When I heard the voice
on the radio
I picked up nothing
a refined, level English tone –
but as he got into his story,
and began to talk of home,
when he spoke of love and pain,
the twang came through,
the vowels lengthening, gliding,
and I heard bright colours,
the outback’s ochre sand,
an orange sundown sky,
losing the place we started,
we latch on to unfamiliar sounds,
change our own tune,
but sometimes slip back,
making words warm again
for tender, fragile things;
then words we used to know
a second living pulse,
and instinct abandons syntax,
throws off form,
we hear voices rise and fall,
savour a hard-hitting language
smoked by time; returning
to hearth, spade, earth, root.
Each week he runs away to sea,
the crew know him now,
usher him on board,
perched high and alone in the tops
he becomes the look-out boy
always seventeen –
up there with the crying gulls,
scanning the dark waves of the Channel,
the cliffs receding –
later when the lights
dim in the bar and the talkers fade,
He wedges into his spot in the prow
while the vast white shape
ploughs on to the other shore
through the churning water,
before sleep comes,
figuring the stars
he reaches for his mobile
and taps out a signal
across the stretch of sea and sky.
December on Torcello
As we got near the island drifted towards us,
its dull marshlands for ever washed by tides.
I can still hear the sound of our steps
on the path, and of water lapping as we made
for the abandoned city, its score of churches
and fine bridges all lost now to decay.
We walked in what remains of the piazza,
our breath smoking into the air. And all the time
your fingers lay curled in the palm of my hand.
In the church gnawing cold is the only reality,
but we didn’t mention it. We glanced up
at the great shutters and looked without seeing
at the Madonna and the golden mosaic.
When we walked by the only surviving canal
which leads nowhere our photograph was taken
standing on the last bridge.
If I could I would have given you
the black pearl I got for myself
but, anyway, you could not keep it.
Day and night it slides on its silver strand,
a perfect sphere, dark and lustrous,
over my skin.