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Blue Swimmers

In the periphery
of your sight
I let the light play
dappled tunes of green
over my bare skin.
There is
a scent of moss,
and mountain water
falling, gathering
rainbows in its wake.
I dive in
past its pounding
to the deep
silent infusion of rainforest
to the union of
two blue
swimmer crayfish
at the bottom of the pool

remembering you
standing at the edge

rippling in waves
of water and sunlight

bending down to feel
how cool moist is

and I call your name

Crossing the River

"In the end we called the padre over across the river and received his goods. He brought machetes and clothes and sweets. We tried to sow the sweets like seeds but of course they never grew.’" -Tarzan, an Amazonian Harakmbut elder.

He is crossing the dark whispering
river, dividing it like Moses
with the hem of his irritating

woollen robes, dispossessed
and dank as the forest
that God commands, let light

in. To their shadow box hearts, promise
paradise. Undo the vines
they weave, pluck out their demonised

ways, give them mirrors and iron
rooves and powdered milk,
rake their jungle paths into straight lines.

Give the bare breasted women silk.
Woo them from the moon
with bangles and baubles and plastic bags filled

to the brim with white flour, sugar and spoons.
Build a church. Let their hymns drown
out the wild. Let them learn the value of rooms.

Mosquito clouds taunt his sweat soaked brow
as he reaches the other shore
and with the sign of a cross he marks their feather crowns.

They took the cellophane wrapped sweets in awe.
He felt their loss of innocence like a noose
around his neck, the light in their eyes drawing

him in. Light as the chlorophylled air. He loosened
the cord around his waist. Followed them. Their forest 
a New World flecked with a parrot’s turquoise wings, a portent

held in the sleepy gaze of a sloth. Beside the place a leopard rested
he left barefoot prints and where a snake shed its skin
he also left his.

In the Morning

"What has befallen you?" Abu’l Ashhab Sa’ih asked the lamenting woman, "the grief that fills your voice prevents me from hearing the pilgrims chanting as they circle the Black Stone." "I have lost the heart I once had," she replied, "for He is a tree whose planting is bitter, but whose fruit is sweet."

How many?
Only four stairs.
I fell in a tangle
of two metre scarf

they go with roses
through alleys of pilgrims
to the dargah
whose lights play flick
at the window 
of the little room
where I stay
with an elevated ankle
swelling
the hum of mosquitoes
thrumming my sleep
till

she comes
again,
in the morning
sifting
lime over
sewer streets

while at the water’s
edge on shining rock
a dhobi beats my
clothes.

Crows flap black shadows
over the smoked air
that clings to bleached bones
and the shriveled skins of dogs
while I breakfast on
boiled eggs and white toast
to the cook’s slap
of chapatti dough,
a baby’s cry
and creaks of the haveli door.

The Qwali musicians return
from a night’s ghazals
with pocketfuls of alms
and parched throats.
They smoke bidis and strip to their dhotis,
pull water from the courtyard well.

Between each inhale of cloved smoke
a trace of you, Ya Sheikh, distills my breath
- in the middle of my plate
I resurrect the shape of a nest
from eggshells -
as I wait
for your door
to open.

I know you are there 
the scent of rose absolute
petals the air whenever you press
drops between your palms and I know
you did not sleep.

In my dream you held a spoon to my lips,
said swallow this. I wanted to run.
You said no,
when you drink bitterness
you drink the crescent moon

Shengxiu’s Mirror Koan

I have dust on my mirror,
that’s what Shengxiu said,
the umber dust of mountains
the grit of gravel.

I see myself brown eyed, purse lipped
the small veins on hands that have gripped
for too long at the hidden meaning of things
the face of my mother, the shake of her head.
My face
before I was born.

I have painted my toe nails red
in defiance of  unknown rooms
where empty canvases lie,
the invisible ink of
age and sour breath.

My answer -
to paint the day
when my hands are marbled
with purple veins and shake,
even as they caress the body
I will no longer care to own.

Tears of Still Life

For Gustayo de Maeztuy Whitney’s Model

You left with your palette.

Beside the ash and wine spills
your crusted ultramarines and cool
yellows swirl into the pool
of your last brushstroke
that broke
the shadow of her hips.

Behind your easel
clouds gather
in a smokestack sky.                   
As I move, they move about
this small room of paint
and broken chairs,
pools of  turpentine.

There is no landscape
only the memory of your arm
moving,
tracing shapes of colour.
You made light and dark of me
as you finished
the face.

My painter, you
sipped from a clay cup
and dressed me
in a red fringed shawl
that fell like oil
across my breasts.

I was your muse.
But reclining there
on a canvas of Galician moss
is a stranger
who looks back at me
with dark eyes.

O Cebreiro

Where summer sun is liquid
enough
to pour into my cup.

Where cows curdle their milk
and low,
slathers of soft cheese
onto sourdough bread.

O Cebreiro

At the centre of a blue blue sky
I climb your rolling back,
crush yellow gorse
and mint.

I  inhale you

O Cebreiro

Harps, pipes and tin drums
wake up your Celtic ghosts.
In the darkness of your thatched hair
They’d slept.                  

Shepherds bring
sprigs of purple wild flower
for your lap, mud-caked shoes
they leave at the chapel door.

O Virgen del Milagro

In your blue cape and silver lace
one hundred candlelit offerings
glow on a widow’s wedding ring -
a gift too loose for you.

We fervently pray to you
- the priest eats the wafer -
for fields of ripe corn                          
and a litter of  piglets.                          

O Virgen

Quench me, when I turn
from your eyes,
with all the stars that shine
on your Milky Way.

Stumbling blind into the dawn
incline your head my way,
O Virgen, and stave winter’s snow
for my return.

O Cebreiro 

The mountain pass of O Cebreiro is  the gateway to Galicia in Northern Spain and has long given refuge to pilgrims on their journey to Santiago de Compostela. There is a 14th century legend here that tells of consecrated bread and wine turning into flesh and blood whereupon the statue of the Virgen del Milagro inclined her head to better view this miracle.