Living in the Delta

Posted on August 24, 2015 in New Poems

a wet tarpaulin weighing
down the mangrove, moulders
to a yellow fog, threadbare at dawn.
The fishermen stir from the fire,
their cigarettes trailing candleflies,
then slither narrow dugouts under
roots pale with oysters into the warm
crocodile waters of the creek.
After all these years of words it is still
discovery, the canopy whitening
over the surf, the silver glimmering beach,
and a medieval sea where pelicans
loom on a sandbank and these fishermen
like the centuries rock patiently
at anchor.

the sand vines blazing
purple and the white-hot sand
whistling to my heels, I found
her in the hollow where a coconut bole
strained at its roots, the palm’s shadow
dark as the wreck’s charred ribs
on the headland, clasping becalmed
the length of her olive body. She
to whom all metaphors return lay
strange and familiar, the gold
and tawny chevrons shifting only
to her breathing. Swamp, strand, the bayscape
taut as a drum.

and a walk around the liberated
playground, the swing seats
unchained, the see-saw bending,
the toadstool tables turned. Feverish
in twilight, the estate house
crumbles. The Piper revs for take-off,
cantering down the golf course, barking
Scottie in pursuit. We along the flood
defences saunter to the club. Fires
glisten from the compounds where
shoeless children sing of blood,
their guns of bamboo slung across
bare navels.

and the swamp road to Hotel Chuabo:
suits, fountains, canned music,
dinner like an airport café, varnish
flaking from the wardrobe door. But
Chuabo, meaning stockade, the town’s
peasant name, has an eighth-storey
balcony for drinking. Far above
the masses, over the blacked-out bairros,
Russian experts, acrobats from Pyongyang
and we, separately expatriate, shuttered
with glass and the drifting stars,
meditate on the salt-logged coconut,
swamps of water hyacinth, the mouldering
steps at dusk where hippos boom
from the papyrus and the river lurks, waiting
its season, silted in the lifetimes
of some of us … Each of us
rises in this stockade, far from ambush
and famine, to meet the kindly liberators.
They are correctly bearded and smiling.