Drawing by Judith Wolfe
ROBERT JAMES BERRY

Three Poems


      THE GULF

      Palms. Drunks of the beach
      Fallen from the perpendicular,
      Sway in the sweating heat
      and struggle to look sober.

      Burnt by the smoking eye of a fierce god,
      The gulf nurtures a bronze sunset.
      Blood-tipped clouds scud over the seawall,

      and an unshaven ice-cream vendor drowses under his rattan cap,
      Washed by the sea's providence.

      As night sews Pleiades into the sky,
      The tops of the palms toss, like bad dreams.
      Coconut husks, fallen trailers, one rotting dog --
      A Gigantic decay litters the beach. As it has always done.

      I stop. To smoke with the Indian Ocean unrolling beside me.
      Only a tanker is lit like a candelabrum on the reach.

      As the toothpick of the tide works into
      The land's apricot skin,
      The sea's perpetual hunger
      Sobs around my feet.

      There is only the wave's cadenza now,
      The stink of sand crabs,
      and myself, gulfed in blackness.

      THE SOUND OF RAIN

      recalls home.

      My finger,
      Writing on the wet window
      The same letters our fathers taught us

      has moved on,
      and sketches the road-side shrine
      where a Supreme God resides.

      Walking out of doors
      Wearing skin leavened by the sun,

      My tongue erodes into the
      Shrill orient of my neighbours
      lolling at the fence,
      Who greet me, and ignore me.

      With the evening light
      Mosquitoes, vampires of the hot season
      Rise up,
      To sip my sweet foreign blood,

      Toads belch to their beloved's,
      Fat divas of the drains.

      Under a low white moon
      The padi sings of its home,

      A song that bites sharper than the
      Cruel steel knots of this fence.

      PRECIOUS STONES

      Cold islands entice me,
      like carved stone cathedrals.
      Their single mountains are the
      Exalted white saviours of our continent.
      Fallen devils in winter. Go South, where long archipelagoes
      Follow the land's evolution,
      Isles like shed, splintered tails in the sea,
      Giant's vertebrae planted for war.
      This is a horizon smudged by storm and salt.

      The furnace of tropical islands evokes
      other memories. Wild orchids swaying slowly.
      Heavy, fragrant, ocean-scented fruit. Taut sails
      in emerald twilight. The purge and bloodbath
      of sunset.

      Yet the old whale tooth amulet,
      and the bright scarlet flower of the flame tree
      Are essentially one. Only latitudes change.

      Looked for on the horizon,
      Islands lodge in sleep, conceive myths,
      Are emeralds in all the world's languages.


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