Thirteen Poems from ‘Salt’

David Harsent

Her sudden, silent prayer was commonplace:
to betray but do no harm, to admix guilt with love
and that way get the best of it, to let each salty lie
roll on her tongue, to gamble with heartbreak, to give
an account of herself that would seem most like herself.

 

There’s a shadow in from under the door. Can you see it yet:
shadow of slow-onset, contagion’s mission-creep.
So, yes … voices held to a monotone, the painting, the clock,
hanging clothes, aerials and ridge-tiles, cirrus, cirrus …

 

To live in silence, to write a white book, to go
touchless from place to place,
to shuffle off your skin, the mask of your face
under its hank of hair, still placid and empty-eyed.

 

They eavesdropped on one another. He read her mind.
She wrote him notes that could have come from anyone.

 

The want of emptiness, as if it were a place, a house, a room
within the house, as if to stand unmoving at the dead
centre of the room would usher in
yourself as abstract, all potential gone, all remedy,
light falling into light, that subtle wind the winnow of your soul.

 

Blackwater tidewrack, as if the river could get this far
with its backwash litter of skin and bone, as if broadwinged birds
overflew it, their downdraft stirring whirlpools, as if light
came hard and slant across the floodplain, as if your window
opened onto this which is 3-D micro-sleep, is dream as blitzkrieg,
short-circuits sparking your nerve-track, your head a beacon.

 

She puts down her book and lifts her drink, a cloud
of dew on the glass, a circle of salt on the rim;
she takes the scent of tequila first, then drinks. It might
be years before she goes back to the book, those lines
and layers, deaths and denials, that tallyman hero.

 

To be sightless and speechless, to be the last of the lost, to be left
with nothing underfoot, the day on all sides darkening, your head,
your poor head she would say, a blue flame in a glass jar, and then
words given in hope, those small collisions, their afterlife in song.

 

The hands of the puppeteer are chafed by love. His people dance
and clap and jabber, and kiss by knocking heads. Their names
are known only to him. If they lie to one another his fingers ache.
Husband and wife and lover and stranger and fool: they fall
into themselves, vita continua, common ground, go side by side.

 

Deathbed reading ready-stacked spine-out,
Apothegmata Matrum, Q’s Songs, etcetera and so forth.
There would be Lindt ‘with a touch of sea-salt’ (and why not?)
drug imperious and drug of choice. I observed the doctor sniffing
like someone testing a bad egg: ‘There’s fever here.’ Daylight
weighs on the air in this account; or else air weighs on the light.

 

‘The curtain dropt and Bel-imperia dead’. Snowfall
thinning to sleet becoming ice; he drove
feathering the wheel, soft on the brake,
as they talked it through: her clever step downstage,
the knife delayed, the way she found the light …

 

Rough sleepers turn away and fold into their stench,
scholars of the omphalos and arsehole. Go by, go by.
Soon they will rise as one, a long silhouette
snaking between tail-lights, and start the final journey
to Axis Mundi. The pavement artists have your likeness,
that coal-black broadcloth suit, that whisky-stagger.

 

Salt-slip in a field of salt. Men in white are raking it. They turn as one
at the edge of the field, they might be stepping back from the lip of the world.
They go bare-headed under the sun; white light hammers back
from the tillage; wind-taken airborne dust, they breathe it, they smile
white smiles, white teeth, white fingernails, white eyes, they are salt-
stiffened, they go as one, they carry a song in their heads but salt
thickens their tongues, they cannot sing, there is just
this field of salt below a birdless sky, they rake, they come to the edge.