Tag Archives: Hesperides

Tuesday Poem: “The Settlement” by Zireaux

Title page of "Hesperides" by Robert Herrick (1648)

Title page of “Hesperides” by Robert Herrick (1648)

Continued from previous Res Publica post

‘And this?’ I asked regardless, observing
the burka slowly rise and spread
in flaring folds behind her head
(like dragon’s beard), the softly curving
corbel of her neck, the dawn
of lips, then nose, then eyes, the wan
demeanour of that smooth dark face
and how those lips appeared forever
formed by some surviving trace
of haunting melody. ‘Is she
the one whose love you – ?’

                                            ‘Wise and clever,’
Sayeed affirmed good-humouredly.
‘Your mind – you see? – has not been harmed.
Your senses (as we saw!) were charmed
by Noorya’s touch. I had no doubt
she also caused your brain to spout.’

A week would pass before I stepped
outside that dim-lit metal shed.
The sky was powdery blue. A thread
of high white vapour stalked – but kept
its distance from – a cruising spark
of jet-plane silver. The sea was dark
delphinium jelly, spread evenly
in all directions. Smoke. Some tents
and tarps and stocky men long-sleevenly
attired, with boots and stoat-fur caps
and rubber coveralls. The scent
of roasting meat. The whirring clap
of a generator – diesel, loud,
and spewing out a pale blue cloud,
as if my little island pet
were puffing on a cigarette.

It was, by God, a settlement.
A place where people choose to live
in ways we might call primitive,
with tents and sheets of metal leant
together in awkward angles, adorning
my rocky isle with extra thorning.
And midst this weather-beaten camp
of boxy blues and fish-tail greens,
was laid a lattice-work of ramps
and shelvings, narrow wooden planks
on which a tank of kerosene
could rest, or jug of water, or rank
of barefoot workers could walk, or gravel-
burdened barrows bobbingly travel.
Convenient, perhaps. But, too, I felt,
confining: a strip, or strap, or belt.

Of course – a corset! My virgin girdled!
A grill or grate. A wooden lattice
that made a gangway apparatus
through rocks which once I had to hurdle.
And laces! My darling isle was strung
with lines where clothes and bedspreads hung.
This lonely ground, this mound of mine
with waves all round, this gentle rise
both crotched and contoured, coarse and fine,
amidst the soft pulsating seas,
– if viewed aloft, from seagulls’ eyes,
you’d see a camp of refugees.
But more, a patch of beauty tented,
a cleavage shackled and ornamented.
O damn to hell! Such neutering lace
leaves beauty and her suitor chaste.

Quilts and blankets, carpets rolled
and bagged in plastic covers, incredible
cushions, divans that were bed-able
(though damp and graveolent with mould),
a single, blue-clothed table (a flirt,
with benches peeking up her skirt);
a washing board from which ungainly
suds were launching in the breeze;
and all of it — to put it plainly –
wedged in every gap between
the crowded rocks, the squeezing seas.
A jackhammer, shovels, picks. A scene
of litter-ality. A cramped
encampment. An isle with people stamped;
and cause of my despair (since cured,
now that there’s room to play with words)…

…and play with you, my ample love.
My continent. Your endless shores
are mine. Your mines and mineral ores
are mine. And all the air above.
One moment with a toe of yours,
this finger’s girth, these little furs
upon your rolling knuckles. This lip,
this lash is worth the seven years
of my confined indentureship
upon that tightly tenanted rock.
Compare your overflowing spheres
which sweep aside your flimsy frock
with my lost isle’s constricted crust.
No bum like yours to plunge in. No bust
to extol, as Herrick, the poet, would lay
his lips on Julie’s ‘Milky Way.’

Whole galaxies are in your breast.
This surge, this cleft, this sloped descent,
it brims with life – em>ebooblient!
(My fingers grope; my pen just jests).
With ripeness grows the urge to hug it.
Not so my sour little nugget
of the sea, all hardened flake and brittle
brine. Where once I deeply craved
to hold her, she seemed much less committal
now. The people. Their tools and tents.
A part of her was even paved.
(her South-most point, where came and went
a daily boat, which brought ashore
another stash of goods galore.
My poor, defeated Babylon.
And so much death…but let’s move on).


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