Rota Fortuna

David Harsent

Dawn darkness is a bare blue light
and there’s a sound coming at you, most likely brought on the wind
from a hillside forest or nicked off the skim of the sea . . .

So you’re humming that long, slow note as you broach the day,
and the dogs of dawn are all one voice as you step
down from your home sweet home, your tour de folie,

and before you get to the other side of the gate
comes a smash and clatter of wings as a thing takes flight
from a point just above your head and has you pinned

by joy-in-fear as its lift-off shakes from the Tree
of Love and Forgetting something much like a fruit
that sits, just so, in the cup of your hand,

though it would take a bigger fool than you to bite
into that honeyed rump, as if you hadn’t sinned
enough, as if you wouldn’t have to pay

your share for each day of solitude, each night
when your dreams of flight and falling left you stunned.
God help the merely fortunate: lives lived in shades of grey –

let’s leave them to contentment . . . yes . . . and let’s agree
luck is a different darling; luck, in fact, is what
the Daughters of Necessity have planned

for you, this way or that: the turn of a key,
or else the turn of a card, that might
bring you from dawn shadow into the light of day

on a morning like this and set you in the way
of that seascape blown raw, that hillside, that self-same note,
the drone still in your ear, though somewhat dimmed,

and no way to know what’s next, what sleight
of hand those hags might bring to the game, or why
it’s you at all, or whether the black and white,

the yin and yang, that ever-turning wheel, its rote:
I rise, I rule, I fall, and I am crushed,
will play out in your favour . . . See where the doomed and damned

look up to the sky as it trembles and tears, each lashed
to a spar or spoke: going under, or all but gone; and see where the rest
lift their hands to heaven, out of sight

except to those beside them and above, the newly blessed
who imagine they’ve found their rightful place in the turn-and-turn-about,
though the sudden sun on their faces, the cool, clean air will cost

all that they have and more, since that lofty inch-by-inch
is simply the way of death, is death
as shiftless shadow, death as that hint in the air, as the first

waking thought, death as a face in the street,
a face in a photo album long since lost,
is death the dreamer, death the locksmith, death now cast

as a friend in need, death as the thin
end of the wedge, is the fuddle of death, the way death sidles in
with a nod and a cough, is death self-styled,

is the niff, the nub, the rub of death, is death at a pinch,
death in a poke, death as a bastard child,
and that note you sang was the voices of those on the wheel

teased out to a single sound that might have chilled
the blood of a man less troubled . . . and all the while
they were singing it back to you, or singing it back to the wind;

so the dogs, the windfall, the wash of air that belled
and thrummed as the creature broke from the tree, the blind
luck that brought you this far – all are part of a deal

struck at the hour of your birth, part of a plan that always held
this very moment, when you pause to think
of the dream that had you stalled somehow above a depthless blank

of sky and sea . . . and there floods in, now as never before, that sense
of giving yourself over to chance
that will turn you for home, or take you to the brink.