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Sport 37: Winter 2009

Ian Wedde — Arriving Blind

page 21

Ian Wedde

Arriving Blind

Gangetic dolphin
And yes, she does surge upward her
eyeless head, breaking the surface

of the brown river
and next her smooth eelish back,

a colour between lilac and beige
with the glistening pallor of her own

feverish medium: perhaps clammy
like the river that has blinded her with silt

through enough generations for the ruins
of brick palaces built on char islands

to have become mud—this old river
that has made the dolphin oblivious to

the view of fuming brickworks
before the rains come, the sight of

corpses and sand barges clogging the Himalayan
snow-melt grown muddy on its journey,

vistas of ghats, boats and bathers, hazards
of pole-rigged nets and effluent pipes, the leaching

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salty shrimp ghers and a new bridge's concrete shins—
the sight of slick blue mud shining below paddies, and

billowing in shallows, the cottons
of modest bathers whose

mild sweat seeps out to the channel
where the blind dolphin scents it, lifting

her nostril through the turbid scum.
But the river's history of mud, its vegetable islands

and the trash of millennia
have also gifted this blind surging

with miraculous ears—my sightless cousin
turns upstream from

tectonic creaks that heave
tsunamis on swimmers basking in offshore silt.

How to build a nest on a roof
Usually the smoke has gone
when the horizon appears again

out of space where the sky,
shiny and curved, between pink

and grey, has been stretched down
to the edge of the land

where the beach of pale pebbles, between
grey and beige, rattles at the onslaught

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of waves arriving from under
the air's mysterious drape. The waves

are the colours of sky and beach
and thus seem to be arriving nowhere

from nowhere, or to be becoming themselves
out of their own wan

palette of smoke, air and stone.
Usually the snow has gone

when the smoke thins and when
the sky's pink and grey drape has been

drawn back from the sea. The sea then
appears between the sky and the beach

and turns blue, but not the blue
of the sky. The sky is between pink and blue

but the blue of the sea
is between blue and white, as though the smoke

and snow of winter and the calcium of stones
have infused the salt water with

their memories of themselves. That's when
the sky, the sea and the beach

become themselves and
remember their colours. That's when

the gulls build their nest on a roof
of red tiles, unlike the other colours.

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This is how they remember
the place. This is where the owners of the place

lit the smoking fire to blind them
while they dragged the nest of hungry young

whose open gullets were the same colour
as the tiles—dragged them to the ground

and bashed their sight out, in a time
when the sky, sea and land

remembered themselves
and the colours they were meant to be.

The old pines brandish
their brittle branches where the sky falls

past clouds whose shadows
bruise the litter of cones and

trampled rosemary. How can I rest
when my spine and my stomach

won't let me sleep? Listen—don't
disturb my gloom

or the veinous ground where
the shadows of my body press

their rumours. Where bruises
press blood into the body

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of the odalisque. Where light bruises
the body of the earth.

This is the time of my siesta—
the odalisque striped by light piercing

the green slats of the jalousie. This is when
my lips fill with moody clouds

pressing their shadows
on the noon earth, on the

aromatic body of my lover, on this litter
of pine cones and thyme.

This is when my lover finds the dark body
of his odalisque concealed among

my shadows, behind my eyelids
that press their gloom on

my sleep. My sleep that longs
to be conducted through noon by the old,

gesticulating pines. To be imprinted on
verbena shadows and those slats of light

that seem to break from the dim body
of the odalisque and heat my lover's

restless limbs. The sea sounds like someone
breathing while they dream

of cool places that darken as they
sink into sleep. And then, if I listen

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carelessly, resting at last as he
retreats into sleep like a wave

sliding back across hot stones into
turquoise shadows—then, the odalisque may hear

the vanishing sound of dazed passengers
plunging into dark tunnels

where the bays bite brilliant flashes of light
from the noonday coast.

On a clear day
Was I dreaming, after all? They came
and went, pillars of light striding

the horizon out there across the
chalky sea, the languorous heave

of the swell, the indecision of cruise ships
gliding to the left of the view in the morning

and back to the right as night fell. They came and went,
those illuminated waterfalls

and behind them the air was clear
for a time, as if they'd sluiced the dust of Africa

from the sky and sunk it to the bottom
of the sea, silting the abyss

where squid with the eyes of bullet train TGVs
sped through the dark.

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Dawn, dusk, home
6.30am, late spring, a morning in March.
Not quite light, amethyst sky, a few

stars like raindrops on a windscreen.
The western horizon dark—serrated treetops.

In the east, hints of dawn.
I go out, not

in my body but in words.
The word for dawn. The word for star.

The word for darkness
the sea retains. The word for light

the mountainsides are quick
to accept. The word

for the amethyst colour of the sky
which was the colour of my mother's eyes.

The words for windscreen and for rain
starting to fall and for my father

driving in the dark.
The words for nearly there which are not

'nearly there' but the words for
home, for where we were going.

The words my body will go out with
when it knows them, trailing them

behind itself like the red scarf of cloud in the east
which has, just now,

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lit up. The word for dawn. The word
for the darkness I stay inside with.


8.30pm, mid-summer, an evening in August.
Not quite dark, sky between pink and blue, a few

stars like fishing boat lights
on the horizon. The sea dimming to mauve, TV flickers

in windows. In the west, dusk fading.
I go out, not

in my body but in words.
The word for dusk. The word for sickle moon.

The word for light
the sky retains. The word for darkness

the mountainsides are quick
to accept. The word

for swallows filling the sky
with aerobatics, which is the word

for my brother's dreams of flight.
The words for flight and for distance

and the word for returning, which is not
'return' but the word for home, which is where

we'll be going. The words my body
will go out with when it knows them,

trailing them like a flight of
swallows in the evening sky, which has, just now

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emptied of swallows. The word for dusk.
The word for the dark I stay outside in.

How to fly
Night insinuates itself
into the car park and the tough cats with it

becoming shadows beneath the nests of fledglings
in the crowns of palms and the cracked balusters

of the ancient palais. Morbid, no, but when
dawn comes we're there, watching

the runts fall prey. Their sturdy siblings
impact on the sunrise

briefly, and are gone, and so are the stars
as the sun comes up, wiping the slate clean.

Trimming the palm tree
The bole goes up to the crown
which becomes the bole

as its fronds are lopped
year after year—the palm

rising stiffly from its amputated
rejects. Arriviste, just another one

on this barbaric coast whose civilising vines, olives,
oranges, mimosa, and the English

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queers in the cemetery on the hill
all arrived later, after

the Dalmatian corsairs, Algerian squidders
and half-hearted Italian warlords.

When Italy beat France in the 2006
Soccer World Cup, I caught a train

from Nice to Ventimiglia
just to see the Italian triumph

with my own eyes. In the produce market
the women were singing soccer songs

over jeering altars of
unerect zucchini and worm-eaten boletes.

Their cockerels were strung up by the feet
dangling bloodless combs, heads

plucked to a stubble like Zinedine Zidane's.
In the nearby park, under recently lopped palms,

the old guys were imitating Zizou's head-butt, the
coup de tronche that won him a hero's kiss

from Jacques Chirac, the hatred
of the pieds noirs and

of Le Pen's fascist patriots—
and the devotion of mothers of sons

in Marseille's Algerian quarter. Either that,
or the old Ligurians were nodding off, exhausted

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by their night's patriotic labour, the vanquishing again
of corsairs and Algerians, those head-butting bastards

whose crowns only erect themselves
the more you chop the fuckers off.

(for Bill Culbert)

If you turn the light on
to look at it, you can't see it

because it's too bright. When you turn it off,
you can't see it because it's not

there. Look at the shadow, then,
see both what is and what might be.

Riding the train
As the river consumes its banks
I tell you, yes—as the sky

sucks the sea up into its chalky glare
at noon, as the stars

leak salty dew on the palms and the palm frond's
jagged shadow disfigures

the stonemason's perfectly furled siesta—
I'm lost, somehow, at the frontiers

of what's distinct, of
waking and sleeping, seeing and dreaming.

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I'm riding the train.
Don't know if I'm blind

or in the longest tunnel, now, on the whole
bright coast, or what the difference is.

Eating the melon
And now as dusk falls, the evening's
leisurely promenade begins, after a last swim, perhaps,

en famille, the fading lotions of the day
oiling the turquoise waves with iridescent streaks.

And now the table's set, on a vacation balcony, perhaps,
where the family dog begs for her petit morceau

or on the waterfront, where cosmetic tangs of salt
waft across platters of the gulf's bug-eyed fish.

But first, the melon! It came to market in a crate
padded with dawn-wet leaves. Lightly smacked

to test the resonance of its succulent hollows
and sniffed for its exhalant ripeness, it's soon

sliced open so its pinkish sides
glisten with drops of sugar. A squeeze or two

of refreshing lemon, a serving of thin, tanned ham
or a little mound of pungent goat cheese

and this tasty treat's ready for
the dark place of digestion

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whose enamelled portal resembles the melon's bright smile
or a sickle moon grinning over the ocean,

lamplight in the licked bowl of a spoon
or the family dog's ingratiating smirk—

and whose destination is the black sea-bed
nibbled by blind, coprophagous eels.

Bangladesh, France, 2005