Cliff Fell

Ovid in the Antipodes

(after Bob Dylan, after Derek Mahon,
after Jimi Hendrix, after Geoffrey Hill,
after W.H. Auden, after T.S. Eliot,
after Osip Mandelshtam, after Dante et cetera…)

There is one song,
then always another song.

Bill Manhire, ‘Song: Alzon’

Go, little song, blow north across the burly water —
there is a city on the flipside of the world.
Seek it out. Seek out the movement of my other feet:
a cobbled street, footsteps that click on
polished white stone. Sulmona I started from.
Then, the ways and colonnades of Rome.
Next — muddy waters, bullock wagons, a shit-hole coastal
river-town: the noble savage was a shaggy-haired man —
rooftops bristled with arrows. I found out then,
my friend, how the world is pierced by a curiosity —
in the mapped-out throng of antipodal points
I fixed Terra Firma’s other feet: most of them fell
into deep sea swell, currents under sea, you know that old theme —
Phlebas picked clean, blue whisperings of distant bone.
But, go, little song, somewhere there is a place for you,
go bold as love — flip the vinyl to side one, follow an axis
to rare and rocky land, up from the skies into
Spanish castle magic, and in the churr of
a little wing, there you will find…my other feet,
‘walking through clouds with a circus mind’
exact in their long and latitude. A road runs north
out of Portugal — land of the antipode.
Seek it out. Let your voice make eddies in the trees,
let it be a cold southerly (unheard of, there!) —
an oak-clad hill above Compostela — a farmhouse, a red tiled roof,
a dog is chained to the gate, barking in the dusk
where she and her ill-fated companion — that’s me, of course —
kindle a fire to cook a small brown trout —
a last night on the road, out in the starry hotel,
wearing wide-brimmed hats and the badge of scallop shell.

There are those who say: you should only leave
a house by the door you enter.
But this is no exile’s song — we’re all exiles now,
lost in the passage of the world…
And, shit, yes… yeah, right… mine’s a bloody Tui —
there’s poetry enough in these thin islands.
When things go well, the carpenters start to sing.
I hear their hammers in the building site,
behind the concrete office block. I sleep most of the morning,
and walk in the afternoon, past the black swan on Estuary Road.
I dress, at times, in the empire’s new clothes —
ragged shorts, a baseball cap — in which I seek them out,
lingering voices of a long-gone world.
What goddess is this that sings in the smooth sea-pebble?
Which shape-shifter lifts his thunder tongue
to play in the log truck’s exhaust?
It is not hell, and is not heaven here.
But how can the city of Santiago
slip through the saltmarsh and back into my pen?
There is only one road, across the wailing river,
road those Easter pilgrims took — from a dark wood,
and through the badlands of Cocytus…
But I… I can only circle the cathedral here,
on a tarseal path. That’s me on the ramparts of the settlers’ fort,
palisade where the pa once stood, Pikimai —
Climb hither, the hilltop says, now that I’ve been fortified
with God. And listen to this fragment of a far-off song —
in stony Nelson, a notorious disaster shall befall.
How easy — I should know — to turn into stone or tree.
I walk past the graves of those who’ve played
their octave out, from B to B Flat — O, ‘saddest of keys’,
the wind in the totara sings them back to Hawaiki,
that eternal city, with songs from the end of the world —
all of them is many, and all of them is one
 — all’s one, all’s one, Alzon —
and so it gets done, black swan, the song that wants to say…
Go, little song, blow north across the burly water —
there is a city on the flipside of the world…

September — October, 2006

Author’s Note


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