In the latest issue:

The American Virus

Eliot Weinberger

The Home Life of Inspector Maigret

John Lanchester

Story: ‘Have a Seat in the Big Black Chair’

Diane Williams

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow

In Beijing

Long Ling

Princess Margaret and Lady Anne

Rosemary Hill

At the Movies: ‘Arkansas’

Michael Wood

Ruin it your own way

Susan Pedersen

At Home

Jane Miller

The Ottoman Conundrum

Helen Pfeifer

Poem: ‘Muntjac’

Blake Morrison

Piketty’s Revolution

Geoff Mann

Short Cuts: In Tripoli

Jérôme Tubiana

Coetzee Makes a Leap

Christopher Tayler

At Auckland Castle: Francisco de Zurbarán

Nicola Jennings

Drain the Swamps

Steven Shapin

Diary: In the Isolation Room

Nicholas Spice

The BillionsLes Murray
Vol. 10 No. 8 · 21 April 1988

The Billions

Les Murray

222 words

At the whizz of a door screen
moorhens picking through our garden
make it by a squeak into the dam
and breasting the algal water

resume their gait and pace on
submerged spectral feet, and they nod
like that half-filled Coke bottle
we saw in the infant river

as it came to its affliction
in the skinny rapids. There
it made a host of dinky bows,
jinked, spun and signalled

till it was in the calm again.
Riding wet in a wide reach of glare
it made us think of icebergs
towed to a desert harbour

for drink and irrigation,
stranded incongruous wet mountains
that destroy the settled scale there,
but, imported in a billion pieces

that’s how the coke world is.
And though, as immemorially,
all our dream-ships come,
and go, to Cervix Paradise,

now when day puts us ashore
we walk on gritty ice
in wideawake cities
with tower flats and smog horizon

and there we work, illusionless,
scared lest live rhyme with naive
till the evening lights come on.
That’s the Enlightenment: Surface Paradise.

It cures symptoms, and is fun,
but almost any warmth makes floes
those caught on them must defend
as the inner fields expand,

floes with edges like a billion.
Strange, that wanting to believe
humans could fully awaken
should take away the land.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Read More

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences