Striking camp, elephants
fretful as always,
hesitant in their lumber,
trumpet their protest and distress.
The weather soldered to our wishes.
All our magicians in shorts and slippers,
their sorcerer’s pallor hungdog with stubble,
the Great Alfonso grouchy and grey,
frying pan in one hand, cigarette in the other.
Caravan, balanced on the edge of a lone
petal of hawthorn.
The roads, so ravenous.
The clouds, laissez faire.

My view for hours a balding head
of sandy gold hair,
a head of dark hair, and some faces.
Everyone so serious,
why are they so serious?
Some, nodding to an unheard music,
perhaps they are unhappy, as we are?
In a mantra, there is holding on;
in a sutra, there is moving on.
And spectacular panoramas of the mountains,
stoic as Sherpas as the stars drift by,
dragooned into consolation.
Always, in the end, the sutra —
the orbit of the dishes to be run,
the bores of suburban helicopters,
and thistledowns floating past,
catching on sungods’ feral dandelions
feasting on a fallen, a carrion lawn.

They had so much they were to do today.
Then the summer caught them in mid-flight,
their wings’ blur and mash of crystal and air
somehow seemed too much for them.
They lay down in the boat, embraced,
a pearl button left a mark on one side of his face,
she took off his watch and tried it on,
at first these seemed a monument, and then,
as the moments gleamed and swirled,
more so.

The world made no concession to their spirit.
They could not change it. Defeat after defeat
followed; for instance, the car not starting.
Brutus declined to fall on his sword; instead
sloughed off his armour, sighed,
and slipped away into the night,
looked for work tending flocks or washing bottles.
Sometimes his hands at rest in the water,
he saw how things lay: bubbles were still bubbles.
How our months go by,
burying the bones of constellations,
not quite knowing how to fit the living parts together,
gathering up the pieces in the evening,
spilling them out anew the next day.
We’ll never speak properly again,
we muten slowly over the years and,
in this, grow ever more in tune with the state of things.
Bit by bit, our purity dissolves
by escaping nothing, touching all.
What now, Alfonso?


This poem was first published in A Festschrift for Tony Frazer, 2015

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