A bell chimes,.
Midnight. The kids
long since wrapped
around their artifacts:
a hairless doll,
an orange bear,
a mushroom-coloured monkey
And now inside
their amniotic dreams,
they whir and mutter.
In the gunpowder dark,
a thin caul of years
hoods each head,
a fragile membrane.
My years orbit
like great birds
looking to roost.
I only sense their drift,
but I catch their wind.
We’re in a hospital lift going up
from ground floor to the seventh,
just the two of us, strangers and
I’m thinking (as you do) what if
the cable breaks and we drop like
a stone in a well? How would you
reckon the moment at which
to jump before the point of impact?
Then, with a jolt, the lift just stops.
We look at each other, look away.
Too soon yet for that dreadful intimacy
that prefigures panic. Now it’s grunts
and chuckles, pantomime impatience
and some random button punching. Then
comes language, blunt and businesslike.
“Right. Now what? Should be an alarm
somewhere or a ‘phone. Let’s see”. But
all from me. My partner in misfortune
hasn’t moved. Within the ticking silence,
he is motionless, head cocked like
someone listening for a distant birdcall
or for bells on a breeze. And even as I
watch for a flicker, both unfocussed
eyes tip back to white and, still without
a word, he drops straight down, within
the circle of his standing, like disembodied
clothes. My first impulse is just to
leave him like some 3-D puddle that I
have to step around as I organise escape
or rescue. Two disasters in succession
out of a blameless morning seem unfair.
But then, as unexpected as the other,
both eyes open, wide and blue and his lips
kiss air like a baby blowing bubbles.
He’s going to die; we know it, both of us
in a simultaneous heartbeat. And I kneel,
like a bad actor genuflecting, and I lean,
fingers spread against the tin-can wall
and watch the urgent lips trying to mould
words out of the unaccommodating air.
I stoop to listen – more, maybe, to read
the fragile shapes in flight. “Touch me”,
he breathes. “Touch me”. But I hesitate:
unlinked, I’m free, like standing water;
once connected, there’s a current drawing
me towards another place. But then I cup
his cheek as I might a child’s and, on a long
unwinding breath, he speaks quite clearly –
“Mummy” – and he doesn’t breathe again.
Sometime later, with a jolt, the lift glides
upwards, graceful, silent, as if no time
had passed for anyone, as if I might step
through those doors, untouched, untouchable,
as if the light should shine as brightly evermore,
doors open, close again, as if the axis of
the world still held as trustworthy and true.
On the night
that I was born,
the bells rang out
across the world.
In Coventry, in Dresden,
the cathedral bones sheltered
worshippers with candles,
witnessing the ruins.
the story goes,
the death’s-head guards
sang, “Stille nacht,
heilige nacht”. Their voices
slid across the Polish snow.
The sweetest tenor was Ukrainian,
the man they called Peter the Silent.
He never spoke and he killed
with a lead-filled stick.
In the Union Factory, packing shells,
they dreamed of Moses.
In Horton Kirby, fields froze
and ice deadlocked the lanes.
My father rose in the cold
and cycled sideways,
wreathed in silver mist,
to the hospital. Each turn
of the track betrayed him
and scarred by thorns and gravel,
he bled by our bedside.
My mother laughed, she remembers,
as the nurse administered.
“Been in the wars?” she asked.
Outside, across the Weald,
from out of a cloudless dawn
the buzz bombs crumpled London.
Outside a town in the Ardennes
Private Taunitz hung
like a crippled kite
high in a tree.
A cruciform against the sky,
he seemed to run forever
through the branches,
running home for the new year.
Outside Budapest three men
diced for roubles
in the shelter of a tank.
Fitful rain, a moonless night.
Sasha struck a match
across the red star
on his helmet, the red star
that led them to this place.
Extra vodka, extra cigarettes,
a rabbit stewed,
the tolling of artillery
to celebrate the day.
The blackouts drawn,
December light invaded.
We awoke, slapped hard
by the early world.
Our siren voices
climbed into the morning,
a choir of outrage,
insect-thin but passionate.
Through tears our parents
smiled: within the song
of our despair they heard
a different tune.
And as our voices
sucked the air, swallowing
the grumble of the bombs,
only the bells survived.
(from ‘Ancient Lights’, Phoenicia Publishing)
This started as a totem poem, as per the recent workshop prompt. But following a trending item on Facebook about a radiophonic phenomenon called ‘chorus’ (explained by clicking on the title link), it morphed into this. Further key data is available via first this link and then this one.
CQ CQ CQ CQ
CQDX CQDX CQDX
this is Golf 4
Foxtrot Hotel Romeo
CQ CQ DX
unkey and float
your silence in the black
buoyancy of earthsong
plasma waves running
the spindrift of the radiation belt
hooting and skirling like
listen through their wheeling and flocking
for that crouching island sentinel who’s listening too
through their wheeling and flocking
for one such voice as yours calling up the skywave
into the dawn
CQ CQ CQ CQ
this is Golf 4 Fox Hotel Radio
G4 FHR calling
CQ CQ CQ
CQDX CQ DX
unkey and close your eyes
whistling electrons are
running the hoop of the earth
riding the chorus pipeline
through the van allens
tether breath and listen
to the whorl and whoop
of the great unmodulated voice
laughing out of nothingness
and back into an oblivion
unpolluted by your kind
slinging their prayers
across the ether
in their solitude
and so you tether
until there’s only the sussuration
of your breathing and
the coil and arc
of that first