Yet again I’d been staring at the ceiling,
wondering whether a night without
darkness is really a night at all. Tapping
a patient pencil on his desk, the locum
rolled an eye and reached out for his
prescription pad, told me not to worry;
it wasn’t – he explained – in their interests
to get me hooked on just any old thing.
So by midday I was running down the
hill under an August sun I could swear
was busily roaming the sky, searching
in vain for another star to fist-bump with.
Everything that wasn’t green or yellow
wished it was. Nothing made me laugh
as much as laughter. I fought back the
urges to call, and tell you I’d collected
enough light for every one of us. But when
the breathless night finally caught me up,
and saw me sitting alone without myself,
all it had to offer me was a dry throat,
and a sleep so cheap and plastic I could
see its edges even with my eyes closed.
He walked across your room,
stepping around the random huddle
made up of your clothing, tangled with his own,
unaware of shame, or even the idea of it,
and utterly owning the weight of the moment;
like a prize you’d never dreamed of winning,
or that thing you hadn’t ordered from the menu,
yet had secretly wanted all along.
And in the drizzle of new-born light,
hinting – through the blinds –
of a world outside losing its relevance,
everything finally arranged itself for you
exactly as you’d always hoped.
You drift back here more often now than ever,
combing through the years, to unearth
this memory of him – that morning, that night,
that singular arrangement –
whenever you sense the warmth is leaving you,
stranded somewhere beyond reach,
where even your own tired flesh no longer hugs
those under-loved bones of yours.
Dream as an itinerant tree
Once I understood that I could not
overlook every valley, the urge
to know rootedness consumed me.
I stopped moving, by the side of
a teaspoon lake edged with leaves
of ice. I was mirrored within it.
When it comes, finally, to my felling
– whether by storm or metal – there will
be no struggle below, no clinging on
of reluctance. I am used to this now.
I will slip from the blackened sponge
of the earth like I was waiting for it.
Nothing will splinter. The idea of
permanence will crumple like reeds.
Above, all the birdlife I have gathered
to myself will spill and rush from my
naked branches, emptying the tiny bells
of their lungs as one. It is not a sad song.
I was only ever borrowing the light.
I like the way I’ve pictured you,
going furtively about the Earth,
so aware of – but indifferent to – us,
and everything we’ve built onto it,
your movements either so fast it would
make us ill to even contemplate them,
or so slow you’re barely in motion at all.
Boot-soles worn smooth as baby-feet,
no wonder you go unseen, unnoticed;
you probably prefer it that way.
Sanctions have only set you free.
And when you finally do appear –
your self-portrait like a watermark
ghosting through a photograph –
you’re just a heap of fragments:
a few inches of raw, ink-stained skin
below a shirt sleeve; the new moon’s
reflection on your spectacle lenses;
well-chosen words, whispered.
You’ll be gone to ground again long
before anyone pieces you together.
Robert Ford’s poetry has appeared in print and online publications including Under the Radar, Brittle Star, Dime Show Review, The Interpreter’s House and San Pedro River Review. Find more of his work here.