‘el techo de la ballena’
Time to be climbing out of time
as the wild city rates it, receding from
the cable car rising from Caracas
into the marriage of leaf and mist:
a great ship composed of greying droplets
is docking at the summit of Avila
and Argelia and I must get there before
its rain-crew disembark and birdsong
resiles into its respective throats.
But first the child in a Cuban forage cap
must cry ‘no amo caer’ and her mother
must laugh, whether we fall or not,
and each tree beneath our swaying feet
must fill a bell-tower built from fog
with its shaking carillon of hangdog leaves
which dream of becoming second-hand books
laid on the pavement in the Parque Central:
World Poetry for Dummies, La Prisión de la Imaginación.
We leap from the cradle and into the haze,
pass among the sellers of arepas and melocotón
along the path stretched like a sagging clothesline
between the sweating cold palms of the fog
past the dogs that guard these heights
from the piratical stars, the thieving galaxies.
We pass by the blind dejected telescopes
and approach the colossal, mostly-obscured,
mist-broken column of the Humboldt Hotel.
It’s only as we stand beneath the topless trees
pissing down their panicking legs, waiting for
the piano bar to open, that I realise
an invisible horse has been following me
for some time – translucent notes
hanging from its eyelashes betray
its presence, truculent and shy as always,
summoned by helados and bullets wrapped
in handkerchieves, by the thighs of mangoes.
And it’s only as the mist clears and unclears
like a sea rendering up its depths, its dead,
its patient staring inhabitants,
and the horse and Argelia and I drink beer
in the English Bar, even though we’re so cold
and the bar is not even sub-mock-tudor,
that I understand the world is the wrong way up,
that mountaintops protrude into Lethe
and that we are in the grip of a devilfish.
As if to confirm this conclusion a host of devilbirds
flash their unknown yellow tails in Vs
and display the nerve-coloured blue of their breasts
and begin to converse in a cluttering language
only sailors of these dimensions could have devised
to be understood by those beings eager
to pass among the stars without questions.
Of course it is already dark as a horse
and we look down upon the city giving birth to hours.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
WN Herbert is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University. He lives in a guiding lighthouse on the river Tyne.