An interest in cartography
When I was young I conquered all that I surveyed:
Climbed cliffs in school shoes,
Dug pits with picks and spades
In the corners of the garden where it was allowed;
Shouted out loud what I liked and listened
As the wounded hillsides
Took split seconds to agree with me –
Seconding my sentiments
With seemingly sentient glee.
Have or have-not haversack,
I’d ramble, bramble, itch and scratch.
With my mapmaker’s eye
I made mincemeat of the sky
And moulded clouds to suit my moods:
I’d play with clay and plaster;
Draw colours from the sunset
With the best of my tools;
Make fools of weather forecasters,
And clasp cold breezes to my chest;
Braving thunder, lightning, rain,
I’d come home wet-through and full of wonder;
Investing my ambition in a golden net,
In which to catch words,
With which to build a model village of my world.
What happened to that plan?
I half forget.
But I unfurled my failures as sails
And crossed oceans of opportunity –
Still as mill-ponds –
Rowing, always rowing;
Showing no signs of flagging
Beneath ever changing colours.
Full of failure, primed with pride;
Fixed to take a lion-tamer for a bride,
And to woo her with my wounded paws
Upon her knees, if she should please
To pick the pricking thorns from out my side.
I’m no great cook; could I be Scott?
Or am I just a lost and lowly sot
Without a jot of jotted lines and dots
To impress me as a forget-me-not?
I was a bored explorer when I found you:
An amateur cartographer
With a shaky hand and blurred vision.
I tried to scale your face,
But my placement lacked precision;
I was snow-blind to your behind;
Mistook your skin, at times, for mine;
Heeded nary a warning sign;
Did my level best not to depress, but to impress;
Confused your mountains, once, with breasts.
I stood and waited by a frozen lake,
Making out mirage mistakes,
Blanketed in yesteryear’s pelt,
Trying to focus on feelings felt,
Waiting for the footprints I saw
To either thaw and melt or fill:
These paths to overgrow,
These ill inklings to kill.
I hear you say
“If you want me, I’m your country.”
But every ashen emperor
Is forever saying sorry.
Am I a Roman?
Abusing and confusing an existing infrastructure?
Am I the quarryman? Are you the quarry?
If I straighten the communications
Between your axes and projections
Will I be able, then, to navigate
The surface of your skin in straight directions?
In the pools that fools call eyes,
Will I see my own reflections?
Are you now my land?
Could I raise my flag on you?
Or are you always someone else’s country?
Am I only passing through?
Am I Gypsy, or a Jew?
Am I making light of you?
Can I do right by you?
I’d like to be complicit in your upkeep –
Patrol your borders, see your sights –
Because you keep me up all night
Even when your lights are out,
Or when they’re on but no one’s home;
When your sacred rivers have run dry,
Or your pleasure domes are overgrown.
I’d like to feel if there’s some upset
To your environmental make-up,
That it’s partly down to my faults
And I’m due some kind of shake-up.
And I’m learning all your ways,
And your many moods amaze me.
I try not to let it faze me,
But I know I’ve got so far to go.
When you breathe a certain way
You blow me away.
When you laugh your loudest
You shake me to my bones.
When I miss you –
When I cannot kiss you,
When you block the signal on my phone –
You’re as here and gone as a midnight train.
When you cry you’re a monsoon,
And when the rains have come and gone
Sometimes the floods remain
(On the plane, in the main)
And a rot sets in to everything,
And I fear what was further than far
Has now come near.
When I lament the many eyes –
Some perhaps less green than mine –
That wondered at your landscape,
Ventured through its scenes sublime,
Before our climates climbed together,
And our twin breaths intertwined;
When I curse the tardiness that echoes
In my expedition’s every hollow rhyme,
I can only bring to mind –
Can just remind myself a second time –
That only measurements exist in time:
Not moments, momentous or otherwise;
Not flutters of the heart
Or hard-luck lullabies;
Only arrivals and departures –
Be they early, be they late;
Only numbers, units, digits, dates;
Not the irregular contractions of
A muscle pumping blood;
Only grudges, greed and graves –
Mistaken for art or rubbish