Everything Needs a Name
South station, master. I heave my suitcase
onto the seat and close the door. South station?
South station? Your Chinese is very good.
We pull out from Liede Village, past the ancestral houses
and head downtown. It’s 4am, the hour the haulage truck
and we’re the only car on the street.
We climb the whalebone bridge, take the elevated roadway
and the driver yawns. You are a what country person?
he asks and I tell him England. England he says, England
then sighs. The city’s as quiet as I’ve seen it.
We speed along the highway, surveillance cameras flashing
and I’m thinking of my arrival here, all black smog
and sullenness, three hours delayed and my driver muttering
as he thundered down the same highway. And where going?
he asks. I tell him. Chengdu? Chengdu? Why don’t you fly?
I tell him I’m scared of flying and he laughs and laughs
until he coughs. An English in China afraid to fly!
He laughs and coughs and spits out phlegm.
I look outside the window and see the James Joyce
Coffee Hotel announced in big red letters. The
driver carries on:
Chengdu is extremely beautiful, he says, delicious food
beautiful women and you should visit the pandas.
I ask him if he’s been there and he says yes,
but long ago. He slows as we approach the station.
It’s massive, but distant, a glowing white airport hangar,
but at this hour the approach roads are shut.
I’ll drop you here
he says, you must walk the last mile. I thank him, step out.
The armed guard at the approach road nods as I approach,
says okay to my (this-way?) gesture. I walk the last mile
towards the station, eight hundred miles from Chengdu.
Cable Car to Tian Tan
(For Abigail Parry)
Metal bell of rainwater
you lift us
as we zigzag
through the wind
up into the gloam
and other travellers
ding blades of
and are gone although
we can hear people
chanting on the hill
and it feels like voices
are all around us
zipwiring or heaved up
I’ve got you don’t let go
and I remember the snow
and fog of winter at Red Tarn
and the helpless calling out
from Striding Edge
and the futile blades of helicopters.
The Black Light Indicates the Stations You Will Visit.
The Green Light Indicates the Stations You Have Been.
We are travelling on a strange metro.
For once there are seats but we prefer to stand.
The doors open and the people rush past all shadowy.
At every station everyone gets off and then back on.
But not you.
You look for the interchange, but the words are indecipherable.
All the little dots are flashing red.
Sometimes you make to get off but the crowd cuts you off.
Or the crowd surges towards you.
They are all hunger or anger and steel.
You battle to try to get through them.
It will do no good.
Autumn in the Airport
The storms are crackling overhead and planes
queue up on the runway, their wings spread
out in surrender, waiting for the worst to be over.
I wait in departures and stare at the board,
listening to the announcements but dumb
to their meaning. The rain plays the roof like a drum.
I guess that purgatory would be like this, the frosted glass
of the smoking room, a curious ice-cube giving up
it’s bones. I watch vague men with their dwindling cigs
and pour myself another glass of duty free wine.
I'd finish my novel, but I don’t like the hero.
I'd go to the prayer room, but who would I pray for?