Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ten Years White

(what we did on our holidays, August 2016)

I sit on and touch hot earth
Brush grass from the stone
Leave flowers, promise more
Across Helredale the North Sea waits
Gravediggers joke and make clay piles

White ghosts of rain on Europoort
Thirty thousand tons twist stiffly to dock
Wader bills of windmills spin, evenly
Moderating the east wind
Gusting across the continent

Flat factory roofs, canals and estuaries
Ruled straight by dredge and drained by mill
Give way to brown pine, French signs in
Hillside towns empty in daylight, rambling
Like brambles around Schengen

The meltdown factory squats like a great
Multi-legged beast across Saarbr├╝cken. Metre-wide
Pipes jointed and ready to animate
Red walls a scaled thorax, rippling
Decorated steeples, fodder for the machine creature

Basel’s motorway displays its wealth crassly
The city modest in comparison
Where money is made, grey good taste
Signs in spacious font in yellow-lit tunnels
To F, D, CH and I. I follow I.

A tunnel separates German from Italian, then
Lugano, private lakesides, even more flash cars
Terraces made for display are empty
As kettle-air predicts a thunderstorm
In the night, explosions. Rain drums on the roof.

The Mediterranean shines. Nice burns and grieves.
Deep cut valleys now one-way streets
I shut my window to windscreen-cleaners
A flick of the wiper, a curse in English
I park and shelter in an air-conditioned waiting room

I love the sound of an engine, although my ears ring
And I fear for my hearing. Against the ferry’s funnel
I doze in its shade. If you like, reliving the prenatal
Not that anyone believes that any more
I am surrounded by a pink sleeping bag and conversation

My daughter and I in goggles, face down in
Rena Majori bay, as clear as lemonade
Fish dimensioned like fine-toothed combs
Green over seaweed, sandy over sand
It takes time to see they are transparent

Pine needles mute footsteps. The canopy fends off
The sun. At six, it’s already too hot to be running
But we do, anyway. An empty beach awaits
The crowds. Tables line a wall. A generator hums
A drinks-seller brushes red dust from his van

Is Aruntas, risotto sand, pebbles in 1:20 scale
Kites, parasols and nods of recognition (not to us)
A shoal of silver somethings, black-eyed, shimmering
A wave in still sea, like curtains separating us
The shallow from the deep

Braided head, face heavy with foundation
Jolted glance at the sound of a male voice
Betrays the display of confidence
Factor eight at most spread over bare arms
And hands that have never held a steering wheel

Ever louder as night wears on, Oristano is on holiday
Here, daring all to hush them. An old man does
And they do. At three in the morning a shout: Marco!
To someone’s delight, Marco throws the first punch
And pulls up a tent in frustration. Mary is Assumed.

Mary, prone and mediaeval, decorates the church
Of Castelsardo. Wires go to the ceiling and I fear
She may be assumed theatrically. In a transept, fires of Hell
Engulf a soul like red ribbons around a cake. The dead
Of world wars, here like everywhere, share surnames

I am wearing the shirt I had on when my daughter was born
There are pictures to prove it, and they are her
Favourites of me, ragged and long-haired, holding her, 
Taken by her exhausted mother through tears
Propped up on pillows in a high hospital cot

We are boating on the Ard├Ęche, as busy as a motorway
She wants another picture, me in the shirt
Her beside me, both of us grinning in the sun
Taken by her mother, through splashes. She thinks
With growing sophistication, that it would be cute

A money-off deal: all-day hire of a canoe, plus barrel, oars
And a lift to and from the river. We have capsized
And I can’t see. I yell her name. Her mother finds her
Afloat, carries her to shore. This is the last time
I will wear the shirt. Irony frightens me

From here to home, a pleasant anticlimax. Longer on
Kilometres than drama, and I’m glad of that
No need to make anything up. Home to find
Eldest is well, home is standing, old cat is ailing
Ten years white, the van will be green next year