Night Poem XI

We get drunk and play with fires.
Faces burn like sparklers
under falling cinders.
In and out of shadow,
life explodes
in a certainty of ashes,
and nobody heeds the warnings
on fireworks boxes.
Everywhere we abandon
the salt, the sun,
and leave lovers to their sorrows,
beauties to their games,
death in a suitcase with the dead.
Tonight, we burn the sky with an
irreverent flame,
we paint in circles and eights,
our bright hearts in the dark.

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The Suitor

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We fly through these streets
as though the snow bid us on
deeper into its white and pure
desolation.

And now and then it touches you,
and you look away.
Do you sense the ruthlessness
of my coarse blood?

On your skin like porcelain,
on which the snow leaves no imprint,
your family has placed
a veneer of dazzling centuries,

and with boreal opulence,
your silence communicates
the burden of their dreams,
which were never yours.

You press yourself tighter to me
so as not to see where it has
finally cracked,
and in your sudden lips
I taste the young and violent
spring blossoms.

Do you now see what passes
at the open window of our swift rickshaw?
A whirling city already modern
and confident in its horrors.

And only now and then the
faint perfume of that other
lost world, from which you came.

I will be the end of your illustrious line.
I relish this,
the way, without even knowing it,
you sink into my arms like a beautiful ruin,
the way I have attained this sentence
over your young life.

Roads

Some people can see the path laid out, smooth,
paved with marble lobbies and licorice sex.
Even better if someone has already laid it out for them.

Me, sometimes I only see streets
with well-manicured flowerbed roundabouts,
and those same self-satisfied birds that wait at the verge
for the man with the fabulous toupee to come,
throw them scraps of stale bread.

I’ve heard that there are radiant highways
that lead away from the sea,
that immense end to all our conversations.
Turn your back on it, go up,

up toward the smiling towers, the places with lawns
where there are no more thought terrorists,
where corn on the cob aprons smother impotent fear,
where there’s a pill for every night-intruder.

I’ve heard that in those places nothing can blow your mind.
If that’s the case, I’ll take the next exit south, back to the beach.
There, the foam is taking pains,
is deconstructing parades of plastic animals,
and paring flawless wives to their bones.

There, the sea, with a single thunder of salt,
carries off the porcelain and the closets and the perfected hedges,
and I watch them all sailing by in pools with grey-green kelp
and bright little crabs that think of nothing at all.
And I feel calm and collected,
and I know where all the roads eventually lead.

Feast

The streets go on expanding into holes in the night,
the waists of women become horizons of ruin,
and a mouth with a soured tongue
that fingers a land burning with the scent of animals,
consumes the innocent roots.

A tongue that invades the quiet thighs of lovers and dead storms,
that smothers deserts wounded with oil,
and dwells in vineyards of dry teeth.
A tongue that drips globs of lime in black seas where rain forests die,
where flowers, afflicted with flame, crawl from the trees,
to bury their faces in the soil forever.

Tongue, like a parallel sky, sleeps with a catatonic girl,
whose belly is a globe of burning ants,
whose eyes are sockets of broken rain.
Beyond the wreckage of my feast, a cicada, dark, like a warship, abides.
In its eye is a mouth with a flavour of ashes that outlives me.
And I taste, in the sweetest orange, in the ripened dawn,
a bitter pip, a murdered branch.

Tenryuji Temple

This temple was reduced to ashes
eight times in seven centuries,
the precious shoji screens,
done by the Kano masters,
and the relics
scattered over the mountains
of Arashiyama.
But the old pond,
its moss, its rocks
lodged deep in their moist seasons,
were only burned darker
by the fire.
In these waters,
where the greens become
a thousand layers
of shadow and speech,
the carps flash suddenly
to the surface,
like bright orange sparks,
distilled conflagrations.

The Phoenix Temple

Did the young monk guess
the fate to come
for this beautiful gilded bird,
the hordes who would trudge and sweat
through the stifling Kyoto heat
to stand and gawk and smile,
take their pictures and leave?
Because that’s what you do
in the presence of such awful beauty,
seen now
as a strange and precious animal is seen
behind the tawdry bars
of its menagerie
in an occidental zoo.
Perhaps the young monk knew
and decided to give the gorgeous firebird
one last rebirth in the licking flames.
How beautiful she was that night
as her gold became
heat, sparks, constellations
under the charred sky.
That vision,
the marauding tour guides
and their flocks
will never know.

Oak

The rain comes down upon my leaves

and my dry center

shrinks about my roots,

and all the insects and

lizards pull themselves

into the rough old folds

of my trunk.

I am the meaning of shelter,

refuge for all the harried,

striving things

when the world,

in her sullen rejecting mood,

shoves them beyond her

with palms of wind.

In my twisted and weary branches,

do you not see your own pain,

man?

Do you feel how the universe,

presses down upon us both,

that heavy eternity

which only wants to rest and cease:

and we both must carry

its thousand-fold, weeping moons.

Man, you forget me,

your original bearer,

and huddle instead

under the skin

of my dead brothers,

and dam up my streams,

so that the rain

might not touch you.

The waters beside me

fill with your discarded effort:

rusted bicycles,

journeys, detergent,

those things that

sustain you barely.

And each year

fewer and fewer insects

scuttle about my infinite trunk.

When they have taken

all their colours

and burrowed deep

beneath the earth, at last,

what then will I shelter,

what precious things will I keep?

Are we not both,

you and I, man,

perishing with the

things we are losing?

 

Copyright Ricky Barrow 2014