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This poem is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.Two Poems
He Argues with Malarchy about Certainty
It's all very well Malarchy, telling me to feel the weight,
the shape, the satisfying certainty of the small smooth stone
in my hand. It's a very commendable thing, pointing out
as you do, the absence of skin, or scale, or fur on a stone
which means it's itself, it's itself, all the way through to its stone.
But what about the patriot's law Malarchy? And what
of soldiers, scholars and their scrolls, the half-hidden
guns that emerge in pixel dots on X-ray machines? What
does your stone reveal about these Malarchy? What?
Can't you hear the far-off roaring of prayer in churches
synagogues, mosques, the muffled sound of bodies clubbed
by anonymous cars, the hoods, the silence like churches
when delete keys press on names of enemies of church
or state? And what of the people who have no doubt
even with the smooth black shell of the timer, safety catch
off, its numbers red, segmented and square, marking (no doubt
like clockwork) the death of seconds under their arms? Doubt
not the terror or love of their mothers, minds stunned by countdown
to terrible zero, relentless, relentless, the losing, their child. I've hurt
you Malarchy. I'm sorry. But your stone doesn't speak to me. I'm down
on my luck with your stone. It is dumb to me. Dumb. I'm putting it down.
For it might have been a rhythm
like the tying of knots
as if we had been mending nets for the fish together
or making nets, or sacks for oranges
long ago in a hot country.
The hitch, the slip, the loop
of nothing much into separate pockets,
the smell of sea drying on rocks
in the setting sun; or in the morning sun
the singing that could have been crying
on the red road
and the smell of hot, heaped fruit.
The way the talk came, and broke
streaming backward and forward
and leaving behind the outline
of something that reminded us of itself, a debris
of salt and empty shells and bags
and rubbery ribbons of fields
of the sea. Perhaps the body of a weird fish, half lost
to itself, bringing to mind the impossible
cycads crouched to the north. The weight
of silence when it came, which it would
wherever we might be, black and clenched
as midday shade, umbrella upturned
beneath an orange tree.
And the polished flies reclaiming the pile,
the stench of solids melting to syrup
under the stir of their blue metal spoons, the heat
of the white metal sun.
And everywhere the scream of cicadas
clubbing it all the way to the future
pumping their legs in their techno rhythms,
stoned and alone in their midday millions,
presaging from somewhere, sometime
a lethal and answering rage.
And all the while the old-fashioned business
of ordinary fury and the stubbornness of love
could be said to be moving
through the activity of our conversations,
as if these were our labouring fingers
drawing imaginary thread through the unnamed
and invisible fabrics of the sky
knotting tight or intricate knots
around sudden squares of laughter,
our resting hands. Framed
and full of faces, the shapes in sand
or orange-skins, phosphorescent traces
of migrations, the slow ways found by rivers.
An album of sorts,
this making or mending of nets,
rough squares, bulging
with the myriad pictures of air.
This poem is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November - December 2004.