New Wave

Derek Mahon

On the first day of principal photography
they sit outside at a St Germain café
with a coffee pot between them on a round
table of chequered oilcloth red and grey.
The hand-held camera looks for natural light,
mikes pick up traffic and incidental sound.
A mid-week noon and the hot bridges sweat;
from ice buckets, from windows, watches, knives
life flashes back at them their glittering lives.

Silence, the first thing they have in common,
creates a little precise hole in the uproar
and a vague sorrow as between man and woman
changes summer to autumn as they conspire
like scientists working from the same data.
When they reach Cabourg beyond a darkening road
and a white hotel room shaken by the Atlantic
in a cloud of powder and brine, they run baths
and stare at the moon through open windows.

While the lights go off along the promenade
they wake to a dawn silence, curtained light,
mist and roar of the sea, vast dazzling clouds;
but the stripped mind, still moist and nocturnal,
flinches from confrontation with the infinite.
The sky, its racing stripes and ice-cream colours,
thin cries of children from the beach below,
and the hurtling gulls, are too heartbreaking;
they shut the shutters and return to the dark.

They live the hours as others live the years.
A plane sky-writes, sails flock on the horizon,
their sheets stretch to the white lines of surf
and they doze as if on their own patch of sand
with wind and sun combing their backs and thighs
in a dream of dune-light and rustling quartz
worn smooth by night winds since the dawn of time.
Air reigns, mother-of-pearl; flies come and go;
they open and close their fists like the newly born.

He has given up even on the death of language
and a rain of dots relieves his final page . . .
A singer, tonight she sings in the casino
to a shining ring of bourgeois; but her heart
has already taken flight from the carpark.
Tide-click; starry wavelengths; aquarium light
from the old world picks out in a double row
their sandy prints where, orphans going home,
they climb back into the waves in a snow of foam.