Totem (Ii) - Poem by Luke Davies
In the dead of night in the dead of time
the private creatures nibbled, milky under moonlight.
Not a pine needle dropped. A salmon pulse throbbed muted
from the slumberous cold waters. The lake’s meniscus shivered.
Dragonflies flinched then picked up the void where they’d left off.
There were clouds of leaves aloft had darkened
the sky like schools of fish the water, armfuls
of elmleaf and lilypad scooped from the air. And you’d
thought it meant rain. There were owls so asleep
one could die of old age in their dreams.
And death knew naught of this: no fool was death.
Velocity wound down. We all relaxed.
Even the tetchiest rabbit was engrossed. Even the ash horizon
budded and cornflowers flared. Then what I knew
to be the case was death has no velocity.
All the leaves vibrated in their stillness. We began to see
what others had not noticed, how the sky brushed
against us and bruised us with the graces of dusk, how
on the path were strewn bright bones and lions glutted with poetry.
At night the sky was filled with animals.
Monkey Boy came to me saying Look at the moon.
Everything repeated through scale and always did,
every pattern down to neutron. I said How you going he said
Not too bad but everyone seems to be mistaking my death
energy for my sex energy. It has caused no end of bother.
How the head throbs oh the tumbling through accretion
zones my darling. Superheating, superheating. In the red
time of planets there were lilacs unthought of and the blue
lilac weather was denied from desire. Time had to move
through us. The curve of all around us pulled us here &
the opaque weight of the world was dissolved &
the vines grew not on trellises but breeze and piebald light.
By the open window, on the table, where the curtains
billowed like giant bells, there were always oranges,
sliced into quarters, on a bone–white plate — those bones again.
The softest city, perched on water, exhaling and inhaling
like a lover deep in dreaming, at the end of every avenue
a dock, a gentle lapping and the pear tree thick with wisdom
and the salmon leap to graze it in their fight against
the downwardness of everything.
Oh my most girl of light who, astonished, accepts.
We traced out paths, of helixes. We dozed for days
into each other’s heat. We found the frangipani
at the end of each desire. The salt air sent
good-humouredly the concrete and the plaster to decay.
I grazed the plain your belly made, a long day’s languor
for a lamb of god in the lily fields and the holly clefts.
In the salt–licks I was lost, and lost again, o shepherdess.
Mirages bloomed and burst into oases. I came to drink
my fill at last where all the sky was mirrored in a pond.
Oh my most girl of light who, astonished, accepts:
the curve of all around us pulled us here &
everything rode on stretching space. To grasp the eternal
and the ravenously brief we had to learn
to begin to come to terms with imperfection.
On a bone–white plate there were always oranges
sliced into quarters. Footfalls on the marble floor.
Curtains higher than waterfalls. The things of the world
had clustered on the doorstep. Devotion and adoration
cartwheeled through the yard. The wind stayed soft.
We toppled happily by the wisterias where a little
girl pulled garlands from under the gathering bees.
We dreamed the world worked not in pairs
but clusters, including the galaxies. Sunlight
bloomed into gardens from the thin air it rode in on.
There’d been a planet swirled with dust. We called it luck
to be alive in the epoch of the foliage. To have not only
poetry, grand luck enough, but the long wheat swaying
and the peonies its subject. To say nothing of the daisies.
I dreamed three hundred and twenty times of you.
I thought of an era when popcorn and clouds were enough,
when an airplane might be the Amazing Fact of the Day,
the prop wash and the physics and the paths we took
to the, not even knowing it, the inevitable, the well–here–
we–are, and not because there is no choice but because
choice in fact is the single thing that made us.
And the fact the wind howled every canyon
(those facts again, like bones) into nothingness meant nothing,
since love we came to understand was held
in life just as the world was held in time.
What rang out as lament found consolation
in some lost principle more permanent,
on evenings when the softness of the sky
relaxed the heart. Totem. Aspiration of species, density
and emptiness of matter, animal interloop of memory.
Abandoned in a field near Yass a cobwebbed car once kept us warm
and when it rained, though we shivered with sickness,
there came a moment of perfect happiness, faces nestled
in the vinyl, sleep coming on, surrounded by metal
that in upcoming decades would oxidise to flakes.
Asleep at last, last of the valium, we came to know
a car too is a flower and pollen its decay.
In the dry air at dawn the cicadas kept still. The space
that mass sat in decided how mass was to move.
We dreamed of valleys of olive trees, silver side out.
The lions preened. We shivered with need.
A mechanic showed me once how the spark–paths from spark–plugs
looked, if you looked close enough, like mountain ravines
from the air. The deeper the groove the faster
the current. We shivered, this our habit, this flowing.
It takes the breath away. There are gum trees crackling from it
two decades later. I slept so still beneath that mass of dreams
like sediment compressed beneath a lake. I woke and the
tributes and glory were gone and the crops all withered
and money was merely the index of anxiety.
When we realised this our hearts swelled in exultation.
Even time would forget there was reason for fear: that decay
seemed to will itself upon us. I was off the air, delirious
with substance. The kite hawks grew ashamed.
All nature squirmed. I was off the air, light–headed with voracity.
The theme just kept repeating itself, year in year out,
same demon different bodies. A nurse said When you stay,
when you leave those wet imprints in our airspace,
these sheets smell like formaldehyde, like death. We had merely
reached early, down the end of the river, the leprosarium
of feeling, and all things stood for every other thing,
creepers, vines, tendrils, anacondas, inert surrender,
such listlessness, and yes the very rage with which
we chased the very forms of it, the lineaments
of nothingness, the powders of the comatose, the bliss.
This was the state of the world. Heading backwards we learned
the flea–fish was the smallest animal before the insect kingdom
began. Forwards, there were only the sudden deaths
of galaxies. And yet when we practised love there seemed
on certain days an awful lot of space; and so much sky.
Never had I lain then at Kangaroo Valley so comfortable
in my own body. A virtual flatness and that centrifuge
in the stomach stilled and my spine a spirit–level. The smell
of coffee drifting in brought back to me that lily–white girl and that
sad hour of need. How brittle every bone was then. How
could one not be completely bedraggled by time or compulsion or
duplicity? I was all those things and am. I was so tired
with the not–being–here inside of it all that fatigue
was like oxygen, given of all the givens, sensurround
of the gods. But I was gulping and heaving by then.
And that is all so long ago. Though when you forget
the last time: most likely it is not the last time.
And when dreams don’t come, when mastodons and minotaurs
curdle in the night-reaches and the bulls lie fallow
in dawn–sweats: sleep some more. Wait. Sleep on. And swim.
In the yellow time of pollen I dreamed myself clear.
The sex vibe thing came off me like a god
and everywhere I looked: expansitude. The streets
becoming boulevards, my head held high I steered
a cracking pace and sparks came off my shoes.
God it was so damned good. The pollen country
was exactly in the right place. Whenever I was in it
I fared well, but outside that the evil
things abounded. The places reeked. Some people
are just bad. It was then I knew that love
was the only godhead. And still the sparks came off those Cuban heels.
Was I dealing with mercy or grace? A great bear grated
hailstones upon us. From planes the storm–drenched horse studs
flashed like lakes. The systole held us clenched so long
the diastole flooded the world with tears. The trees
began to steam. I lay great and greatly fallen. But relaxed.
Put the old world behind me. I shall conquer a continent.
What ho what damaged universe is this? The paean ploughs through
its detritus like a glacier. We calculated and lineated
the flare of wind in the shape of trees.
In the yellow time of pollen there were dandelion heads,
transparent, you would weep. I gave it all away, love
come to me now, come to me. Come to me love.
Come to me love. What have I learned? How much
you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich, he said.
Because everything began to change and we called it luck
to be alive in the epoch of the foliage,
in the green that would balance on the wide green world,
air filled with flux, world–in–a–belly
in the yellow time of pollen near the blue time of lilacs.
We were everywhere at once. And each thing now stood once again
for every other thing: but bursting at the seams, awash with light.
If your hair was light, if the night was peppered with light,
there were no surprises left except that light, that everything
including light, came cloaked now in its self–astonishment.
I had ratcheted all my experience up to a newer level.
Whoever could come along with me, I had pocketsful
to share. Boatloads perhaps. Your hair was like a starburst.
We unmoored ourselves. It was even disingenuous
to say there were no surprises; but wonder upped its frequencies.
In the time of pollen, this is even in the cities,
where leaves had fallen entire footpaths bloomed, Lisbon
for example one whole summer, a state of emergency, flowers
bursting from mulch, pedestrians forced to the streets and the cars
had nowhere to go. General breathlessness, but no heart attacks.
At first we looked back. Through soot-fog of the bushfires,
through willy–willies of pine pollen, through flight-paths
of the fruit–search, back even through the gamma rays we saw
there’d only been an interrupted cadence. Splendid
but hollow. We saw events careering, as they will.
The sky tilted. Clouds turned black and scudded. Wind
sent us mad with indoorness. Nothing for it but to make love.
In the morning the ground hissed with heat. Sun split the stones.
Down Razorback Pass, fan–flash of the lyre–bird. Every moment
shall not be repeated. When you know this deeply —
everywhere you look: expansitude. The day extends
its limits. In the green time of sleep, of afternoons,
the hammock contours sacralised, those distant lions glutted
with poetry and ancient light dripping from the honeycomb
of the skies, the world is a gap. We enter it gladly.
You came into my life really fast and I liked it.
From that point every animal, real and imagined, began
its transformation. Densely packed inside us every
death stood in for every other death. From that point we began to love
every beast more deeply. So much honour is at stake.
Allowing for the Doppler effect it is all possibly
closer than we feel. Matter and movement were one &
the same. Even the rocks were awash with electrons.
Shadows had no colour. Objects sprang from every corner.
I wasn’t a daredevil: I was a risk technician.
I could tell the difference between a horse and a seahorse,
underwater, with my eyes closed. Finesse it was to be alive
that day. There was a falcon on my arm. There was a hood
to be removed. When he blinked he gorged himself
on the plains that stretched away. We said only Devour.
He took it all in. He dropped out of sight on the tendons
of his wingtips. His invisible ribs were a ladder of hunger.
The tiny mammals felt thunder, quivered in crevices.
To the dust mites their quivering was thunder. Everything repeats
down to scale. Falconry was the high path of the world.
He dropped from view. He scanned. The day lay still,
the century in fact, so middayed out, so void with glare
de Chirico might have stayed indoors. The falcon
was peeling back layers of time. Not even the fossils could feed him.
The air burned shrieking his flight arc to flame;
then the plain became the ocean and he dived,
the wetness was opaque, the great whales glistened,
and far below where palaces lay drowned
manta rays glided through minarets and the falcon
wept. Three atmospheres down was as far as he could get.
In each direction wingspan led to the end of all things
on the edge of the deep. He had suffered long enough. Was he dealing
with mercy or grace? Every dream was a half-stutter
towards waking, every waking a wetness wet with dream
and dream–slicked hair, and wingbeats fading distantly to flutters.
At night inside his eyelids in the heart of the maze
the Minotaur kept counsel with the void, singing Clearly clearly the deep
forces of the universe are hope and electricity. I was the only human
for dreams and dreams around. In there with him
one dream inside another. Far off the falcon wept.
The python pulled heat from stones. The world was old.
We cannot live forever but we live. The yellow–tailed black cockatoo
cawed out the sonic boom of dawn, ablaze in his own musculature.
The curtains flared like giant bells. There was a gap &
we entered it gladly. The preciseness of the world came flooding in.
The whoosh of whisky grass; something had been and gone.
We woke. Ganesh was gone, and every bull and bull–god,
gone. How change became good fortune, how love streamed.
In the yellow time of pollen, and the honeysuckle blooming,
the preciseness of the world came flooding in.
Open your eyes, love looks back, cipher of every hieroglyph,
bedroom thick with foliage, morning buds enormously
from dream, from flight–paths of the fruit-search, from bed
a ship of flowering abandoned to the pollen winds;
how best to taste the plumness of today? I’ll speak my tongues
against your breathlessness. The good–humoured power of one’s
personal bear, and all that honey, God almighty, honey everywhere.
Something has lifted the lid off the labyrinth. We get to be every puppy,
every beast, all the animals one by one, every day a feast.
At last we start eating the food, not just the menu.
Something has lifted the lid off the labyrinth. As if
that hot–breathed contact with your lips were a kind of Spring.
The sky takes on its brightness like a skin.
Love protects the twinned and the untwinned, the set–upon,
the cast–adrift, unmoored, unhooked, unleashed, unhinged.
World–in–a–belly. The Minotaur rounds the final bend,
weeping with fear and elation. The ocean opens out.
He doesn’t move a muscle. It all goes in. Fine day for a brisk dip.
The fluttering of butterflies, glorifying his name,
clustering around his astonished head, soaked in sunlight.
Heart of the world. From the yellow time of poppies
to the blue time of pollen, lament becomes epithalamium.
A gecko after rain means happiness. The sky has burst;
the air is wet with blossom. There is a gap; at every plateau,
praise. A shining isomorphousness rings out —
the deep peal of bells and how the heart would hold the day.
We have tumbled through the years to meet it. You say laughing
Taste it Taste it. Static crackles in your hair, lightning
in your breast. Stop we will hold each other here.
I am listening, I am listening.
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