In the latest issue:

In Quarantine

Erin Maglaque

Après Brexit

Ferdinand Mount

Short Cuts: Springtime for Donald

David Bromwich

Meetings with their Gods

Claire Hall

‘Generation Left’

William Davies

At the North Miami Museum: Alice Paalen Rahon

Mary Ann Caws

Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler

‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen

Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow

In Lahore

Tariq Ali

GOD HATES YOUR FEELINGS

James Lasdun

Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley

At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill

William Gibson

Thomas Jones

Poem: ‘Murph & Me’

August Kleinzahler

The Stud File

Kevin Brazil

John Boorman’s Quiet Ending

David Thomson

In Shanghai: The West Bund Museum

John-Paul Stonard

Diary: The Deborah Orr I Knew

Jenny Turner

The Word from Wuhan

Wang Xiuying

Close
Close

I

When the wind collapses at last
the sand glitters with oil
like the fine mist of blood
a dying man would breathe
onto his friend’s face and shirt.

It’s this freak weather.
For five days and five nights the storm
hacked the steel legs, mauled the derricks.
The pipes flailed and shuddered.
Nothing the men could do
but play blackjack and drink the rig dry.

He has his friend by the sleeves
but he’s losing his grip.

The word was not spill, but incident.

II

The birds calibrate, recalibrate
the grains of magnetite in their heads
against their star maps,
their clock of polarised sunlight –
but it’s no good, south is cancelled.

Infrasound, dead reckoning
are not enough. They fall like hail
on the Atlantic, the Sahara,
the High Tatras, the shocked
roof gardens of Manhattan.

III

What we’re seeing is something immense
but distant, a galactic event,
a cosmic wobble, a glitch
on the Milankovitch Cycle.
The earth nudged off its axis
like a wheel skewed on its axle. See,

our planet is bored and oblique. It sits
on the lip of the dark. Then flick!
Like a needle skipping the groove.
Oh dear, I’m showing my age.
Let me put it another way:

the maths was slightly out.
We’d been working on old assumptions
and flawed equations. Twenty-one point five
to twenty-four point five degrees. Poor old earth,

didn’t give it much latitude.
Same weary ellipse. Same old axial tilt.
Now it’s free to discover its own inclination –
Pardon? Good question.
Straight answer: we don’t know.
But theoretically,
everything.

IV

When you slide along my already
slick and unreliable surfaces,

you remind me I am liquid,
you make me care about nothing except
falling, spilling, flooding.

All ice wants to be water.

Listen –

that sound at the edge of the dark
is the world’s ice ticking.

V

The city wakes to a tearing sound:
the ocean gathering itself,

mustering its goods: fish, whales,
luminous monsters with no names,

cruise ships, crashed aeroplanes, corpses
weighed down with stones,

drowned forests and volcanoes,
fibre optics, crude oil, spent reactors, each thing

sucked from its hiding place, and the sea
scouring its own floor, even the rifts and fissures,

dragging out the last flakes of life
and then fistfuls of utter dark,

all jacked high on the storm,
kicked over the city, right over the watching streets –

a mixed catch, writhing
in a green net of water.

VI

A partly dismantled giraffe.
A row of rat enclosures.
A zebra which can only sweat
and stare at its own hooves.

The zookeeper’s shovel
rusting against a wall.
His special coat all spidery
on its hook in the feed store.

The thrum of an electric fence.
The air like glue.

Enter a stray cat
with a baby monkey in its jaws.

Send Letters To:

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

letters@lrb.co.uk

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