Gabriel Griffin Founder in 2001 and organiser of Poetry on the Lake competition, festival and events on Lake Orta, Italy (www.poetryonthelake.org); editor of annual anthologies and Poetry on the Lake Journal (annually, already published one and two).
Prized and placed in numerous competitions. Own collections: Campango and the Mouthbrooders, Transumanza.
Before I came
you thought to close
the shutters against the spying
night and if
the wind rose.
Before I came
you went outside and round
the house alone, shutting out
the surf sigh on the rocks, the scent
of smoke from over – where? – the caper
petals staining pink,
You shut, shut, shut, locked in
the light, the joss-sticks’ glow, the sequinned
wine, a still, bright
gecko on the wall, the silky shine
of cushions waiting soft, the candles
flamed, the sitar on the CD low.
Before I came
you’d lost yourself outside, caught in
an antique dark, a starless
maze, a pagan
game, a Mediterranean
Before I came –
Lament for an illegal immigrant
No moon, but fishermen
are used to that and the sea’s chanting,
the descant of the nets. The decks
silvered with sea verses, the minims
and trebles of fish hushed
into songbooks of ice.
Something didn’t sing, humped
in the net, thudding onto the deck.
Its ears heard no notes, its eyes
were blind to the men standing round,
its throat choked with words
that no-one would hear.
They let the sly octopus
sidle to the ship’s side, forgot to stop
the sardine’s arch and leap.
The sea moaned, the fish
slipped out of tune, the kittiwakes hurled
screeches like broken strings.
The men unfroze, thumped
what didn’t sing, what was lost for words,
over the hissing deck. Tipped what had
no hope, had never had a hope,
back to the sea. No word, no
hymn, no prayer.
But the rags of its clothes cried. The sea
beat its fists on the boat. And the wind got up
and howled till dawn.
never thought about, had
always rushed in careful only
of rocks and weeds and
things that nipped or bit or
caught at my toes or
slipped round in a slimy
way. You said
to pray –
pray? Pray. Show
your hands not your feet
greet the waves; give
thanks, enter the Med
like a temple. (Hindu?)
I always mean
to remember, to do
as you say, to pray –
I forget! Here I am,
feet first in the spray,
soaking wet, tossing
by invisible gods, playing
a game even older
“… a viscid annual or short-lived perennial”
In Umbrian fields: stooping, tanned, straw
hats over cotton fazzoletti, they slowly pan
down lines of green; the flowers cow-lung
pink, clustered in a brazen showing. Heat
shimmers the scene unreal; a card discarded from
a faded pack, its colours smudged and blurring.
On shaded terraces we pour cool wine, gaze while
they heap the baskets, carts, and straighten
sighing take the loads in lines to sheds,
seeds of sweat and tiredness shining.
No, thanks, I don’t! Leaves shrivel, twist,
contract like hands whose fingers yellowing
lose lymph, as they their cool ellipses.
Heat swirls the smoke haze of the shed;
in the darkening day a choking, bitter scent.
You cultivate flowers of your own; their petals
soft as ash, flyaway as clocks of dandelions.
Cut it out! Or down, at least. You’re young…
You laugh, inhale, breathe blossoms newly blown,
whorled, impalpable, feathery as down.
I close my eyes, see petals flake, fall, form
loam where spores seed, mycelia creep
and black fungi slowly grow.
Christmas cards, year after year.
A careful ink, in language
not his own. Mine a biroed note, best
wishes for the new and maybe this
year – I said it every year – I’ll come
back to your city. To its flowering
streets, palms fingering the sky, the scents
of roasting coffee, drains and wine, air
licking salty from the port. I’ll let my tongue
suck on sweet, forgotten words – gob-
stopped and jota choked – see once again
the gas-lighter blow blue kisses on the night and
the friend who made me laugh through tears for home.
I’ll catch the starry thrum
of strings from an unmapped south, hear
sharp heels clicking out of sight.
Things changed, I knew. The years
had cut and cut again the cards: kings on
their knees, new comets burning overhead,
baubled trees long tossed in fire. The gas-lighter
retired, wicking his blue dreams alone in stony courts;
the cobbles – that then leaked mud in rain –
paved clean, the maze of shadowed shops
mapped out, a tourist’s mall. The port had shifted
further down, its shoals and stinks
now out of sense and sight. Only the night
unchanged, blowing notes from the illegible
south, revealing the quick flare and skirl of a skirt.
I ‘phoned the number scribbled Christmasses ago.
Not there? When? Or – where? – words dredged
wearily from years of silt, loose change I’d
kept so long, their worth and shine
had rubbed away. A voice “Muerto. To tell you…
then it was too soon, now – it’s too late.”
The line went dead, buildings fell like cards. The city crumbled
into the ravine of all our years, strings snapped, notes died,
the dancers fled back south. I bought a card, wrote
Adios! in careful ink. And sent it to myself.
All poems on this post: © Gabriel Griffin
Photo: Alessio Zanelli
Published with the permission of Gabriel Griffin