in a sheltered garden
in the business lounge the new state scientists invented
for very hard things, men break into the heated pool.
they dip their toes into a dare and dream all night of drowning
they look up the skirt of an escalator and see the skinless
red muscles of the groin slide under their desk before sundown.
men’s papers are square offices with revolving doors.
inside their folders labelled PIOUTA POA POOMA
they boil the ocean into streams of sweating campus hire boys,
bird-dogging the postman into a running bullet.
in a sheltered garden they are spinning-off
non-core competences: effective altruism,
saying excuse me, holding doors open, greeting strangers,
taking pills with water. their plates are always full.
somewhere they are bricking up
the small forgotten edges of the universe.
let’s run the numbers off the loop. let’s think of low-hanging
fruit. how apples provide colour, their shadow
the threat of a back hand raised to hit
sin crouches at cain’s door in the shape of a sickle.
the door handle is a fish. pull it and deborah enters,
swatting a wasp as a woman brings a king cream
in a silver dish. she hammers a tent-pin through his head.
at the land of nod east of eden a child crawls
into a cave of olives. his brother is the shrunken bottle
people used to take to war. your daughter-in-law
who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons
hangs a gold plate around her neck.
two men hide under a flaxen roof and become windows
to the prostitute’s conversion. she hangs
crimson thread from their foreheads.
boys dress in lamb skins and trick
their fathers into blessings over lentil stew.
an ostrich egg hangs over a green canopy,
enter here. cradle it
in your hands.
away in 1997
3 par 4 and the course stretches out into green
across rumbled wooden bridges and manicured trees
grasses tease the edge of weeds, wag the dog cracks chestnuts
as swampy emerges from a network of underground tunnels
he staples a public notice with a flying golf ball:
pop bands branding ecstasy as a four-day week!
yellow flags wane half-mast in the breeze
along the bridle way london loops streets of halfidentical houses,
a garden metal-pronged with a broken trampoline and power
-washed patio. there are lodges and round bushes, a princess
counts stems of potted basil. a sheep opens one acorn eye,
a tree with heart rot knots cotton boxers onto a clothes line.
our mouths form chambers around the antonym of home.
my people are an empty morning before sunrise
we are gulletless fish, we are rootless trees,
we are dogs howling when a child is born.
footnotes to an experiment on the memory of a sheep able to recognise 20 human faces
1we carry cardboard boxes and plastic frames
the fields brim, a pixelated photo of georgia
o’keefe’s red flower petals bursts on the wall
as the hill tilts into the valley
2we wear binoculars, contacts two times
too big to trace woolen curls in charcoal
3we cast wishes into the green river, dyed
by the metal crosses of the sewage compound
4we weed the garden, uprooting the pink legs
of thistles and dandelions in uneven tufts of grass
5we dust corners and polish streaky mirrors
6we shear the sheep until their skins wrinkle
softly, rising and falling as a tree scratches its leg
and a dog’s collar in the field jangles its name
7we shout in alarm when our sheep falls
in the middle of the field
its stomach pushed into a balloon a circle a slit
bleeding all down its left side
8we stand as the mother tears a sac with her teeth
bleating something unique we quickly
jot down, sound strung along telephone wires
9we draft our headline in the papers:
dolly’s daughter: the new smart sheep
10we wake in the night when a sheep cries
like a man shocked, no longer sleeping
through a crackled speaker: for your safety
please keep arms and legs inside the vehicle
the woman next to you is pregnant,
her stomach is a parachute falling
in the night. it leaves no footprints.
she watches the galley, leaning forward
on her shins. she is the type to laugh
at cartoon infants on safety brochures,
at yellow lifejackets on a flat ocean.
she asks: can you see a spot
near my tonsil? a segment of lemon,
a dark curved mark? she pulls a tooth
the symbol of copper from the back
of her throat. engraved in the porcelain
is the sign of a circle and a cross.
now that we are alone again,
I’ll tell you: my partner is a woman.
she was a man. we are both becoming women.
I think of that song: stay, little Valentine, stay.
every morning I feel the pull of the waves
and the ache in my chest, the crash of my personality
against everything I have been taught to believe.
painting a landscape in the Cambridge English exam
my/his father used to celebrate Christmas but we/he do/does not now
what has changed/stayed the same?
do baubles swim in the same pools of light as mirrors?
will a candle always paint the same shapes?
my/your/her aunt was caned/whipped in school.
how do our cultures differ/align?
is the soul of a person always lower than the body?
will the womb always be a sickness?
the death of a daughter/son in a hay bale
he/she sleeps through the second coming
will all addiction be announced by a whistling eagle?
does the moon of Jupiter resemble a G-d?
you play/played a game of jacks/knucklebones.
do your ankles/knees break/twist to the sound?
which inspires fear? a flaming sword/a leather belt.
which is the correct nomenclature?
the firmament/ring of ocean. the sixth/seventh day.
rachel at the well, watering the flock/hagar fleeing, cast into the wilderness.
to give birth/the song of the sea
to be born/the splitting of warriors
the promise of generations/floods/exodus
correct this common rhyme:
Ip dip, sky’s blue! Who is it? Is it you?