The sky leaves every possibility wide open,
its wraparound screen receptive to
any scene unfolding on its surface:
constellations fluttering in cosmic gales,
planes plying trade routes across continents,
shooting stars detached like retinas,
sun rays adding decorative motifs.
Primed with a wash of nothingness,
it can stretch its flexible canvas
as far as distance permits,
vanishing point infinitely elusive.
Darkness is what mainly marks
these muckraking winter Saturdays
that never quite get off the ground,
becoming bogged down in cloud.
And, at the time of morning when you'd
rather have a lawnmower up and running
or a paint can open like a puree,
torpor permeates your pores,
blackens your soul like the coal lumps
you work up to a heated exchange.
Best to abandon the fight, give up the ghost.
Best to let the darkness have its day.
Endlessly pliable, the sky draws out
its substance in every direction, a ductile
metal thinned almost to invisibility
but tinged at dawn with finger-painted limes,
cornelians and iodines, canned-salmon pinks.
Vein of skimmed-milk blue, font of impermanent
inks, if not clotting into creamy cloud
it soon assumes a pure cerulean
that saturates space without a join or seam,
its uninterrupted stream of consciousness
a testament to life lived outside of time.
Light shimmies down this high-rise
art museum to the busy street below,
slipping into any gap that leaves itself
exposed to the benign influence of sun,
dips a flickering toe in the fountain
at the park, coaxes dark trees to lighten up.
The window cleaner of a nearby building pauses
at its forty-second floor, checks his watch, stares earthward,
platform dangling like the basket of an air balloon.
He might be a farmer leaning on a rail fence,
taking stock, squinting across a prospect
of ploughed fields—remoulded drills—
where secreted wheat will be revealed.
Or even, were it day's end, this Edward Hopper
filling station owner, totting his paltry sales
in the frail illumination of his gas pumps:
fir trees plot behind his back to soak in
darkness like carbon dioxide and his
secluded stretch of road runs dangerously
low in light, gauge zeroing in on EMPTY.
It must drive you to despair, living always under
leaden skies, a sheltering tourist—transparent
mac over zipped anorak—will propose when
louring clouds conspire with rain; faces give way
to umbrellas navigating down the showery street.
And we agree, as we can hardly not, wet rot
attacking attics, rain entering our bloodstreams.
Yet we have an understanding with the weather:
whenever squalls end and sun returns with
friendly fire, we would forgive it anything.
It resembles Friday evenings then, the grind
of the working week almost worthwhile
for the exhilaration freedom brings by contrast.
And if a rainbow's spray-painted sash is added,
the chemistry between us is a perfect match—
fidelity rewarded, reconciliation complete.
A winter dawn, struggling to shake off
the blacker aspects of the night,
keeps its sleeping inhabitants in the dark.
Sandy beaches take in water: a sleet-chilled
high-salt muddy-coloured mushroom broth.
In lakeside cottages with empty bunk beds
timer switches activate a lightbulb rota.
Snow, unseen, rears up on mountains.
What a heroic profile Earth presents,
holding its own against the serried might
of galaxies, the flight of migrating comets,
resisting the tug of antiparticles,
the desolation of black holes.
True, as friends say cheerily, it will
be all the same to you in a thousand years.
But now, right now, it matters greatly
to the small-brained, species-centred,
peer-influenced creature you are.
Joy, glimpsed like a long-tailed comet,
keeps on eluding you: too remote for
the naked eye to know whether that
distant glimmer moves infinitesimally
closer or is spluttering further away.
In either case, it will not cross your
flight path in any foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, taking a dim view of
the present, you come down to earth
with an awful lot of explaining to do.
Such an old stalwart, the sun,
always rising to the occasion,
never missing a day, raising crops
of maize to ripeness, rounding melons,
tenderising pears, lending bounce
to black-tipped hooves of lambs,
adding layers of intrigue and silence
to dirt roads wandering off the map.
And, as if that were not bounty enough,
it masters the art of penetrating glass,
brings a glint to every facet of a fruit bowl,
causes the vase of dahlias in the framed
still life to waver: our house elevated
above its station, pitched at the level
of a Dutch interior, lives clarified by light.
. . .
A rainbow tacked onto the sky—
fridge magnet, temporary tattoo,
crèche logo—has a way of prompting
primitive responses, adding a dash
of complication to the world,
redolent of those incongruities
we do our best to explain away
through open-and-shut laws
of cosmology which keep reopening;
doors of perception that bang on
in the draughty outbacks of infinity,
the awkward gaps between the stars.
Though winter starts to clamp down
on the light, enforcing a curfew earlier
every night, yet sun salvages something
of its former power, however tentatively,
on crisp December days, its clarity
cutting no ice, but slicing through
the human clutter nonetheless:
making its mark as a bright patch
perking up some aftermath
to the freshness of organic salad leaves.
On the overshadowed lawn its calling card
is a fluorescent beam that leads
the whole way to the garden wall
and seems to touch its red brick with
inklings of a realm to which it offers
wider access, operating outside of time's
laws, moonlighting on eternity's behalf.
What I remember of the place is light:
its plenitude; how fairly it was distributed
across wheat-thatched fields given the run
of the country without the impediment
of a single hindering hedge;
brilliance so profuse that sunflowers
could not decide which way to turn.
Fluctuating butterflies, light on their feet,
fanned themselves against the summer
heat; bees rounded on lavender spikes
like harvest mice gnawing corn;
and, in a dusty lane under cover
of staggeringly leafy plane trees,
old men stooped to deal out metal spheres.
When sun had sunk to dusk level,
voices resounded from pavement cafés,
nectarine-screened courtyards, shuttered houses.
Sounds—wineglass chimes, clangs
of cutlery on plates, animated conversations
—jolted me back from reverie in my pension:
words impacting on each other
like the tiny metal dents left in lethargic
afternoons when boules collide.
Tailgated by stars, the long-haul plane loses
its battle against the dark: passengers too on
autopilot, cabin lights are dimmed, gibberish
drones through slippage of in-flight headphones.
Yet, all this time, resistance mounts; overwhelming
any final judgement, a rim of light—glimmer
of optimism—appears from nowhere, the sky
running ahead of bleary eyes as breakfast trays
are served, stars brushed away like crumbs.
Playing a disappearing trick
on the freeze-framed, heat-stilled day,
Seurat's paint becomes so light
it evaporates into its own haze,
atomises, breaks up like an
out-of-range phone conversation;
stippled grains that could be
tossed around on any breeze:
flecks of coastal sand,
unseasonable motes of snow.
Desiccated, dry-as-dust, powder-puff fields.
Scorched earth. There is change in the air,
some shift in the balance of planetary power:
trees strain at the leash of hurricanes, ground
battles deplete plant and insect stockpiles.
The tide turns in the sea's favour:
oceans burst their banks, glaciers snap,
ice caps retreat, meltwaters run like pus.
The world is too much in the sun.
Now the heat is on, threatening meltdown.
We who seized on the spark of promise
in drowned peat, mined coal seams
to stoke up neon signs, squeezed mileage
allowances from refined petroleum, leave
our carbon footprints on the sands of time,
anoint machines with oils: driving a hard bargain;
wanting the sun, moon, and stars; sure our
fossil-fuelled journeys through congested
dusks will lead as ever to a renovated dawn.
Think of a number. Double it.
Multiply that, for argument's sake,
by some astronomical figure to find
the rate at which the universe
is speeding into pieces or how many
depleted stars are concentrated
into ravenous black holes.
Round up the answer with your
calculating mind as you try to come
to terms with zeroes lined up to infinity:
so many light-years for truth to dawn,
so many theories of dark matter,
so many millennia until night falls
on our universe and everything
on earth comes down to nothing—
like nothing on earth you could
imagine in a billion years.
Difficult to second-guess what might
happen next, what climate of fear
we have coming to us in the future.
But, over today's horizon, May
appears in perfect working order,
seen in the best possible light;
bringing out the colour in furze bushes,
granting leaves a seasonal reprieve.
Butterflies contrive a soft landing
on extravagant polyanthus.
Grain shoots are gaining ground.
Sprays of rowan disperse scent.
And a still-gentle sun caresses
the brow of the hill: a cow
licking her newborn calf.