Equivocal land: the coastline
dips south from mangrove swamp, a blinding surface
of salt. The sea begins, though where precisely
is a point on which no two minds are at one.
The horizon quivers, blue volts flash; then thunder
— too far off to be heard. Nothing’s
itself or what it seems: a tree
rooted in earth and water feeds
on air; the lizard’s papery dry wings
rattle like hail. Tree-orchids,
bird-shaped, parasitic, take their flight
like angels in empty rooms. Subtly abroad, their perfume teases
the heart with Paradise.
We dream of England, home. Under the net
our sleep’s a cool blue portico,
still air, ionic glades — lawn, gravel, water under one
law established, quiet like the snow.
Here cedar-swamp and flying-fox, furred
babies with baby faces, baby cries
in the fig-tree’s shadow, upside
down, feasting on fruit, the alligator’s
eye, half-lidded on
I think, John, of the law we read
at Winchester, the violable law.
Not easily practiced here, in a makeshift house
on stilts above slippery ground. Slowly the forest
of mildew beards my shoes. In a travelling-chest
our English clothes lie folded, English skins
smeared with a cobwebbed damp as if snails had struggled
across them. Paths run wild
in the scrub beyond a gate. Men lose their nerve
so easily — slow malice, temper fits; Eden is never
alas, quite what we dream, and innocence
a more precarious state
than any know propounding it from Sunday
shadow of elms, their airy negative.
Matchflare, the lamps are lit. Elizabeth leans
to the keyboard. Damp chords mingle with the bell-note
of frogs, delicate stroke
and chime of pairings in the tropic dark.
Now baby-faced furred flying-foxes set
their sharp teeth in our skin, a bald head nuzzles
its way back to the womb. We bleed our soul’s
darkness to the sky through pin-pricks barely
felt in the night’s excitement. A hand sickens,
pale as a fish, transparent, drained of good.
On the insect-swarming surface
of light, the alligator’s
eye, this land
© David Malouf