Commandments

I had the idea for the Commandments sequence of 10 poems when I was on a train going to Victoria. I couldn't remember them all so I went into WH Smith to look at a bible. Commandments is my third book with Arc and was published in 2007.



The birds sing about water

The birds carry a river,
their chorus in my throat,
in the dry spring I walk to,
useless tap, slashed water tank.
I stand in a metal tub with a flannel
waiting for them to fill it drop by drop.

The birds carry a river,
lifted from its source, pulled over
our valley to water mangoes, lychees, tea.
It runs over stones in their beaks.
They shake waterfalls from their wings
drumming pools deeper than feet can reach.

The birds carry a river,
sing until Mashau’s roads are rapids.
Fistfuls of pebbles slam on the zozo’s
tin roof. Children lay down bottles,
paint buckets, cans. The malachite
kingfisher shows us how to dive.

The birds carry a river
to a priest growling his prayers,
past mercenaries at the plantation gates.
If they could hide it, lay pipes for it
they would, but the birds carry a river
litre by heavy litre on their heads.




Love song for Fidel Castro

They’ve started a tight salsa
when Elisa strolls on, hips round as a drum.

Her band whoops, edges up the percussion
and the bass whips her calves.

She looks at each woman, remembering
how she brought them together,

their babies now workers, mothers,
or fathers, grins at the years they display

in their breasts, waists and eyes,
one thousand, three hundred and three.

She nods to Aleida on congas holding rivers
in her palms and Mathilda, the oldest,

on rhythm guitar, playing just as she’s waited
in a chair by the door, night after night all her life.

Elisa turns to the room, finds the President’s table,
puts a mike to her mouth.

“For this man tonight, twenty lovers,” she jokes
and her eyes won’t leave as she sings

of sun in the citrus, Batista,
all the sweat and fists in the wind,

of a child in a cellar, paths through the cane,
the wings on every island’s shoulder blades.

She sings of the speeches scrolled in his pockets,
of Angola, Mandela, his friend.

She sings of Havana how it still burns
on maps of the world,

of Marti’s white rose and an exile’s return
to the Island of Youth.

Then she picks up the claves and the crowd
shines the floor with its footwork,

as they dance the way heat breaks
the line of a road, each beat and bell of the salsa,

a gasp in the hand.

Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre Poem of the Week




Don't commit adultery

In a hotel room, rented flat, a friend’s place, beach,
car, caravan, your own bed, his or her bed,
the childrens’ beds, with dogs, that guy from the Red
House, your boss, on a motorbike, in a coach,

wearing that old leather jacket, after a cricket
match, in a tent, while your second child is being born,
watching a famous boxer do press ups in the gym,
while your first child is being born, after 10 shots

of Greek brandy, with someone who writes fan mail,
with your therapist, the priest, manager or director,
wife of your best friend, while your wife is having a
hysterectomy, because she has thrush, piles,

with your son’s teacher, when your husband’s in a coma,
with your son’s girlfriend, in the Pussycat Club, with a lap
dancer, while smoking a cigar or reading the latest crap
crime fiction, contemplating Escher’s prints in the Alhambra,

while your partner’s leaving a message on your mobile,
by e mail, live webcam, wearing stiletto heels, while your wife
is undergoing radiotherapy, while flying a plane, in Fife
station, with a doctor, over the baby listening device.

Forward anthology 2008