Lovers of the Arctic Circle
After the eponymous film by Julio Medem
I can see it, I can see exactly
how it will unfold.
I see us falling through cold
cloud, water, ice,
falling like stunned birds
shot by lightning.
Our story is already told
but hasn’t yet begun –
so I start running, I run
past my other lives,
where all the safer choices lie,
where people that I haven’t met
are signaling with smiles,
and then they are a blur,
I run so our story doesn’t die.
I have no time to stop, I’m in a wild
hurry, I’m in a dreadful hurry,
running to the silent white
where you are high
up and bent like Atlas
under darkened skies.
The problem with perfection
We reach perfection in the garden
in the slow night between seasons
by loving silently among carnations.
I’ll never be happier, and I am crying.
This too will change, he says as consolation.
But it sounds like treason.
It will get more perfect yet, he whispers.
He is a gardener and knows such things.
But gardeners know too about dying.
No, I say, we stay like this or lose all.
I am a poet, I know nothing of reason,
I am not wise. I am not consoled.
When tomorrow we rise,
I will never forgive the seasons.
I will never enter a garden again.
This is the problem with perfection.
Urbina Station, 3650 m
Welcome to the world’s highest station,
our guide says. This is our last destination.
Observe the vapours that arise
from the snow-peaked elevation
of Chimborazo, twenty thousand and seven hundred feet.
Yes, breathing is like eating ice.
The locals stand like totems in the sleet.
This is the terminus for those who dare.
I’m local, I don’t really care.
You feel lost, you sway
like sickening grass in thin air?
You paid good money to be lost.
And now I get to leave, you get to stay.
No one will look for you. Adios.
You’ll figure out your reasons –
the train won’t come until next season.
Sometimes we lie
Sometimes we lie in beds big
as houses and safe like mothers.
But not tonight. Tonight,
we can’t console each other.
The bed is too small, the night
too long, our happiness too brief,
and under the red eye of the street light
I cry in the snow with old tears,
not because you are gone,
but because you were here,
because we’re lost children of long ago –
what we do, we do out of grief.
Nobody will pray for their souls
One Sunday afternoon
there was a scorched white town
like a high-pitched scream
and all shutters were down,
and the Catholics in the church
were dreaming bad dreams.
On one side of the town
was the Lake of Blood where those before
the Incas had been gored.
A park for trafficked animals
was on the far-off shore.
That, and ashes in the throat.
Two travellers whose names nobody knew
or where they came from,
appeared in the town,
their faces were browned,
they were a bit lost, just so
as not to know that love
is shorter than life, that a night
in this town of long ago
is their happiest for some time,
that when tomorrow they are gone,
their backpacks dark and tall
against the sun like gravestones,
nobody will pray for their souls.
Valentine’s Day at the Inca Ruins
No, I am not sight-seeing.
I’m here by mistake, it’s February
and the middle of my life, and I am looking
at a broken railway across the skies.
And all I know is that it wasn’t meant this way,
the railway was built with sweat, and people died
and we don’t know their names.
Please, I say to the stones the Incas left above the rails -
no mortar used, the guide explains,
his voice sounds far away,
and then he too disappears – please,
there has been a mistake.
I haven’t been touched in months, days.
Each night, I grow old with disuse.
And now a cold, mean rain begins to fall
over the five of us – the shrinking guide,
a dog with broken legs,
a teenaged couple, though I know
in two years they’ll be over,
and in another hundred nothing
will be left of us, nothing,
not even stones or rail tracks,
and the rain will blow across the plains
one February night, please, I say to the Incas
whose faces were like clay, who lasted sixty years -
please, if no one touches me today,
who will know that we were here.