures
came over the hill and stared
they formed a circle around
the calves protecting them and sent
out a low call to others that rumbled
seven times around the world