Two Poems

Jean Sprackland

Stumbling under the kapok tree,
fevering between its cathedral buttresses,
I am loster than lost in a place
where every known sound has its counterpart:

tap dripping into a metal bucket,
fluorescent tube about to blow,
the flicking of switches, the tuning of radios,
a tent unzipped – the jungle crawls with spies –

and I’m looking for the kind of nest you can find
if you peel back the bark, only it’s the nest itself
you’re tearing down: a wall, a nursery chamber –
you can’t move here without a massacre.

At night I’d know it by the points of bluegreen light,
the larvae glittering in the psychedelic dark,
but by day I need a guide to tell me
this sort good to eat, this one not

if only I’d been paying attention, not
distracted by the circus of high jinks overhead,
the thought that nothing would induce me –
still it’s not for food I want these scurrying thing

but for the droplet of liquid inside each one,
because the river-scent I thought I caught this morning
has been atomised by heat
and I know there’s a birdcall I should follow to find it again –

but is it the hoatzin, with its smoker’s cough,
or the tinamou, wet finger round the rim of a glass?
I’ve sweated out that wisdom and now I only
shiver and burn to wreck the nest, to put my dry mouth
to the broken place, taste panic and allspice.

I saw the toppled dictator laid out in the park.
I saw apartment blocks where petunias
trailed over bullet holes in the concrete.

I knew of course to stay away from dogs
but was surprised that in the cafés
it was a crime to speak the wrong language

though in the streets they were more tolerant:
a man with a long beard recited
some guttural verses, and someone threw a coin.

There was a Museum of Griefs
with the usual rusting paraphernalia.
They gave you a lantern and sent you into the castle

to view the obscenities
of wealth and the oubliettes. You could walk it off on a beach of grit and sleet,
but the ruined watchtowers were out of bounds.

They were drawing up a guidebook,
and the tour would end on the medieval bridge
(which would be strung with coloured lights by then)

and they would re-open the restaurants,
and teach the waiters to smile,
and at night the lights would shine on the river,

and it would look a bit like the Seine,
or the Danube, or the Arno,
or the river that runs through Prague, whatever it’s called.