Totem (I) - Poem by Luke Davies
“Flowers, bees, mangoes, cuckoos: it was into you that Desire
dispersed when Siva’s blaze consumed him... ”
— ROBERTO CALASSO, Ka
In the yellow time of pollen, in the blue time of lilacs,
in the green that would balance on the wide green world,
air filled with flux, world-in-a-belly
in the blue lilac weather, she had written a letter:
You came into my life really fast and I liked it.
When we let go the basket of the good-luck birds
the sky erupted open in the hail of its libation;
there was a gap and we entered it gladly. Indeed the birds
may have broken the sky and we, soaked, squelched
in the mud of our joy, braided with wet-thighed surrender.
In the yellow time of pollen near the blue time of lilacs
there was a gap in things. And here we are.
The sparrows flew away so fast a camera could not catch them.
The monkey swung between our arms and said I am, hooray,
the monkey of all events, the great gibbon of convergences.
We were falling towards each other already
and the utter abandon to orbits was delicious.
The falcon rested on the little man’s arm and falconry
was the High Path of the World. Whole minutes passed.
We were falling and the jungle fell with us.
She said I came, I came to my senses really fast
and you liked it. I was surrounded by the fluttering
of wings, nothing but a whirring in my ears,
and the whole earth tilted and I lost my reason.
For a time falconry was the high path of the world.
At night the sky was filled with animals.
Ganesh loomed large among those points of light.
He said Change! and we said Lord we are ready
to bend. Thou art the high exalted most flexible.
He said Then I will enter into your very dreams.
And the yellow-tailed black cockatoo, ablaze
in his own musculature, soared all night above the sunlit
fields of whisky grass that stretched inside me
to a river’s edge. The great bird cawed its majesty,
a sonic boom; and even I was barely welcome there.
There was a gap in things; and all the lilacs bloomed.
Words split in our grasp. We were licking the cream
from the universal ice. Words foundered and cracked.
How the bonnet was warm on your bottom! And the metal
continued tick-ticking though the engine was off.
And the evening shuddered, since everything is connected.
I was licking the cream from the universal saucer.
I was all of Cheshire and points between.
You saw the great sky turn blacker, you saw the spray of stars
and your hair got tangled in the windscreen wiper.
At the hot ponds we stripped as night closed in.
I secretly admired your underwear, your long
elusive legs. In the spring where we lay side by side
we held hands. Up above the steam the sky. I said
That one is called Sirius or Dog Star, but only here on Earth.
And when since the stories foretold it we parted,
those birds were all released again. Such buoyancy.
They go on forever like that. How else to say thank you
in a foreign place? We are ever in the arms of our exile,
forever going one way and the other
though sometimes of course on a sphere that is not so bad.
I will meet you on the nape of your neck one day,
on the surface of intention, word becoming act.
We will breathe into each other the high mountain tales,
where the snows come from, where the waters begin.
In the yellow time of pollen when the fields were ablaze
we were very near bewildered by beauty.
The sky was a god-bee that hummed. All the air boomed
with that thunder. It was both for the prick
and the nectar we drank that we gave ourselves over.
And if every step taken is a step well-lived but a foot
towards death, every pilgrimage a circle, every flight-path
the tracing of a sphere: I will give myself over and over.
I have migrated through Carpathians of sorrow
to myself heaped happy in the corner there.
Nothing seemed strange in the world, you’ll understand —
nothing ever more would. Monkey Boy came to me saying
Look — the moon of the moon. The little one circled the big one.
He crouched in the palm of my hand, tiny, sincere,
pointing at the sky. There was something sad about him.
The python was nothing, nothing at all, nothing
but strength shed to suppleness, nothing but will
encased in itself. The python was a muscle of thought.
Coiled and mute, in a place where nothing but rain fell,
the python thought: this is the beginning or end of the world.
The python was everywhere, everywhere at once, aware
only too much of that ageless agony: its existence.
I am tired, it said; and the stream burbled by.
I am waiting for the recoil, the uncoil, coil of night,
coil of stars, coil of the coldness of the water.
The python said Who are these people?
The whole city sweated, moved like a limb. The air
fitted like a glove two sizes too small and too many
singers sang the banal. The bars roared all night.
The kite hawks grew ashamed. All nature squirmed.
In the yellow time of pollen there’s a certain slant of light
that devours the afternoon, and you would wait forever
at the Gare de l’Est, if time stood still, if she would come.
She is the leopard then, its silvery speed; where will you
wrestle her, and in what shadows, and on what crumpled sheets?
And all those sheets were pampas and savannas, the soft expanses
of all that would be absent forever, all that was
past, and future, and not here. And in a white rose
there were not to be found any secrets, since in its unfolding
there was no centre, nor in its decay. Only the random petals fallen.
In the yellow time of poppies when the fields were ablaze
those invisible pollens rained around us.
The days held us lightlocked in golden surrender
and all night long the night shot stars.
When my chest unconstricted at last, did yours?
The real issue, of course, was this: atomically, energetically,
everything was wave function. And a wave continues forever into space,
the wavelength never alters, only the intensity lessens, so
in the worst cosmic way everything is connected by vibrations.
And this, as even a dog would know, is no consolation.
Ah but the dogs will save us all in the end & even the planet.
Not the superdogs but the household friendlies, always
eager to please, hysterically fond, incessant, carrying in the very
wagging of their tales an unbounded love not even
therapists could imagine; their forgiveness unhinges us.
We were reduced to this: this day and night,
primary gold and indigo, the binary profusion
of distances guessed at, heat and cold, colours
logged in the retina and lodged in the spine;
we were dogs who knew the infinite is now,
that celandine was buttercup, that buttercup was marigold.
The dog star marked the dog days and the wild rose
was dog rose. The crow’s-foot was wild hyacinth.
By day the correspondences were clear.
I walked across the whin land. Speedwell bluer than sky.
A practised ear could hear, between two breaths,
deep space wherein the mind collects itself.
Words foundered and cracked. Nearly
never bulled the cow. A shining isomorphousness
rang out. The roussignol sang all night.
All colours were shuffled endlessly but never lost.
A practised ear could hear, between two breaths,
the secret blackness of the snow
come flooding in. On summer’s lawns
the ice-melt sprayed its figure-eights from sprinklers.
And everything stopped working, second time around,
as if it had never happened before. Fans
moved the corpses of fireflies through the rooms,
supplicant, pathetic, pleading in brittle postures.
Everything was magnified by their bug-eyed deaths.
We became solemn in that profusion
of dying. Cane toads fattened the asphalt
in the mist and the rain; our headlights caught them
tensed as if listening: they were waiting,
mute, for the imbecility of eternity.
The clocks merely pulsed, or rather the days.
Like shotgun spray on the weatherboard, sleep
scattered itself through the blurred heat
and secreted itself in the nooks of delirium.
Sometimes the magpies would wake us, or the phone,
mid-afternoon. And we needed nothing, not even hope,
being no different from the dragonflies,
or the cows in their despair. It appeared we lived
on sunlight and chocolate bars. You blossomed
so from not ever reading the newspapers.
Things came and went—the years and all the airports.
I was a shade scattering my shade seed
liberally to the winds and weathervanes.
There was not enough absence to go round.
I heard voices, stabat mater, in the whine of jets
and in air vents and headphones a stream
trilling over rocks. On tarmacs and in transit
I saw your lips, your nakedness, the trees,
that dappled light. I dreamt of orchards.
The preciseness of the world came flooding in.
For every blossom there could be no turning back,
one path only to cup and fig, beyond
the belly of the heart’s content, each precipice
a flood of salt and jewels. Tang
of the overwhelming, flooding in.
I saw a kestrel quiver but not move
high in the air as if a sculptor left it
unattended, incomplete, just waiting for
a sign, just give me an excuse. I heard
the bush rat squeal. For there is nothing
lost may not be found if sought.
The minotaur in the corral
who called himself Asterion
tramples me softly with his song and, frustrated,
head-butts the posts. I can but admire him.
In the yellow time of pollen when the air was weighed down
there were bees plump with syrup. There were figs
fit to burst at the seams. I understood
how language had emerged: in the Flesh of the Fruit.
I spoke my tongues against your breathlessness.
Down there nothing but eternity and praise.
To be alive I had to praise, to praise I had to
learn to speak. Speak loudly though to drown
the blood about to burst, to drown eternity
whose howl floods every canyon into nothingness.
In the blue time of lilacs the last colour standing
was the mauve that jacarandas leak when all else
has gone grey: last glow before night,
the brightest that earth ever gave. Far across
the estuary the mangroves rippled in the rain.
Pelicans plumped on the tide-posts, world-in-a-belly.
There was mud for the taking. The orb spiders
clung during storms to the high-tensile webs.
Much later the fruit bats, insane with greed, tore into the fig trees
and gnashed at the edges of dreams.
Time was merely the measure of motion
with respect to before and after. Meanwhile
the universe expands. The pine trees creaked.
The pine cones cracked. On a windless day there was time
to dream of you. The pine cones snapped open the silence.
All the fields and force fields stretched away to snow caps.
Gravitational, magnetic — there were even fields undreamt of;
and the green one where we lay, where we organised to meet,
where the wildflowers parted and the gorse looked like light,
was hidden in the cleft our kisses made.
Light stretches as it moves away. The peaks and contours
we explored had taught us time was malleable. All things
have mass except ideas. A hammock was therefore a metaphor like
breathe. A diamond meant nothing but carbon-later-on.
The flight paths of the pelicans smelled ... like luck.
We were falling and the jungle fell with us.
It rained all through the pass; at every plateau praise.
World-in-a-belly. From the photon’s point of view
the universe contracted to one point
and even as it left it had arrived.
To us the photon spread through space
in studious propagation. In an ocean the waves
had water to ride on, and sound waves fought their way
through air. But light was the medium itself.
Thousands of birds, the tiniest birds, adorned your hair.
In the driest season I drew my love from geometry.
I cried to learn a circle was a curve
of perfect equidistance from a point. In summer
wild sage grew in tufts on the slopes
where in spring the sun would melt the snows to scree.
All the while I was asking myself what was the
howling outside the hut I was mistaken I couldn’t
recognise my own voice it was so loud I was having
trouble with inside and outside. You came to me
from God-knows-where in wider arcs than birds can make.
You made me calm. I said to God God
how often do I thank you God? I had had
so many years of beauty intruding on all I did I did
not think it might intrude on others. Others
showed no signs of it. But you said laughing Taste it Taste it.
And a wet front smothered the whole south coast &
our hazard lights flashed in the cloud of unknowing &
the semis overtook us and blinded us with spray.
I said to God God I am speechless I am
contented I am very tired and I am rather in love.
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