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Garden in Heat.

And three more poems.


Garden in Heat
after Roland Barthes

Punctum : the modest incidental in any picture
that proves the most magnetic to the eye –
& in this garden the point where the visual flic-
flac comes to a halt is the bead of oozing
sap, that infant amber, glowing on the trunk
of a sick tree in the sunlight slathered

across the garden, where we might imagine
the Forms are danced into actuality
between throbbing brick walls, clothed
in flesh of one kind or another – bodies
of muscle & blood, of cellulose & chlorophyll
– here the perfect O of a navel pulled

slightly oval as your lover reaches up to tug
cherries from the branch – here the peony’s
incurved layers of pink-suffused petals
& sly protrusion of powdered stamens –
everything set shimmering on the air,
the silent horn blare that shakes us

in our mesh of senses. We’d happily forgo
entry to the removed quiet of any heaven
to prolong this lull in the flight of successive
nows : superstition calls this the snaring
of the soul by beauty but who could fall
for that idea when, under a sky as blue as paint

we feel the suspense of long grass waiting
for the scythe to strike it to hay, & we know
what comes next – how limbs go slack,
waists thicken, petal frills lie dropped
& seeds ripen in the disclosed triple ovary.
There is no staying. Darkness approaches

on the edge of a blade, under the wheels
of a van, no surprise, a perpetual surprise.
But nowhere in the garden can we find,
try as we might, anything more demonic
than the tiny striped weevil labouring
into close-up with his snouty head on.

Bird Life : Lindisfarne

To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life – Wittgenstein

Between open mudflats
& the heights of the sky,
nothing but one grey islet

lapped by grey waters, no
motion but the soft purl
of currents in shallow

channels & points of flinty
light glinting in a sequence
untrackable to human eyes.

All is flat as photographs – until
the shore breaks with godwits
lifting from their resting places

by the hundreds, fragments of dark
earth taking to the air in a fluid
envelope continually redrawn

as if they were tethered each
to each by a wingtip, held
in the elastic net of instinct.

Of course the poem wants to find
the meaning of this constantly
unfixing formation, wants us

to slide into bird thought
& make sense of the sky-shoaling ;
to reverse from that form of life

into language, wording the sheer
glide down the edge of air, possessed
of the knack embedded in flight-

muscles & feathers ; to know the flock
as it knows itself – & how much of this
is the sharing of blood warmth at dusk,

or the predator-baffling dance
of vast numbers, or simply a mass
exuberance of the body in itself.

Reader, says the poem, on my updraft
be unbound from earth, your heavy-boned
exile at an end, & soar, if only a moment,

made in new shape. It’s a lie : crossing
the threshold we fall out of language
our mammal minds wiped –

Water Baby

They found a black thing in the water, and said it was Tom’s body, and that he had been drowned. They were utterly mistaken. Tom was quite alive; and … not only his dirt, but his whole husk and shell had been washed quite off him, and the pretty little real Tom was washed out of the inside of it, and swam away.
—Charles Kingsley


They found a body in the water & said it was Artin’s,
that it had overshot the white cliffs, passed the coast of Kent
& been three months in the sea before currents drew it
to a sheltered Norwegian bay. We who can’t picture the soul
shrugging free with its ruff of gills in place of lungs

look for a way to confront what’s been done to him
by fighters, traffickers, duped parents : but the mind
flinches from the image of sightless sockets angled
upward to the sky as friendly hands turn over what floats
face down in icy shallows in the posture of the drowned,

trailing grazed hands on the stones / make it stop make
it stop / imagine instead the distance of a news camera
between us & the huddle on the shore where the find
is zipped into a bag ready for transfer to a bright-lit
slab & the story’s end can begin to be told,

refracted through the colourless language of forensics,
through coastguard co-ordinates & coroner’s statements,
his identity read in a path-lab from sampled DNA,
his slow progress through the waterways mapped,
his last hours conjectured & a single image

released to the press by police, showing the husk
that held his form in the waves, a blue all-in-one suit
with red lining & fake-fur trim to the hood, opened
emptied cleansed & closed up, the little embodied boy
washed out of it, swimming away into the unseeable.


the child has had his write-up but not
his song though what is there to sing of

when he meets no talkative fish no
capering seahorse or fairy companion

sees no soft sandbed where cartoon
crabs wave jagged claws no pinpoint

stars scattered across a ceiling of water
hears no roar of sea music in the shells

of his ears nor any lament, his mourners
dead before him third time unlucky waiting

for a safe tide to make the crossing
no hand to push the weedfloat of hair

back from his brow only oceans
of white paper waiting for a sign


/ that the instinct to spit keeps his mouth just clear
till a surge scoops him onto a land where they don’t
throw stones at him or swear at him whose name
means pure, but settle him, teach him, give him
a new language, any one of many new starts

/ that someone comes to grasp a sleeve & haul him out
alive, another rinses his limbs of their skin of salt
& in time we see him crouched at the edge
of a playground with a classmate who shows him
tiny gold coins in the seedpods of shepherd’s purse

/ that he is delivered to a life wedged into a corner
of rough land between fields, with foxgloves growing
in the shade of trees & his time spent learning
to be good with horses to be handy with his fists,
a life with too little money in it to feel safe

/ that he only gets to his twenties then smacks his car
at speed into a ditch / that in the middle of a business
presentation he falls heart-stopped to the floor / that
the bathroom mirror shows his white hair falling away
in handfuls as the medication battles cellular riot


sing him his trace
into the future, no more at hazard
than any of us at play for now
among the waves of light
the waves of sound

[Note : Artin Iran Nezhad was a Kurdish-Iranian boy of 15 months who died along with all his immediate family in their attempt to cross the English Channel in October 2020.]

The New World


as they step from wooden ships,
they see themselves alighting
from the Lord’s cupped hand
sent to build an Eden on this earth,
armed with the promise of dominion
over the beasts & birds & fish
of their new home ; chosen
to take possession of everything
they dig from the soil or pluck
in abundance from the trees

across the grassland
a carpet of fallen stars
makes them doubt their eyes,
their minds : which, revealed
as light-bearing beetles, leaves them
hard put to say if their wonder
is diminished or increased


hammers & saws go rusty in damp air,
precious seedcorn is devoured by rats,
root crops rot black in the dirt
before they can be gathered, & sleek salmon
waggling upstream dance past their hooks :

shivering under their plain worsted
the pioneers find themselves forced
to barter with the heathen naked but for pelts
& feathers : by winter’s end, dysentery
& scurvy, scarletina & pneumonia
have scoured the settlements, so that the life
is coughed out of many & the survivors
who scoop the corpses into swampy ground
take contagion also, though the clothes
of the dead & the pallets they had lain on
are put to the fire with their keepsakes
& their bibles

in his fever one of their number
sees an image of a coming kingdom
of desire & having, every creature
a mouth feeding feeding feeding
& the ordained division of day
from dark broken by a glitter
in the desert, signifying a city
pointing its crystal towers to heaven
from flatlands where once stood
nothing but boulders & cactus


spotlit hoardings proclaim these the good times
& millions of individuals buy in to the vision,
housed in daring architecture at a great remove
from the land that feeds them, spending money
that spins itself from itself – the stretched cars
they drive all tailfins & chrome, arrowing
along highways out of town to the drive-in
where they watch pearl-skinned gods
& goddesses rehearsing new myths
projected gigantic & booming under the stars –
while land is being farmed to dust, oil
bled constantly in gushes from its rockbed

& alongside the cicadas’ hum a tireless chug
of metal fans clamped to every building
whirrs a stale outbreath into the heat-
shimmered landscape while on the inside
ice-cubes floating in a hi-ball
melt with decorous slowness

bedding down in the ‘fast affordable air’
of a motel room, better offer a prayer
that this won’t be the night
when the faultlines can no longer hold
& the waiting rift opens under the whole
caboodle on its unstable foundation,
street grids shearing square from square
the noon sky murky with fume & smoke
no water spare to halt wild fires,
while on the news-footage fleeing
tail-lights slip out of focus & merge
with the horizon, a ring of flame
the eye can’t see past


under a blue sky long left behind,
a kid shadowed by a scratchy hound
has crossed through the tangled orchard,
his bare legs prickled by its long grass,
& is now trawling a familiar stream
for sticklebacks with a little bamboo-
handled net the dream has just salvaged
from oblivion : crunching on a scrumped
apple, he idly swats away gnats that bounce
in the humid air & already his thought
is on speeding away to the big city –
big money – big big life

there are no seasons in this place
of perpetual windstorm at the very edge
of the possible – no moving water
or easy tillage no fliers or burrowing things
– but in the shadow of this rock a clutch
of aluminium hulls, their hatches agape,
from which have clambered a handful of souls,
geriatrically slow in thick-soled gravity boots,
their expressions of fear or of marvel
masked by gold-foiled polycarbon visors

there’s a rare deliciousness
to setting foot where no others may go,
to walking without being bumped against
or tasting someone’s breath in your mouth :
worth stepping off the world for, trusting
an umbilical cord of dollars to feed
your lungs with filtered oxygen, finding safety
& salvation untethered from the mother world
where the multitudes are swarming in filth
& disease, in wastage & riot

here, isotope-powered prospector droids
comb the valley floors for scattered traces
of bauxite & deposits of lithium,
monitored from the geodesic palazzo
by a band of trail-blazers fed year-round
on phials of flavoured amino-shake
& hydroponic salads grown by the light
of the New World’s double sun

STEVE XERRI is a former teacher, musician and designer. He was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2017 and has been published in numerous print and online magazines, including The Fortnightly ReviewInk Sweat and TearsThe Interpreter’s HouseThe Poetry ShedPoetry Society NewsletterSentinel Literary Quarterly and Stride. His first pamphlet Mutter/Land was published in 2020 by Oystercatcher Press.

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