What was Blood What was Oil What was Water

After the war the cities were dust, and where
The desert met the sea there was no way to
Tell what was blood what was oil what was water.

Don’t listen to the wind on the sands at night—
It speaks with the rasping tongue of cracked leather,
It speaks with the voice of the cold, empty sky

And it murmurs of millions of drying bones
It will splinter for the fatty, latticed marrow—
Just run for the mountains and the outer sea.

Run now for the outer sea where the wind has
Gathered all the hope of the world at the shore
In shifting dunes held by nets of thin marram roots.

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Mary Poppins’ Promises

She blew in on the East Wind
Clinging to an umbrella
Of black silk and memory
Snipped from a thundercloud’s heart
And stretched over hollow bones.

She walks streets in silence now
And sings her songs through others.
The raven is her favourite:
Its croak is resonant with
Deep-toned bells and April rain

And cries of children to be fed
With cakes and meat and carrots
And shown that love is not just
A kiss and whimsys catered
But knowledge that others dream.

Mary Poppins promises
Two things: she will hear your screams
From the deep and treacherous
Commerce blue of china bowls
Where old men leer in shadows;

And she will help you smash them
When she blows in resonant
With ravens’ throats and thunder.

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Where to Begin, And When to Harvest

In Memoriam: Robert Smith

I see you in an old photo
Young and gangling in overalls
Standing in a field, hands on hips,
Considering where to begin
The planting and when to harvest.

I see you in an oil lamp’s glow
Considering all the angles
On a crokinole board where you
Held the same distinctions between
Black and white as you did elsewhere.

I remember you on the shore
Forking trailerloads of seaweed
To bank the house against the winds
Winter sent to nullify wood
You cut to stovelengths stacked in cords.

I see you after the farm truck
Ahead of you on the highway
Flung broken steel through your windshield
And through your eye. I see you smile
On the porch gazing at the strait.

You grew old on the land you worked.
Much of it lay fallow later,
But the truck didn’t take away
Your foresight. So tall windmills turn
On your land, harvest laden winds.

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A North Wind Ravels

Midnight and now the full moon falls
Down the other side of the sky.
A north wind ravels skeins of snow
Along the river frozen black.

A dead spruce stands among the fir
In snow here up to their green skirts.
An owl calls on a branch somewhere
Above me—will I see him fly?

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November Rain

I can’t quite remember the rhythms
Our pulses beat together at night.

All I hear now is November rain,
Thready and erratic in the eaves.

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Frost in Autumn Grass

When we stop telling lies to ourselves
What is left to us but silence?

The past is frost in autumn grass
Out there turning buttercups blue.

I remember the sound of wings
In the mist on a morning river.

There is no mist on the river
This morning, only ice at the banks.

We wither the future with memory.
Hope and habit—these are all we know.

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Night and Day

In dreams the impossible becomes routine.
You skate exuberant rings around Saturn
With me in one moment and, in the next, pause
To consider Jupiter’s situation
With gravity before waxing nostalgic
About dark Mars bars on late October nights.

You help me turn Earth green with envy when we
Lean together in cheesy photos
Towards the quarter moon as if to eat it up.

And sometimes Venus awaits us, rising up
Out of warm summer nights murmuring on sand
And changing our breath in our throats to speak with
The urgent voices of crows and gulls and in
The mercurial screams of a fox’s heat.

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