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Sulphur

Long before midday the fierce heat that summer
had us pinned in the corners of the converted
grain store, sweating it out, man and wife,
eyeing each other like traitors,

all through that long stretch in stasis
as light moved up the whitewashed wall
we waited for the day to cool, the bands to start up:
Europop welcome home the diaspora.

The birds worked themselves into our dreams
screaming chicks scratching in the rafters,
the frantic, scrabbling footfall on the boards
the absolute pitch of their terror, a wanting

we might have recognised as our own. In those
months the commonplace became miraculous;
the blown rose of Palermo or driving late
on narrow roads past abandoned sulphur mines.

Climbing the calvario each evening at dusk,
so far inland the distant communes felt like islands,
the hawks that bred there baring their wings,
like our boredom, taking to the air.

We would wake in the night to noises from the fields
beyond the Purgatory Church where it was said
they injected stallions with cocaine and raced them,
frothing, teeth bared, wild-eyed in the darkness.

Dorothea Beale’s Death Mask

The same face that frowns out from the photograph
beside Empress Frederick, like two plump rooks at roost
each a singular stern mass of black gloss in their pomp –

(early that May morning, in the college she had founded, I stood
on the lawn promising I would tell him. As quietly,
to herself almost, she said she wasn’t sure it was his, she’d lost it,
whatever it was or might have been

I remember how the sound of the choir from the tower
came down, then birdsong, and rain faint on leaves above us)

how it reprimands me now.

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