Passage to Etruria
In an arching of reverse thrust, the miracle of surviving -
a moment before serried in our contemplation of some sudden end -
is found confirmed, and we return almost thankful
to the play of time. Each leaps
to take possession of the handles of their bags,
feeling the caress of old collars on their necks.
We wait to say goodbye, squashed and distorted, to the smiles
of ladies made-up like mummies,
to falter down the wavering steps
and feel our feet swallow into the tarmac,
while breathing the dust and smells of
another’s night, to make sense of who we are -
when we have no war, no obvious war -
to find in our explorations, out,
and back, all those things that link
between us, the dark universals,
the human sprite.
Passports and days later, already surfeit
from terracotta walls and grey balconies suspended,
and dead towns, their streets and underground passages
bare beneath the curving slope of the pastured hill-ring,
perplexed by complex intersections,
the bones of unfamiliar crustacea wedged in dentine hollows.
Round caverns and altars of Mithras,
through the sudden aurora wash of dreams both dry and wet,
down and up the rock-cut steps
to waiting tombs, their stone beds deprived of the couch-reclining
Dead, elbow-propped, who stare at dolphins
no longer nor hunting, or copulating gymnastics, frantic killing.
Now, we are Niva-ferried down the rutted track
to the promise of an ancient place,
watching out for the homicidal dogs, their flock protecting,
and between bulls that stood their ground till, flinching
and eyeing round, chased the wide-circling dog
in a stampede of kite trail to the kite he made.
Now through the green light and the ghost of bird song,
along a fidgeting path, looking into the dense oak thought,
across a rickety bridge, with distant promise of falling water
revealed in cliff face, trees overhanging, and a wide shale
of sand to a pool into which the waterfall leapt,
like the sparks of rubbed flint,
from a black hanging rock
to a crown of obelisk – black tufo –
and swept down its side, whale skin and pummice smooth.
Nature-beautiful and nature sacred, and yet not a seeming
The dog appeared silent through the trees,
foreshadowing the others, and then we could follow
around and up to a hundred feet.
Thoughts are boulders now, rock face is speech.
Into the stone at an open crevice,
a carved opening, door lintel sharp, with a round wind hole above.
To move into the gloom was not to enter a tomb, its
sad recreations of a once-life, but to drink at a pool of thought,
where secret others had made their continuing.
As pupils dilated to suck in sight, niches and transepts
revealed, and stepped altar before a throne
carved into the bare-stilled, larval rock.
And hovering there a coptic bishop, an unorthodox Greek,
not real to the eyes but real to the mind,
a silver beard and two black seeds of eyes set in a winter face -
not an image nor a sense of good or evil -
Beyond the moral niceties, no piety here
that passes for love.
Turning to see the light
falter in the window, and turning again
to the suggestion of
to the moment before a giant’s footfall
where the altar could hold blood in each bare-cupped step,
below the flat line where a neck could place.
And the voices there
called to me
from a distant, intimate sea,
only sounding its depth and presence;
in the shifting pleroma,
they asked what was my core
What was the still flame at my centre?
And the answer came from me: fear.
The point of the obelisk where the waterfall hit,
where the water sparks glint in the shafts of the sun -
A bull that stands rigid, and jumps,
and jumps and kicks back at thin, thin air
Left the cave
to a terrace cut in the rock,
where the light played clear on the stone bench
And sat there
to warm before the sunfire and fill my lungs with air
having plunged in an ice-cool stream.
Awareness in folding, closeness in distance,
I saw you bathing in the waters of Trajan’s pool
naked to the ice-blue sky,
framed by pillars of iceberg marble
crystal with sun, the water sparks
And nymphs encircled your ...
Coming down and back into that dark space
to check the white beard and black eyes,
And to see how far I dared to walk in the darkness alone
And to see the node of fear,
The sacrificial lip where each neck placed.
To see how far I could enter in.
And so, returning to the light,
And reviewing the vertical-cut steps
To the hermit cells i did not enter,
And thinking of who would walk back past those bulls,
Capuccino-coloured, wild-eyed and doleful,
And considering the fear and the fear of fear,