Sunday, June 1, 2008
Before Houdini diced with death and lost
the final bet which burst his perineum
he stretched a wire from end to end of Pest
above the childhood ghetto in his mind,
and climbed on it, and walked, his steps in tandem
to klezmer music from the synagogue
and canted prayer, a kaddish for the dead;
and smells of poppy seed and almond milk,
sweet liqueurs and fusty gabardine
assailed him from the streets where kids agog
stared up to see the king of magic turned
into a tightrope walker: look! they cried,
it’s Harry Weiss escaped from death to walk
on air and wire across the world he spurned.
The Night Golfer
I stepped onto her fairway
breathless after too much sushi.
Those palpitations again
climbing the steps. She had
no tee, no green, no ball,
not even grass or astroturf,
but a white towel at her feet
as she gazed into the distance.
Moving neither left nor right,
she didn't answer my goodnight,
but placed her spiked shoes
on the towel and a five-iron
angled for a hole-in-one.
I stood on the landing above
and watched her perfect swing.
What I want to do here, if you’ll bear with me,
is tack along the coast of Siam in a camouflaged junk
and let you off north of the abandoned canal
between the Andaman and China Seas, where the isthmus
is narrowest. From there you can swim in near the base
in the amphibious landing craft I’ve designed for you,
equipped with snap box, thermos of gunpowder tea,
amulets and cling-wrapped sandwiches. The mangrove swamp
is treacherous but I’ve fine-tuned the instruments
so you can float ashore unnoticed just under the surface
where the roots reach down into Pleistocene mud,
shell middens, snake beds and nests of glow worms
that are really tiny plant organisms aspiring to light.
At dawn the root system lifts its salt-encrusted, waterlogged self
out of the slime and advances with the tide, you with it,
and becomes leaf, tree, forest, all of life as we know it.
An Ordinary Morning
That year the forecast typhoon never came.
Instead of wind and rain and darkening sky
our beachfront bamboo bungalow was calm
behind the dunes. The weather doesn’t lie,
you said: it was the calm before the storm.
The bungalow was up on stilts in bowls
to stop the soldier ants from getting in.
We watched them carry eggs and leave their hills
for higher ground behind the marram grass.
Instinctive self-defence protected them.
The dogs, too, retreated inland past
the early surfers making up for time
that seemed to hang suspended in the offing.
Otherwise an ordinary morning.
Somewhere back of Saint Germain des Prës
a party held in Raymond Duncan’s Akadamia.
Seventies punk and rotgut wine and joints
animate the room, when down the stairs
in toga, sandals, braids and fillet of bayleaf
a grey-haired dancer moonwalks on the air
and takes the stage to dance the dance of veils.
Was it Raymond’s son as Dionysius
sending up our terminal bohemia,
or the ‘walking absurdity’ himself,
back from death to haunt the battlements,
or was it Isadora’s curtain call?
Whichever Duncan danced that night away
has left the rented veils, the dance, and us.