Jenni Daiches was born in the USA of Scottish parents, and has lived in Scotland since 1971. Her poetry has been published widely in Scottish magazines and in two collections, Mediterranean (1995) and Smoke (2005). She has also published short stories and a novel, Letters from the Great Wall (2006). As Jenni Calder she has written extensively on literary and historical subjects, including biographies of Robert Louis Stevenson and Naomi Mitchison, three books on Scottish emigration to North America, and a collection of essays entitled Not Nebuchadnezzar: In Search of Identities (2005) which explore her multi-stranded Scottish-Jewish-European-American heritage. Since retiring after 23 years of working at the National Museum of Scotland she has focused on writing and her current role as president of Scottish PEN.
The chariot whispers on the water
as palazzi drown, subverts the space between us,
father, daughter, pulls tight the knot
of blood and bubbling chromosomes.
They survive when stone and mortar fall.
Look at time adrift beneath the bridges.
Can you see its rich intemperate shadows
split beyond the insubstantial walls?
The charioteer rocks the black prow,
cracks a jaunty smile. The sun on the dome,
the radiant campanile, the light of now,
calm before the grand finale.
But there’s much more to come. The day
spills beyond decay to another and another and another day.
Tel Aviv summer 1961
The Mediterranean night drops into the city
and the street becomes a line of lit windows
with figures illuminated at balcony tables.
The music of mealtime drifts into soft darkness,
a minimal symphony of chink of spoon on china,
a brittle intermittent ting of glass,
a child’s voice, a laugh, a hint of rippled
sea on a hidden shore.
It’s magical to me
walking the city, dark, transient within
the clamour of beginnings. I imagine not passing through,
but footsteps rooted. My arm on a balcony rail,
coffee and cake with a neighbour. I turn a tap
in a kitchen to wash dinner plates.
through all the open windows at the sounds of home.
This island is almost Asia.
The blue is Iznik, or in the pause
of breath between day and deep night Persia.
The green, frayed by the heat, is a plain
beaten to dust by beasts and herdsmen.
The light is silk, the walls carnelian.
The cliff-edge monastery is almost
Islam, in the place of the apostle who was almost
a Jew. These fishermen unwitting
Europeans, Europe an invention.
The courtyard spills with blossom, a kitchen chair stands
empty in the sun. Cats,
on the steps, one, two, three,
as if they know who I am. The door
half-open to a shaft of darkness. I discover
I am somewhere in the centre.
the ancestors moving through cloud,
bravely creating God. Around,
the riders of the sea. The tideless
water dissolves the pathways of crusades
by traders, thieves and soldiers.
Before, the years waiting for release,
a life unmapped, unfigured.
Summer is leaving. By the harbour
the bars are shuttered, the beach
almost empty. The red is wine,
the grey the workshop’s smoke, silver
longing’s brittle armour.
somewhere in the centre,
like warmth in raw stone.
Watching the year ebb
until time and purpose join.
My lungs don’t clamour for air.
I don’t fear for the climbers spread
on the vertical or think my step
might fail, in this high garden
of wind and winter sun.
The mountain is rooted in rock,
safe, nearer to god,
though if I had faith I’d look
for divinity in earth. All day
on pinnacles featured like people,
carved faces, the breath
of pine, until dark comes.
The moon walks above Monserrat,
insouciant in her element.
Pilgrims look for fire, but I
descend to the troubled sea,
the city, the occluded land.
All poems on this post: © Jenni Daiches
Published with the permission of Jenni Daiches