Arab Work


by Landeg White
Parthian Press 2006

After a lifetime of travelling, and six books of poetry on the move, Landeg White in Arab Work is trying something new – with poems about settling, building and planting in a country where he is a stranger.

His chosen forms – lyric, ode, sonnet, eclogue, elegy, epithalamium – point to a new engagement with British tradition; but his older themes are still present, as poetry fights back in an embattled world with tenderness and lyricism, celebrations of family love and the ramshackle heroism of ordinary people.

Alice is designing a water garden
at the foot of the slope in the swamp
under the plum tree, with Easter
lilies and six types of melon. But
it turns on a blocked waterway,
easily reverted to its proper course
– too late, though, for the plum
that in its death throes hurls
me as I climb to prune it.

Now the land’s harrowed, I
recognise for the first time
what I’ve unseen five times:
the stone trough, the square
stone culvert, smooth as an egg,
tunneling our plot to the arched
exit. This is Arab work, a well-
watered platform raised a thousand
years back at the valley’s head,

and my unfolding luck’s to have
purchase where the husbandry
of a millenium still holds.
The olive trees are archives,
the soil clinging to my shoes
has been turned so many centuries
by tools that have kept their
shape and muscle. My sudden
prayer is serious: to be worthy.

from Arab Work by Landeg White