The Albesia in Season
When my flowering tree comes into its own
the birds sing in it for a day and a night.
O folies bergère of pink and white blossom,
fluffy boa feathers. Honey is their delight.
Mountain swallows. No one sees them alight.
little pecking birds that drink to clear their throats,
carousing the air with many coloured notes.
When the source has been sucked dry, the birds take flight
and the blossoms begin to fall. A dead cat bloats
with maggots under the tree. Three days ago
it slept in the grass, a pile of old coats.
It must have crawled there to die. Marco Polo
brought the corm of an albesia back home.
A gift to Venice from his friend Kubla Khan.
But in the marshlands the plant could not be grown.
So it put down its roots in North Catalan,
where the green fronded branches have the wingspan,
and the trunk the torsion, with its knotted grain,
to bend, and not to break, in the tramontane
(ants feed off the bark in this arid terrain).
The ideal wood for carving beasts and birds.
Flea markets in the Far East are a flood with them.
The gift of the albesia had been offered
by Kubla Khan to fashion royal coffins.
But no Venetian doge would be buried in less
than a sarcophagus of flesh-absorbing limestone.
Wood was only what burnt peasants to ashes.
A dead-loss, thought Marco Polo, who’d have known
in Kubla Khan’s Cambaluc, a princess
was dug up after two thousand years, flesh and bone
perfectly preserved in a wooden compress.
Maybe the albesia will be my own.
(Photograph by Gilbert Claude)
Under the laurel rose
someone shredded a note.
I pick up the odd word.
It’s not what I suppose:
the ravings of an idiot
who got up someone’s nose.
‘Migration’ is spelt out
and ‘wingspan’, but to knit
what it is about
I needed the verb ‘flit’.
There isn’t any doubt
the subject is a bird.
I gather up the strips,
trace words whitened by rain,
or maybe the salt air.
The tatters of distress
are reason for despair,
another failed poem.
I puzzle an address
and enough of a name
to post to the maudit.
But, since it is my home,
I prefer to submit
it to my lighter’s flame.
It burns my fingertips.
Between twelve and three,
for the dėjeuner,
Port Vendres must be
renamed Port Ventre.
The mouth of the port,
on red alert is closed,
and so the bistrots
are le point d’entre.
Trenchermen and women
by their thousands tuck-in,
a three hour session
contre le montre.
The grinding of teeth
stops traffic in the street
till stomachs are replete,
and diners saunter
home for a sieste
and a long digest,
dreaming of what’s best
in Port Venus (Vendres).
The faces fed,
I cannot stand
the silent farts.
Still I’ve the arts:
when gripped with gripe,
I light my pipe.
and find my feet.
In a puff, fuite.
The City of Ungovernables
The spiralling staircases of Elne unwind
a garden of olives with houses between the trees.
Climb up to the balustrade, and once again find
the angry cathedral facing the Pyrenees.
Le croix des outrages is what we come to see
the crucifixion as seen through the mocking eyes
of Pilot’s soldiers. A clothes-hanger, no body.
Not a blasphemy to the Catalan pious.
The gargoyles in the cloister cartoon their enemies.
The tongues are rattle snakes struck-dumb in rose marble.
The caustic humour is where their venom now is.
You can hear the laughter above the dovecot garble.
In ascending scales a piano is being tuned.
If it played an air it would be to surrender
notes to acceptance. The discord could be ruined.
Music must be broken in the hands of a mender.
Revenants beside me on the ramparts, submit not
to time or tide, save the exuberance of fountains.
This unruly city knows horizons have got
no limits, beyond the wind break of the mountains.
The pas de loup of night approaches pace apace,
encroaching on the livestock in the foothills. We
are immortal now time has been put in its place,
and watch the last sunlight on the plain reach the sea.