Under a giant plane beside the gate where we said goodbyes,
under the plane’s bare trunk where squirrels flatten themselves
on bark, next to the smothered plane whose ivy outraces branch,
under the two great planes where we stood vaguely looking round
for it was a clear night, the street empty and we, small gaggle,
newly intimate but standing apart, keeping our voices low
though they carried bright as bells as we counted the evening out,
gesturing towards the cars, deciding who would go with who
and gradually splitting off, under the planes with the squirrel dreys
hidden in all that ivy, but far off, behind and above the station,
there, where we looked pointing, like an Oriental illustration
of Arabian Nights, lay the old moon in the new moon’s arms:
earthshine on the moon’s night side, on the moon’s dark limb,
earthlight, our light, our gift to the moon reflected back to us.
And the duty we owe our parents as the Romans owed their Gods
(for who will cradle us when we grow old?) spoke in the moon’s pietà.
New Year’s Eve
Night is a rush of noise, an Indian hilltown train
steaming up a mountain through Himalayan tunnels,
morning the destination, quiet as a mountain-top
after the snow has melted, the celebrants have left.
The first morning of the year, a Shimla of the mind,
its local aspirations – work, money, kinship, health;
a time to think things over, let them settle
in the recesses of imagination. They’ll raise their heads
of their own accord, lean out of carriages to wave.
For now is the time of watering the splendid platform displays,
of gathering at The Ridge, the Scandal Point in the mall,
gossiping, fingering the oak and rosewood souvenirs.
In Shimla, mashkis will be carrying goatskin bags of water,
sluicing down the tarmac while I, at the last
hill station of the year, will bring the silence in,
fold it like a three-flower Kullu shawl on my table.
Cold, yes, under a sodium sky at three o’clock in the morning.
But there’s this shawl to wear and tea with Manuka honey.
And across the only gap in the border, a thousand refugees an hour
pouring through Ras al-Jedir. An hour? By morning, my morning,
another five thousand, by lunchtime, another five and how many
have even a striped hemp blanket? Fifteen thousand blankets!
Imagine one. The way it folds stiffly as a tent around the head
bent back, the shoulders jutting, knees drawn up, wrists free,
the lone triangular edifice. Feel the weave. Hairy, ridged.
Smell it. Determine the sightlines either side of the hollowed cheeks.
Imagine the scene in silence, not as it would be. The blanket
as a block, a wood carving. The tools: straight gouge, spoon gouge,
back bent, dog leg, fishtail chisels, V-tools, punches, vices;
hook knives, drawknives, rasps and rifflers, mallets, saws, abrasives;
slip waterstones – how quiet they sound – and strops for sharpening.
Figure in a blanket. In acacia, sycamore or, most likely, olive.
The Soul Travels on Horseback
and the road is beset with obstacles and thorns.
But let it take its time for I have hours and hours to wait
here, snowbound in Lisbon, glad of this sunlit café
outside Departures, for an evening flight to Heathrow.
Being my soul’s steed, I should like to know its name
and breed – a Marwari of India, Barb of North Africa,
the Akhal-Teke of Western Asia or a Turkoman,
now extinct? Is it the burnt chestnut colour of the ant
or grey as a Bedouin wind, the four winds that made it?
O Drinker of the Wind, I travel by air, sea, land
and wherever I am, there you are behind my back
pounding the cloud streets, trailing banners of cirrus
or as Platero once did, from fear or chill, hoofing a stream,
breaking the moon into a swarm of clear, crystal roses.
No, no matter your thirst, ride swiftly, mare, stallion,
mother, father, for without you, I feel forever homesick.