Sport 40: 2012
21 April: Museum of Natural History, Oxford
Feathers, bones, beaks and feet
In the drawer’s forest-scented
darkness I lie on my back.
An impossible posture—
claws grip dead air
where no branch could be,
head thrown back beyond
the reach of song.
According to inheritance
I should have been
an evergreen bird;
instead I ﬂare this rare
and fatally desirable
sun-yellow. Even so,
even here, there is reason
to be thankful. For example
the display case titled
Feathers, Bones, Beaks and Feet.
Someone out there is resurrecting
viruses from the Pleistocene.
One day surely useless beauty too
will stage its comeback:
bigger, better, cosseted,
and harbouring one vengeful
and unseen disease preserved
page 354 and nurtured for millennia
by my unforgetting half-
sisters, the harpies.
9 May: Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, Nice
the blood orange.
Bodies painting with
International Klein Blue.
A calligraphic swan dive
is not something to desire—
but if there is no exit why
not make it elegant
stop motion or
get carried away with
grim panache on
in Geronimo’s Cadillac?
7 June: Musée Marc Chagall, Nice
Inside the ark it was at ﬁrst all white
and green. He seemed to be targeting
the churches with His ﬁre-power;
even out here on the new
fomented sea, a self-annihilating
fury, the atom boom of light-struck spires
and temples echoing as they fell. The lack
of a gap between thunder and
lightning told Noah’s menagerie
that God was on top of them, shouting,
out of control and ﬁt to break his own
fair universe in two. So Noah rolled
into a ball and held what was left
of his breath and the small wet
creature nearest him, a marmot,
as the ark was pushed under
into green and bruise-dark blue.
The giraffe’s puzzled face
spun past on the pivot
of its neck, and even the hippo
couldn’t tell which way was air
and up among the roiling
bubbles. No reasoning
with a creator in that state,
best make like the hedgehog
and wait for him to blow himself out
of the water. And sure enough,
after everything was good
and broken, the air did clear,
and the sky attained a glorious
stained-glass shade of blue
above the calmest
emptiest mirror ever seen
on the face of the deep.
But Noah was not, never
would again be, fooled.
14 July: Musée du quai Branly, Paris
The mask is ironred, charblack,
its eyes outlined white
with porridge and birdshit.
I disappear when I put
it on, invisible even
to myself as I step
into ﬁrelight and voices.
Your drum may talk the rain
down from the clouds but I
am weaving the world
with these words.
Do not get in my way.
With weapon-shaped money
I will conquer my enemies.
With the cicatrice
of song I will reanimate
the dead for an army.
Do not get in my way:
I am weaving the world.
Step back from the mask or
with stone blade and spear-tip
with thirst, famine, warfare,
it will carve the lost
world on your face.
18 July: Musée Picasso, Antibes
Song of la chouette
The bird in the hand is an owl.
The owl has the artist’s eyes.
With them across alps and
over cliffs of sleeping women
it ﬂies, looking for ﬁssures and
platters, chair-backs and shoulders
spotting and looking and taking
in what cowers among the boulders.
At night the small round bird
balloons to voodoo mask,
a stringless kite, no jess or trace
to draw it back—yet faithful
it returns to the hangar and the man
who recalibrates the sights; grateful
and silent, he builds le grand hibou
in black and white. One night the owl
drops the eyes in ancient Greece.
They calmly lie and see for weeks
until the bird, on another hunt,
plucks them up in its feet.
The bird holds the eyes in its claws.
The man hoods the bird in his palm.
The blind mice run at night. The owl means
no harm. The artist it darkly serves
paints under cloudless skies.
I am the owl. You are the prize.
31 July: Chapelle Saint-Pierre, Villefranche-sur-Mer
Religion (ii)This small stone chamber on the water is
about the size of it, and this Peter, human,
foolish, fallible. Forget the pile
of antique treasure on the Roman
hill—my religion stables only
the locals: astonished ﬁsh, and gypsies, and
two seahorses in love can take
their place amid the drawn out story
where the eyes of the pêcheurs swim upwards
in surprise as one of their number
becomes the catch of heaven. In my religion,
even ghosts of colours shed their light,
earth sun and water ﬁlter into lines
that leap skyward with the ﬂying
ﬁsh, and as I turn to leave, two
pairs of eyes on bright green stalks
either side of the trompe l’oeil door
will give the older gods a look-in.
I see no higher than these low-
ceilinged angels, whose ﬂaring white
sails spread above the ﬂeet that’s sped
by human voices—the one and only
prayer, safe home, each family makes
before the loved one steps from stone
to blue, and the pêcheurs’ version:
let me walk on the glass roof
of the ﬁshes without falling through.
As the boats come in, a glass
of sangria, blood-red and orange,
is offered on the quay. Succour
enough. The waves can have
and roll and chew over the body.
5 August: quai Branly (ii)
In the days when we ate what we wanted to be
and appearances took us in
completely as houses
we asked the gods to visit and they came
with their animal faces, shaking
their manes of feather and ﬁbre
and making their repeated claims
on us to honour and obey and feed
them some of us. Back then
it seemed a fair exchange, today
they give us nothing, not even
a song. We are grown thin with
not knowing what to want
to be: something swallowed stuck
in the gullet and will not move
no matter how we stamp
and clap each other
on the back and make the sounds
to call them down, they do not come.
What can we raise in their place?
The earth does not care
for our praise. Not one
face here will do the trick.
Whose hand will hook
the ﬁshbone out? Who
can unblock the airway
between the gods and us?
20 August: Galerie Pictural / Villa Paloma / Jardin Botanique, Monaco
Dali’s greying waxed
moustache. His high life photographed.
Starﬁsh, Nemo, purple
cacti, cave, prehistory.
cleanest on the coast,
Death and taxes
have their ministers
here, the deep’s
on display and
Dali in his diving bell
dares you to question
his papal status
in this haven.
You can’t deface
the currency he has
defaced, but deep
in the dry hill
the cave retains
12 September: Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome
Pope Alexander VI prepares his benediction
The diamonds are pulverised;
the bear has had his arsenic.
The dinner guests are due
at eight. What did not work
at lunchtime will not fail
at supper. No need for the blade’s
straight talk; the stomach
is the place to set up roadblocks
to the heart. In circulation
my plan proceeds its round-
about way. I am death’s diplomat,
sugaring the inevitable with my
glittering tongue. So now the brilliant
goblet’s ﬁlled, swift passage guaranteed
to those who’ll drink my health
tonight; they shall be taken care of.