Friday 11 February 2022

Three Superb Poems by Daniel Wade





Campeche: The Southpaw Legion

Campeachy Bay, 1675

I.

And in this state of matter, flavoured

        by Neptune’s mild

growl, reefs drenched with ruinous flecks 

        of sun, you have your yarns -

shaggily local legends, told always to chill,

        thrill and dissuade

your children - all the proof that’s left,

        soundings of our

villainous latitude, to declare we, too, were here once;

         and so there we be,

on your map’s unopened rim, sharing

         a squall’s dread

meridian with rum and sea salt. Hark, that most

unsplendid isolation,

our horde - tattooed in mutual and chosen exile,

         always a little further

upriver, reeking of copper dust! But there

         be no dragons here,

not under the whitecaps’ boiling inroad

         to the bay, where breakers

churn with bilge and scantling bones,

         in this, our purgatory

of marlin and sandbar, broken yardarms,

         snapped hulls,

bronze carronade, anchors clad in cassocks of algae,

         to be trawled and robbed

by deep-sea divers, while the manta ray

         leaps like a finned

cannonball, and sharks prowl in a hooked ring.

         Don’t gust

the smoke of lamentation over us. We were

         never the ghosts

of campfire tales, sailing the uncharted brine

         like Fate’s dismal toys

for we lack the vigour of the storms that quell us.


II.


What you might imagine in the sarcoma

          of your dreams,

we unearthed daily in our time

          before the mast:

how we broke loose of plantations, ducking

          and diving

through razor-cut hedgerows, gnarls of sugar cane

         swaying in time

to the tide, the ragged thanksgiving we each

         bellowed

to our personal gods, our ankle fetters rattling,

         unharvested,

unthreshed, and drowning out the hunting dogs’

         rabid yowl that echoed

after us in a bid for the coast, how we gutted boar

         and crouched low on the crag,

how we savoured brine dregs in our rum,

          how smoke

from our fires enticed galleons to a reef’s spiked

          bearing after dark;

how the savannah, razed by scrub trees and albacore

          broiled in saltwater with pork,

flesh sliced from a bullock we shot, flooded our

          tongues with the sizzling scent

of a barbecue, ribs dripping ripe in their juices,

          how a creek’s scud heard

mosquitos murmur their leeching intent, its roiling

          maw saw our piraguas

becalmed along the banks, how we abided hurricanes

          and the acid extent,

broadsides of rain strafing our water’s edge to mud,

          the season shrouding us

in its headlong and pearly calm, and all by

          a crocodile’s subtle approach.

 

III.

Civilisation’s shag-haired dregs, we were,

the killers of history,

swamped by monsoons and tangled from the

          mangrove,

brandishing flintlocks, a good day’s labour

          got in,

rusty tools gripped crudely to hand, salvaged here

          on this foaming gulf coast,

past the onset and eruption of rollers. We woke

          to the clink of chain

off stone before sunrise, rusty tonnage of shackles

          from ankle to neck.

Mangroves whispered in bristly refrain, low

         as the sea we’d turned

our backs on, that could not follow us beyond

         the shallows.

A conch grumbled, slow octave roving to harbours

         natural and man-hewed,

harbours with little to offer but history. Our

         sunburnt heels

dug into sand as we sloshed out to the tidewater’s seethe.

         Be ready for the bite

of an axe, squint past the white blast of providence,

         salt-tang, stinging cuts

on chafed knuckles seasoned to windward, gummy rags

         of kelp

littering the glazed reef like palmeto leaves

         left out to dry.

Our fortune came not from plundered moidores,

         but from felling

the very trees that kept us hidden, sheltered;

         those commissioned

to hunt us trawled the low-hanging shadows, heard only

         silence.

We searched for logwood, further on upriver, cut them

         where they stood.

Not a single hatchet-blows as wasted; cormorants

          ceased their song

as we went ant our work, stacking timber in a freshly-cut pile,

          knee-deep in the churning tide.

Our muscles burned from debarking such pungent,

          loose-limbed trees,

minarets filed by the wind, and all ripe for toppling,

          lacquer of sweat

on our shelled backs.


IV.

These shores are our chosen limbo, beyond

          the trades’ reach

and whim of waves. From this humid temple of foliage,

          scraping the river,

we carve open the hollow belly, cut and haul

          the first of our lumber,

clear a path down to the strand, lay our plunder

          to rust in a cemetery

of sand. A carrion crow’s song is lovely to its own ears

          only; even the monkeys

pause, listen to its scraped melody. We lived as men

          had once lived before there ever

was such a thing as civilisation; before ships,

before stockade, settlement and fire-power, before

          the Old World inked

margins of coast and fruitful coves caged by a retinue

          of cliffs,

before mosquitoes swarmed through black leaves,

          before a slave’s blood

warmly slicked the ledgers, scars criss-crossing

           from a taskmaster’s lash,

before cumulus equatorial light crowned isles of ascension,

           volcanic sea-mountains

whispered about in frenzied sailor’s yarns, gilded

           with a shoal unsounded by shanties.

See instead how deeply we’ve foraged inland

           shuffling between tangle

and undergrowth, our firebrands ignited at the scrape of flint,

           trudging down sun-browned

jungle paths where bloodwood spices the air,

           scuttling all laws,

making a boon of exile. How unmapped, how noble is the isolation?

      We have no more tears

to waste on home, though salt may flavour
            our eyes as cloudless heat leaves us dazed, blind halation
readying our fangs to flint,
            the coral’s delicious wink fluorescing signals
that there
            is no burden like the bluewood cargo we haul.


V.

And always back to the waves and what they bring.
        Our brows coil in scansion,
self-chosen sentries of these shores. Between oceanic headwind
        and antipodal calm,
azimuths force a rover’s hand. Through a spyglass,
        we sight a cindery prize:
a barely-seaworthy, mollusc-riddled barque, flyblown
        and rakish in the water,
her gunports salted by white geysers of surf,
        braced combers
rushing headfirst, azure doldrums rippling for her to drift.
        All hands braced
outriggers as her keel sprung a leak, heavy and abaft.
        Worms nibble her membranes,
munch her rudder; the tar in her planking thaws by sunlight.
        Every vessel
is a tumour on the sea’s flesh, that the remedy of storms
        strive to lance.
In the shade of trees yet to be felled, we repair
        groaning hulls
of the empire for their mandated loot. All we’ll recall
        is heat and lumber,
chain for flesh, and the distance of heaven measured
        by a compass needle.
Out in this trackless bay, we are the last uncontacted,
        without God,
without nation, without law: recall us if you must,
        forget if you will.

 

 

 

Whisperings (Montparnasse Cemetery)


And here's the pewter gates, deep and wide

to my footsteps’ touristic curiosity,

glances stolen downward as I stroll

among statues, kiss-smeared

tombstones of Montparnasse,

Weathered marble and granite chiselled

into Grecian symmetrics, the oddly

irregular blink of August sunshine,


engravings damply overcast as the acid sky -


The clouds’ fine sobbing, shadows stored

'til at last I round a noticeable corner

and am face to face with a family plot: his.


I decide against snapping a photo, captioning it

with a line from his Salon criticism.

The names of his mother and stepfather (whose

death he was heard to bellowingly welcome

during a riot) are engraved above his, stark

as a reminder. Wind hustles coolly against all three,

sweeps the lettering's deep-cut intricacy clear.


He and graveyards go hand in hand together.

There is an evergreen conifer pumping acid

into dry soil, where he lies cradled by eternity.


At the necropolis’ southern entrance, facing

the old gristmill, there is the hulking, sandstone

mausoleum of Le Congregation De La Mission,

flanked by smaller graves and with a statue

of St Vincent de Paul, brandishing his crucifix

like a primed gun, free hand raised in stern blessing,


a red-eyed Messiah thorning redemptive blood loss


through his tears with a menace redolent


of Baudelaire. The crypt is built to resemble a door


lined with plaques, the Latin inscription


at its weathered core: Opera illorum sequntu illos


(Their works follow them). Beckett and De Beauvoir,


Sontag and Sartre share this place as their anchorage


o eternal sleep, under seasonal whisperings


of pagoda and lime tree. To that Latin hauteur,


that profound simplicity, I genuflect before


the bicentennial altar, strewn with charred bones,


suffused with decayed perfume, his written gift.


 

 

 

‘Gabi kissed me on Memorial Road’


Gabi kissed me on Memorial Road

 without warning. As if she was tendering

    a cure. Eyes half-shut, her lips rode


softly over mine, the atonal seethe of night-

 time traffic stood in for a serenade. I was

   lifted into electrified air, her gentle bite


lingering, her tongue fiery and lashing away

 the wariness that fluttered like a caged bat

   in my chest for most of that day.


The rush-hour crowd mingled with itself

  and I thought to myself, robbed of breath

    and lost for balance: this is enough.


To be lodged in someone’s arms again, to grip


  their palm’s mellow heat, is enough.


    The urge to look away whenever her eyes




held me no longer pulsed in my gut;


  all day I’d babbled inanely to her, now


    we could savour my mouth falling shut.




We trekked the northside quays as if in a lost city,

   the dusk ours to covet. I’d’ve walked with her

     anywhere; I wasn’t there for the     view, only.


There’s nothing between now and when I saw


   her last; mass death has put the world on pause.


     Still I hope to see her, tender her fiery cure.




Daniel Wade is a writer from Dublin. He is the author of the poetry collections Iceberg Relief (2017) and Rapids (2021) and the historical fiction novel A Land Without Wolves (2021).

 


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