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Two Poems

Reading the Canon


A word parts like obedient water
along the milky seam
of its own destruction
Fumbling into tonal valleys green
with your delight

I’m not there, scaling the memories
of my own country word
by jagged word
Footfalls on the tongue’s
unfamiliar stairs, like ambush

Or worse? Soft exterior stained
with accommodation
there was a poem I once mis-
remembered, about the chinky Chinaman

who delivers the news
Flare of his foreign nostrils
Pink unsoothing lips
Moody intelligence of the poem’s
own face as it regards him

Does he have a soul?
The poem’s curiosity flickers, illuminates,
dulls and kneels, negotiates
itself to death
Please, Mr Chinaman was my father
You can call me something all-
together new:

Unlucky heirloom, an eager match
struck on the lips
Both lips struck against the curve
of the sound and its vicious hollow

Alien words and the velocity
in all directions
with which they find you






Names of the River


I did wrong by all ideas of nation, haunted
by the after-
life of speech, of public acts wagging
their dutiful tails
I sat down
in the cross-winds of a feeling, too wild
to write it out how the velcro parts
of me unstuck themselves

But do you too, alone, ever
feel incompetent? If in one hand holding
a wet tissue for dignity
when the Yangtze view
leaves you cold?
Somewhere in America a white boss
in a dandelion dress shirt is raising
his voice again
A quick pivot to the page where
I stare down the verbs and am afraid
to make a recitation of myself—
am I unimitable, or, is this just another feeling?

By all accounts the river
was yellowed over time, a yolk
running over land, and yet in places:
pearly foam, like clouds
like the overlook I might
have photographed, sinewy green and the snow-
pricked thumb
of that mountain
(I’ve forgotten
its name)
under which nobody
I still remember
to call was born
in the days when they came
and tried to take my mother
away in a van
to the county hospital
for procedures
against her will
for the good of the poulation
growing too fast
because of dumb ugly
country folk
like her

had the day not been hot
and mean, a government calling me home
by a different word
I would have made a record of everything
there flowing
from the mouth of the river:

‘The Yellow and Deep Water’

‘The Big Mouth’

‘The Five Stars’

‘The Tao’

One reminding me now of the next, heavier
than foreign air,
their yellow names soaking the page

Image © Rod Waddington



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