Two Poems

Ruth Padel

Red Syncopated Green

You’ve given away your temple, Lord, your altar-stone,
dun flame of burning myrrh, oil poured
in long libation, soaking into turf;
smoke rising to your sky
from incense-sacrifices kindled by
our grandfathers. You’ve given away
our wall-of-the-world liana-twined batik –
the holy mountain, dipterocarp,
deciduous, evergreen, where panther pugs
are secrets in black earth
on ivy-lattice ridge-trails; wolf-shadows
where cedars flush in dawn’s first light
under first winter snow. You’ve betrayed all this to our enemies, the Greeks.

(Euripides, Trojan Women, 1060-70)

I was on his boat. As we left we saw
a deranged old man, a fire-eater. Our shorn hills
behind the charred wall-stumps like black figs
fallen, quivered through the dark part of his flame.
The city was yellow scatter on the plain.
Old men and children huddled on griddle-stones,
watching. This was the shore
where for ten years the enemy beached
carbony hulls like a pod of orca, murmuring
to driftwood fires we’d watch from the walls:
brightspeckle war-flies, the thousand electric
bluebottles of Milky Way. And also where
they herded our women on board
with spears and sailed away.

He couldn’t take us all. And few, even now,
wanted to exchange what they knew
this terrace of salt in blue cellulite,
green petals dimpling on milk, a sheen
like snow cancelling its own xerox.
He stood at the poop deck looking back,
shading his eyes, god-driven to this combat
with himself. He’d always obeyed. Now we
had to follow. Me, I was OK up to Tenedos.
I’d gone there once with a girl,
before they hid in that island’s little bays
and we thought they’d gone. You needed
a post-human heart to leave those treacherous
inlets behind for the blazoned sea.

Light, scattered from a cereal packet. Razzle
like Leicas at an audience of the Pope.
(Forgive me my clairvoyance. Let’s say
I was a prophet, once. Light fell on me
athwart.) Then hammers of rain, I remember,
that first day. Our wake on a greenish patina,
soggy portal to the undercounter world. Gritty
caverns of nymphs, I shouldn’t wonder. Committees
of lamp eyes, blubbery warriors, ivory sharks.
Jade cloud for a flayed-steel prairie; fields of cream
on ocean-flesh soon dark in our first sunset; red
syncopated green. We didn’t know what lay ahead.
Scylla, Charybdis, Sicily, civil war . . . The bread we ate
was baked in the volcano of our city.

Spinning the Plasma

She presses the switch on Refletron
Blood-Measurer Machine
(subject to rotor fatigue)
and squeezes hawthorn-berry blood
beads from the index fingertip
of this stringy boy, sweat-sheathed,
eyes closed, on mother’s knee.
Margaret Frosso spins the plastic wheel
till haycolour plasma separates from
dark-sedimented scarlet cells
penetrated by Plasmodium
Falciparum. The parasite
has multiplied, broken the red cells
down. Which spells, to you and me,
fever, shivering, fever again, until
it manages, in the cunning
twitchy maze of evolution all
good hardworking parasites achieve,
to – yes – obstruct (what kind of word
is that for what is happening?)
blood vessels in his brain.