Quietus

It is now zero-two-twenty-two
and my sleep is distracted
by far too much thinking
about minor possibilities –

and other rum miracles
in my conjouring mind –
such as taking my mother
back to the Holy Land –

to see her greet the white grave
of her eldest son – at least once –
for me to tolerate her
misunderstandings

There will be no myrrhbearers
but only her – one more witness
before the grave and stone
which is fixed – she will stand alone

I know that she will never return –
and I have no chance of a mute apology
as she struggles with family acts
of untranslatable love

She may live a few more years
having never felt his breath on her
off his loud grandchildren –
and seen the tears of his wife

And at zero-three-zero-three
I save this disturbance of sleep

A Diversion on the Road to the Dead Sea

We drove due east
past the concrete wall
by the older stones
which marked the fall

of carved out gods
honed by man’s cold sword
through the broken centre
of this confusing world

There restricted Jews
and Muslims had bled
under the scything prayers
of crusading men

Rose water was scrubbed
to reclaim the rock
to wash from the slabs
the foul tread of a god

When the Axa mosque burnt
in a war on the dome
a madness was found –
Jerusalem Syndrome

Hopes raise and implode
back to rubble and dust
Forty centuries of walls
have never been lost

Shelters in Israel

I measured the fixed areas
in which a life was doused –
drawn for the new owner –
one way to heal his house

Under shading palms
my foreign family sits –
another showed the plans
of his own home being built

I walked in his construction –
ready by the winter
on a tour of whitewashed rooms
and the bomb-proof shelter

He led me through the building site
taking time to watch my path –
and I then saw his dear family
cowed below the blast

The rubble and busted timber
are props across this lot –
precursors to God’s plan
for when the bomb is dropped.

The Crossing

The night’s timed howl outside
is of another wheel-rattled diesel
slowing over the level crossing
which is now closed to us

It reminds me of the distance
which we can no longer walk –
out to the suburb’s grip around
the kibbutz’s old burial ground

As if a sacred place can be safe
in this country of rude expansion –
of tightened grips on settlements
and the troubling of neighbours

They blocked the road over the line
and so all remebrance is diverted
via town in a short car journey
of blasting air and Arab music

The lock is turning into rust
as we the gatekeepers follow
the steps to where death rests
in this scalped remnant of other lives

The dead are watched over not by God
but those who live in the high blocks –
the commuters and the city workers
who pass these crumbled bones

on each day’s journey to and from
their own short hell of Tel Aviv’s pull
They pass my brother’s white grave
without knowing how far he travelled.

To Deny

That preterist way
of completed schemes
here sound as raw
as infants’ screams

I watch the place
where parakeets nest
in weighted boughs
they make protests

Those trees which grew
a heightened shade
on this claimed place
which Jews re-made

The pool’s loud shouts
a stone’s throw there –
to that shared space
we now repair

Here parents stand
in thigh-deep games –
their inflated kids
play out their day

Widdershins

‘The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming’ Isaiah 14:9

I have turned against the world’s clock
and her perpetual request for following
and found myself with my back to her sun
My shadow’s stain laid like the Long Man

I am that untouched layer which obscures
but which time will shift again and again

I am part gnomon – being so subdued
that a blackbird lands in my cast of darkness

This shaded life is mine to command
as I take on the correctness of watchfaces
and counter the arguments for my decline
which are under the thin mantras she sings

I will cleanse with the Rephaim around me
in the baths in which my brother washed off
his own reductions in the last of his living world
and I will not take on her sour sung calls.

Distances

We are existing on two shifting continents
still being dragged apart by the slow forces
of nature – her spiteful ways have set us asunder
through more than time differences and flights

This borrowed bed is without the weighted duvet
which you may have reclaimed in my absence –
I sleep under a single sheet and the turning fan –
I am woken on work days by tipping trucks

I am here to consider my place in the world
with the set distance fixed like a short sentence
from which I will be released – but still without
any solution to deal with my mounting crimes

A long call brings neither of us new insights –
only the confirmation that the future is foul
and my recent behaviour is another indicator
of everything that is wrong on our edged shores

I shall return weighted down by foreign gifts
to home soil – I will not step well across that space
which we cannot pull back together –
because the landmass drift still exists

A Weariness

Over three decades ago I lived
under this ridge and these roof tiles
of repeatedly cast red clay

They were more malleable days
when constant change was good
and my future still had thirty years

From under these timber beams
Chris was removed before his fiftieth year
A weariness tinged with amazement

Perhaps Camus – or my tired words
will lift the eyes of my children to life
I sip my Arabic coffee as Israel growls

The Foreigner

This sun on me is a cure
helping my nails grow
and burning off that skin
which had been flaking

I am the foreigner
who scares the small kids
with his Englishness
and chrome walking stick

Older residents recognise
my dead brother in me
and stop to talk – or more
A grandmother touched my face

I read books the wrong way round
was one child’s observation
My kin have my eyes and brow
and are shocked by this mirror

The Shade

There is no word for this foreign heat
but under the dapple-shadow plantation
I find a ten minute retreat from our star

Here I sit and consider my options –
as a bead of sweat rolls from my chest
to track like an insect under my shirt

This is a playground for absent kids
with still swings and slides anchored
between picnic benches on which I rest

I consider my options with no haste –
for now relocated to this middle east
of loud relatives and small children

We are not sheltering in the same land
and I wonder if this half-turned separation
is my way of seeing the other side of the sun

The Cows

Two good legs shunt the shed’s herd
of black and white hand-numbered hides
into the single storey milking parlour
where the udders are washed and latched
to German engineering by Israeli hands

We would pour unpasteurised milk into a jug
and cross the lava-hot tarmac on bare feet
to then undress and take a long shower
with the coldness in our throats as reward
for hard work and hard fucking

The daughters of my brother’s bovine care
look at me with unrecognizable stares
as they chew on the sweet feed at my feet
They do not know of the kindness I showed
their forebears under these shaded beams

Chorus

There is a constant rise
and fall of squabbles
between this variation
of rooks and songbirds

which was earlier today
played out in the shop
where pecking old women
disagreed in quick Hebrew

They found a sullen perch
to nudge within whilst queued
Here ruffled cotton feathers
were preened and re-aligned

The English Grandfather in Israel

That soft crash of the blown clothes horse
lifted me, slowly, from the sprung chair
to put me, briefly, to laundry work

to fix, to lock, and to re-dress the frame
found flat with unfurled tablecloths,
which the wind had upgraded to sails:

I stood the fallen hanger against the other,
that second still-stood skeleton for linen,
from which my brother’s old shorts hung,

now washed, to be worn, with amusement,
by his still-living wife: ‘And they object,’
was her laughing remark.

I see him in that same sprung chair,
with a noxious fag burning, shouting ‘Ma?’,
meaning ‘What?’ Then ‘Ken, Ruti’ – ‘Yes..’

His long crossed legs span the space
as his children, now grown, place their kids
on the tiled terrace, the shade he once built,

where the babies crawl and toddlers dance
below their invisible grandfather’s smoke,
that Englishman who has never left this place.

Black Flags

We aim to steal a shadow
on the blasted sand
of Palmachim Beach,
as we step on seashells

which, for one or two breaths,
threaten to slice
our sand-grabbed soles,
but unlike the bared

honesty of others’ flesh
they hardly achieve offense:
Those barrelled chests
and guts would never grace

the fussy covers of Vogue.
With the quick whistle blow,
and planting of black flags,
the surf is taken from bathers

by overly-fit young men,
bare but for matched shorts,
that uniform of angels,
who sit high in their tower,
above us wave-cut mortals.

The Path in Israel

I am back here, with my stick,
on that red powder paint path
down to the cemetery,
but the route is now blocked

by the bare bone homes
being built for kibuutniks
in this sweating country
of uncomfortable borders.

Ruti and I stop, for me,
for shade in the plantation,
at a table, daubed in kids’ paint,
a cake sale of blues and pinks:

A minute later my sister-in-law
is at work in the ploughed field,
gathering those missed shells
of last week’s peanut crop,

and she returns, weighted,
off centre, under Bruegel’s
heroic ordinariness,
pulled down, but undaunted.

There she cries as I read aloud
yesterday’s words on my phone,
but today’s unpainted lines
will not capture this shade of grief.

New Year’s Eve, Netzer Sereni

The heat drove us up to the pool,
that once military water tank,
now a five lane chlorine speedway
of hairy-backed kibbutzniks and kids:

The pool guard knew of my brother,
that ghost, here, who walks before me,
from the houses and to the store,
and down there in the cow sheds

which we had toured in the morning
with the nechadim he had never met,
his childrens’ own children,
his reduced obligations, taken by death:

And it could have been me again
walking alongside his ‘Christ! Fuck!’
expletives which his descendants repeated
under strong accents, an exaggerant:

We nine formed a ragged convoy
of buggies, a dog, and long shadows:
a unique celebration of his life
on this New Year’s Eve in September.

EasyJet to Tel Aviv

The red-haired air hostess,
pinned by pearls and ponytail,
worked the too busy aisle,
shunting the rattled trolley
as the Orthodox Jews
curled each payot dutifully,
before they gathered
for prayers over Europe:
Her ochre beauty bobbed
between the brushed hats
of the swaying gentlemen,
her colouring broke hearts.

A Time Ago

‘Yes,’ you told him,
‘I was in love
with your brother’
Him: ‘That does not matter!’

You both seduced
your rounded youth,
but, eyes closed,
he was still unsure
which one you saw:

Yet you shared a short,
unmarried, life,
with your half-English,
and his own, too precise.

A rattle of ‘roaches,
in the tight shower space,
was the moving-in present,
left by prior tenants,

and two doors down,
a neighbour, laughing again,
when calling out:
‘Never marry a woman!’

As your afternoons,
of barefoot heat,
sex, gulped air, sipped,
and tongue-sweep,

under groped fascination,
his brother
was there, deep, deep,
in your imagination.

Distances

awake at 3.30
where you sleep
writing at 5.30
here in the east
to the wired hum
of the ceiling fan
my breath circulates
as pre-planned
to assist my sleep
in this Israeli heat
which at midday
will force my retreat
but now disturbed
by my body’s pain
my dreams      my freedom
are gone again
until I return
to my forced collapse
this mid-afternoon
pain-free       relaxed
under sleep’s drug
I’ll relish       once more
my prior state
far time zones before