Haze eats the horizon as I stand my watch.
Flocked swallows settle in a second then
flit up into the one remaining swatch
of sky the storm clouds have not painted in.
A woman hangs wet watch to catch the wind.
A yellow duckling bobbles in boats’ wakes
and boys dive where the inner harbour takes
its leave of city and runs to the sea.
The grey comes down as softly as the flakes
of bridge paint that the rust and time set free.
The Drommedaris, built starting in 1540, is a historic fortress tower in Enkhuizen that is now used as a cultural centre and for special events.
A shadow, first this week, slips on the stones
and falls in place. The plaza comes to life.
A sparrow watches cats cart off the bones
of cutlets from the tasca. Sparrow’s wife
welcomes back the sun with song and cluck
and curtsies to the cats as they pad by,
pause to stretch, and wonder if their luck
extends to lunch on sparrow. Worth a try?
A lizard who’s anticipating flies
tries his tongue out, flicking at the light
reflecting from the broken glass that lies
where the waiter let it fall last night.
I let the hot cortado chase my yawn
and thanks my stars for sun. Altea dawn.
O haggis, hunkered halfway up the hill,
uneven legs in fore-and-aft matched pairs,
each to the other skewed like stick in plaice
before the batter’s up in golden ducks,
attend right-thinking running, circle up
or down the slope until the golden mean
of altitude, corrected for spare crags,
prevails, and you proceed goat-like to graze
at ease and restfully, your haggis rules
OK, exemplifying strange attractors,
repelling border colleens, collies, kilts,
and robber burns on ceremonial night.
And, haggis, try to live as if you’ve got
the grit required to stomach Mandelbrot.
IF the weather is nice where you are, please by all means go out and play. But if the sea is too cold or it’s raining, perhaps you could help me with these footnotes.
FOOTNOTES (so far, so good, so what):
1. ‘haggis’ — A delicate, delicious smallish creature hunted in the Highlands for its meet and for the hill of it. Pulled more successfully than birds by Dawkins shellfish jeans to the extent that its right legs (called Bermudas) are shorter than its left (called Levis).
2. ‘hunkered’ — Squatted down close to the ground, but not as in a squat. Unclear as to why this footnote is needed at all, except that one would have to renumber the rest (except one, ‘1’) were it taken out.
3. ‘skewed like stick in plaice’ — An impossible situation, like the impossible animal that exists (footnote 1), since a stick that is IN a plaice (large edible flat-bodied fish Pleuronectes platessa in European seas) can NOT be skewed (neither parallel nor intersecting) to said plaice. Cf. Macbeth: Act 1, Scene 7, Macbeth’s castle:
MACBETH: If we should fail?
LADY MACBETH: We fail!
But screw your courage to the
And we’ll not fail.
4. ‘before the batter’s up in golden ducks’ — Before all the batter (for the plaice) has been used up playing with our food, making little golden-fried ducks. Alternatively, for those who find the first explanation not cricket, before the batsman’s or batswoman’s turn is up by being out with a nil score (from a ‘duck’s egg,’ shaped like a zero). There is of course a third and very important possibility relating back to the skew framework of the poet’s mind [sick? sic?] of batter as a transitive verb for building a wall or similar so as to form an upwardly receding slope ‘The Haggis Hunting Ground,’ but by now this footnote itself is getting battered beyond all redemption.
5. ‘attend right-thinking running’ — Admonishing the haggis to pay attention to conventional ideas of morality, propriety, and decorum whilst ALSO running to the right (otherwise it would turn its short legs to the downside of the hill and fall into the hunters’ sacks) and whilst ALSO concentrating to avoid coming too close to the perpendicular (and falling into the hunters’ sacks).
6. ‘circle up / or down the slope until the golden mean / of altitude’ — Advising the haggis (so that it may avoid falling into the hunters’ sacks) to find and keep to that aesthetically pleasing and just-right height (which the haggis computes on the trot, the ratio of the whole line to the larger part being exactly the same as the ratio of the larger part to the smaller part) where its leg-length challenge matches the mountain’s slope-flat challenge.
7. ‘haggis rules / OK’ — Reminiscent of the wonder which led one seeker of truth to The Linguist List, Eastern Michigan University dash Wayne State University to ask, on Saturday, 11 September at 09:22:06, ‘I’ve seen several British spray-painted slogans of the form “X rules OK” on walls and other outdoor surfaces. Can someone explain the syntax to me?’ He didn’t seem to get an answer.
8. ‘exemplifying strange attractors, / repelling’ — Attractors and repellers are, of course, WHAT THE WHOLE POEM IS ABOUT!
9. ‘border colleens, collies, kilts,’ — Since this is simply about complexity and chaos, it follows that we mix up the Borders — Scots going to Ireland, Irish girls coming back to Scotland, etc.
10. ‘robber burns on ceremonial night.’ — In Dutch ‘robber’ means ‘seal’ which is a red herring of another colour. The line itself should have Robert Burns whirling in Dumfries, which is only fair seeing how many poor little haggis have been hunted down over the years to accompany the mashed turnip, mashed potato, and mashed whisky at Burns Suppers. O, Immortal Memory.
11. ‘the grit required to stomach Mandelbrot’ — Somewhat at ‘out of the mouth (stoma) of Benoit’ but not very. More at ‘Fractal, fractal on the wall.’ I rest my case of Jacques Denials.
With Cupid as our guide, we climb the falls
and, holding hands, we play
in crowds less than existent this
fine February day.
Bright finches nest across from us.
A lordly dog befriends
our steps. He stops to wade a pool;
for him, our story ends.
For us, our history just begins
long after its first year
and we climb further up a track
less boulevard than tier
on tier on tier, to tease the sky
between the rugged rocks.
Frogs sing in ponds, and polliwogs
glide down the falls-like locks.
The track gives way to a steepening trail
that narrows to a trace.
The other hikers pause, turn back,
and leave to us this place.
We leave the path. We find the falls.
We splash and reach the source
where waters burst from naked rock.
Once introduced, they course
both ways: one river with two beds.
I test this novel sight
by tossing leaves in the highest pool.
They float, some left, some right
along two ways, the one we climb
and one that’s out of reach.
It stays for us a line on a map.
‘Our’ streams winds to the beach
as we will too, but we first must turn
and climb down from this rock
and splash to where the sun will burn
us dry. We see a flock
of February flowers raise
blue faces to the sun
and we, like them, stand still to praise
how Gaia’s overrun
these desert rocks with dampened life.
I think of Who made Her
but thinking brings me soon in strife
with seeing. I demur
to think. We’re blessed as we two walk:
The sprays collect in ponds
with basins white as bones or chalk
and ringed with date palm fronds.
A couple banks their clothes to clap
their bodies in the stream.
They embrace, and kiss, then swim a lap
to dissipate the steam.
If this be winter, leave me here
among the fragrant herbs;
and let me pay for visions dear
with nouns — and, if need be, verbs.
The blackbird sings instructions for his son
on how and when and where and why to fly.
His wife looks on and when she thinks he’s done
she shows their son the birdbath. Later, dry
enough for summer, Pa sings of frost and cats,
and Ma chants rhymes of when the berries ripen.
All three birds practise blackbird riffs and scats
as if they’re horns for music God pipes in
to underscore the beauties of this world.
The score extends and galaxies unwind
and hang half out of sight like flags unfurled
on misty moors at dawn while I, half blind
to what they sketch, smile as song fades away
for here birds sing the world alive each day.
For the requisite wine I head to the harbour to write.
After watching for a minute the zoo on the sailboats today
I give up on those facts which are not what a reader’d believe
such as the man on a yacht with a bone China plate on his knees
who eats like a dog would if Rover or Lassie had hands,
and the two men in short shorts who are mooring their boat on the quay
while they smile at each other more ardently than most couples do.
Then there are the English, who speak — you can tell: they do not move their mouths —
imparting banalities with a welcome so-long-vowel wait.
There are Germans and Spaniards, and also a jackdaw one knows
and a ponderous Pole who is checking for runs in her hose.
Under her table a terrier, shamed by the way people eat,
pretends it’s asleep by remembering to shiver its legs.
The next-table lady who is biting her syllables sharply
looks down at a text every time that her husband speaks up.
How stern she appears, sitting there as she stares down the menu —
or catalogue, is it? — as if she’s remembering back when
she, attired in woad paint, was a pin-up rum punch for the Normans.
Her husband tries lightening things up: he drinks himself blind,
which is slow heavy business, the bottle-blonde waitress distracted
by the jackdaw who teases my snacks, and by the tan terrier’s trembling
and by a bellicose Spaniard who is telling all tolls are atomic.
‘Did you get that?’ the Pole asks. I realise she’s speaking to me.
I’m at sea now, absorbing Merlot like a fly-about magpie
fined for picking up bits from a windswept white rough-water beach
and for cosseting this summer’s rude stage as a fair-weather friend.
my table mate jackdaw enquires of me.
I look at him and we both lose
ourselves in snack-filled intervals.
Small children cycle to and fro.
Gulls imitate a pregnant crow.
At dusk, above a script I cannot read
gulls gyre and shriek, imitating maids
that fuelled Vikings in their dreams
of conquering Saxons, quaffing mead.
I drain the glass, embrace the glow
and tell the jackdaw it’s time we go.