Sand fire
by Tony Beyer


Rumi in one of his tavern verses
        enumerates the many wines men drink

hashish they take
        to mitigate consciousness

& the myriad ecstasies of love
        of sleep & even religion

the woman whose name said aloud
        resuscitated her fallen lover

the disciple so steeped in God
        he thought he was God

having sampled a number of these
        & the disillusion that follows after

let me pray I may become a good enough man
        to taste the wine of truth

that neither intoxicates nor mars
        but fills up all space with radiance


poetry is a language
        anyone can speak

in droplets like rain
        off the edge of a roof

or the brusque gush
        of a waterfall

in Rue des Archives
        the doctor’s waiting room equipped

with a piano & African masks
        a shelf of literary books in English

Eliot Joyce Auden
        leaning shoulder to shoulder


currency used to be fixed
        to the gold standard

so the folding stuff in your pocket
        had genuine if notional weight and heft

times change & fashions
        replace each other or unconsciously

or consciously repeat themselves
        but in poetry there is still

the Greek & Roman standard
        the Li Bai & Du Fu standard

the Shakespeare & Tranströmer standard
        & the standard set by Bashō


so many of my heroes
        came to me in translation


their garlicky breath rendered first
        as poetry then English

Rumi too & Du Fu transcending
        not only tongues but time

of course only one kind of poem
        is made of words in any language

sometimes the incoherent heart
        might have to have a say


tea poured from up high
        so it froths in the glass

sound as well as 
        fragrance in the room

a satisfied dog’s growl
        a long-furred cat purring

the quiet companionable level
        of voices to follow

distinct from the pitch
        of a thorn fire on the sand

men squat around & talk
        in bursts like gunshots

helicopters & Kalashnikovs
        woven into the pattern of the rug

suited to the warp & weft
        of the desert loom

motifs perpetual as date palms
        camels birds of paradise


a blast as loud
        as an answered prayer

wherever the ordinary 
        might gather 

market place
        or place of worship

polling booth
        wedding feast or funeral

the future returns 
        to the ground in shreds

so few words needed
        assonance of bomb & God

hard enough to swallow
        even in times of silence


bring the sander
        round to Sanders Ave

one of those phone calls
        complete with directions

resulting in atomised dust
        of ten thousand meals

circling minutely
        in the kitchen

as if our conversations
        reduced to vowels

consonants diphthongs
        were all to begin again

same sounds between
        different silences

but in our case
        the blast radius swallows itself

our normal
        is restored 


try painting a ceiling
        without getting any on the floor

the consequence merchants
        will bring up omelettes & eggs

acceptable losses
        collateral damage

yet there must be a way of
        neither losing nor winning

of engaging in full
        the finite acuity of being

report on a scrap
        of paper in the dirt

our intentions were good
        like our training & equipment

but we just lost it     went 
        blood-drunk     as so often before


the idea was to find
        a place close to the sea

then sprawl inland
        like ink from the edge of a blotter

stopping only for impassable acclivities
        until they could be dynamited

& road or rail
        slick as Meccano channelled through

softer obstructions
        flora fauna indigenous settlements

required no such
        forceful decision-making

the earth & under earth
        gave up their riches

anything else
        a few place-names & an apology


in the bathroom of the ghost hotel
        an ancient inhabitant

advised me on the minute particulars
        of the shower taps

installed long ago
        never inspected since

so hot was cold cold hot
        like a man in two minds about everything

whose moment of decision
        approaches without remorse

a finger pointing from heaven
        or a side road acquaintances wait in

for their share
        of the contents of the vehicle

expertly assembled salads
        geometrically accurate sandwiches

vacuum flasks of milkless
        sugary tea


just as there are no rhymes
        in English for orange or silver

there’s no colour to match the colour
        of plumbago blossoms at dusk

blue is a feeble classification
        of the cold glare they emit 

in contrast to the dark setting of leaves 
        more stringent than Lawrence’s gentians

more compelling than the distant
        snow-coated facets of the mountain

these soft sticky nothings haloed
        like us all by growing night

are the secretive lamps customarily lit
        when a conspiracy begins or ends


smell of protective tar
        from a black net on the jetty

boats going out thread ripples
        through the teetering piles

a blue ship on a sailor’s arm
        sets sail for Drunken Ness

unoiled gulls’ voices
        hang still in the air & cry

curved silver bellies in the crates
        handed up from the hold

rain slow enough to count
        each drop as it touches the sea

there is the dangerous edge
        between light & water

where siren-seals stand in the waves
        & watch with molten eyes

our going out & our coming in
        our tarred nets swollen with silver

the floating bones of ancient ships
        dismasted & aground


walnut shells resemble
        the human scrotum

& contain a dry skinned
        oily fleshed kernel

not dissimilar in configuration
        to the human brain

they were thus deemed
        appropriate to be thrown

at the nuptial couple
        at Roman weddings

symbols of both the conception
        & education of the ensuing line


the combined secular café
        & religious bookshop

might have done better
        to exchange the two categories

wafers & wine in one
        bestselling tripe in the other

or would the usual dearth
        of customers continue

uncertain whether a daily fix
        or crucifix was to be the go


what with restorations
        transitions & strengthenings

going on up & down
        the country lately

largely the result of
        earthquakes or their likelihood

(surely in itself
        a sign of God’s hand)

I’ve been thinking a lot
        about church architecture

& what blasphemy it is
        given the promise of resurrection

to build places
        of Christian worship

out of any sort at all
        of so-called permanent material

after all the Second
        Coming could happen at any time

& for the first 
        a cattle shed sufficed


following the wrong gods
        inevitably leads to trouble

of one sort or another
        sprigs of mistletoe

corybantic antics
        likely to endanger both

the acolyte & celebrant
        in some dull cave

where echoes too easily
        become voices of ancestors

or the Minotaur’s bawl
        appealing to his human mother

to save him from the murderer
        sent from Athens to conclude things


if you think about it
        reticulation seems to be

the scheme of things
        blood through vessels

food & its waste through
        the body’s soft tubes

then there are waterways
        of all depths & widths

branches & leaf veins
        sheen of a braided river 

from the air like veins 
        on a woman’s wrist

formations of mountains
        & valleys rearranged

to deliver melted snow
        even human imitations

plumbing gas-fitting electric
        wiring follow the same course

& our concept of the vast
        invisible connection

is expressed as a web or net
        so whoever’s idea this was

good on him
        he was on to something


how little has changed
        since you died

as if life moved as
        slowly as death which stays the same

confirmed by a date on a stone
        & in all references to your name

even our anecdotes
        recalling you with affection

begin to congeal
        as letters or diary entries might

but never poems
        those deliberate survivors

at their best
        outlast us all

& are never still
        remaking themselves

in the eye & ear of each new reader
        or re-read

for the first or third
        or thirtieth time

        & remain the same


the rose displays its secret
        yellow heart & dies

firm petals drooping
        softly to the ground

the colour & shape of drops
        that follow the gored matador

borne in the arms of two clowns
        to the barrier

while a third distracts 
        the bull with somersaults

cartwheels & flips unencountered
        in the flower-strewn meadows of Andalusia


living in one of Calvino’s
        invisible cities

one is exposed to all manner
        of affronts to privacy

porous borders transparent curtains
        blunt snouts of CCTV

& who is that man I’ve
        just noticed on the corner

pretending to read a newspaper
        which in turn pretends

to contain anything 
        any of us would call news


thinking about the atom
        remember school science

the proton & neutron 
        clinging together inseparably

because if they are separated 
        all hell breaks loose

& how this nucleus is orbited 
        by electrons tirelessly circling

busily invisible
        in the human form

made up of billions
        of such configurations

a pattern representative
        of desire in its restless

questing & inescapable path
        except that desire is requited 

or expires while faith is indelible
        wretched at times

susceptible to ridicule
        as long as life lasts

& may even be
        what desire truly is


desire & not its fulfilment
        the engine that drives the world

we would be as nothing
        with nothing to hunger for

when the Three
        Kings found Jesus

he could neither
        speak nor pray

but he could
        make a star move

in the firmament
        to lead them to him

& shepherds kneel
        & oxen pause

the turning of their
        cud to gaze

religion like politics
        everybody talking it

no one doing it
        the poor stay poor

the hungry stay hungry
        the church just says be meek

those whose God
        is a burning bush

the flames neither
        wither nor destroy

underestimate those who say
        their God is love


a wrist-thick rattan
        steeped in buffalo urine

correction & cure
        for all misdemeanours

neither conscience nor remorse
        needs to enter into it

wrongdoers always make
        their punishers feel better

unless instead of a renegade
        the firing squad’s target’s

perceived as a man
        in spite of the mask not unlike

the twitchy comrades
        who fondle their triggers

& dug up & pardoned years later
        the bones have nothing to say


purple gladioli
        the sword lily named

for their attentive curve
        seemingly towards evening

in our part of the hybrid world
        resulting from colonisation

acclimatisation miscegenation & miles
        of bad road in between

history is simply the compilation
        of what can no longer be suppressed

changing as governments 
        & hairdos change

succour for the unemployable
        who are appointed to chairs

to argue its integrity or disinterest
        is to identify another partiality


the medals are always
        handed out after a balls-up

Rork’s Drift after Isandlwana
        Zeebrugge (eleven before breakfast)

heroic failure so much more the myth
        than ruthlessly efficient victory

so we are left with the sour
        & sandy taste of Anzac Cove to define us

achievers of the impossible
        who die in the attempt

rotting beside their rusting equipment
        up & down the gullies

our ghost ancestors who never lived
        to become fathers & grandfathers


T E Lawrence’s lesser known The Mint
        treats of the fascism

inherent in military life
        barking sergeants

officers anything but gentlemen
        who without a war to fight

fought each other 
        & their hapless subordinates

learning nothing from the past
        their traditions fetishised


party politics
        are inimical to democracy

sniping into the next trench
        instead of confronting the real

foes of the people which are inequality
        poverty race hatred despair

not all crimes in themselves
        but harbingers of crime

especially for those
        on whom they are inflicted

all men are brothers
        all women their sisters

every child belongs
        to the same family

if only they’d look in each
        other’s eyes & acknowledge this


red flag black flag
        red & black flag

dystopia requires
        very little organisation

you’re in it if you
        sleep in the street

in one of the world’s
        ten most desirable cities

or the house of a man whose
        voice & fists you can’t escape

& the only flag
        is black & blue


from the beginning
        to the end of time

the lover speaks
        to the beloved

if I could
        I would choose to die

not with words on my lips
        but your lips

not with silence
        in my ears

but the lasting song
        of your breath

no one should seek to deny
        the truth behind this


like the princess whose face
        may not be revealed

the poem
        does not announce itself

as one form or another
        one matter or another

it is instead
        many things made one

by the persistent
        pouring of the voice


the small florets
        at the centre

holding together
        the four-petalled

hydrangea flowers
        are themselves

miniatures of the
        larger bloom

intriguingly this
        year (& possibly

all years) always
        blue whether or not

the main colour
        of the cluster

is pink or
        white or blue

a memory
        full of less

important things
        has neglected this

like a small bird’s song
        forgotten but 

heard again & 
        immediately known

as in a poem
        the shaft of sense

rises through
        descending words


never believe
        what you read in a poem

the facts that is
        not the integument

because poetry
        has one subject 

awake & breathing
        in the face of extinction

the heart preoccupied
        with blood & continuance

the spirit uncertain
        about its future

& the solace
        of others being likewise


in those days killing something
        made a man of you

skinning it out
        beside the cook pot

wearing the hide
        against winter cold

all quite useful
        attributes of the tribe

from the inedible
        you took the pelt only

from the scalp
        from the groin

the latter
        an invisible trophy


at the beginning of force
        replaced by strategy

the man of many
        toils & travails

one to whom 
        all are strangers

rides his broken spar
        towards the shore

hides naked in the dunes
        while girls peg out their wash

& is discovered 
        by the chief among them

in beauty &
        inscrutable guile

his equal whose
        apparent likeness snares him


swallows mate on the wing
        with the swiftest of kissing sounds

their cry like the cry 
        of Odysseus’ bow string when strung

full of sorrow at leaving
        exultant upon return

a touch 
        & then gone


Rumi also reminds us
        that our yearning 

for an answer
        is itself the answer

as a dog asks & asks
        with its eyes & tail

we do not know what we want
        except for wanting to cease

PDF icon   Sand fire  [printable version]

Tony Beyer operates out of Taranaki, New Zealand. His work appears frequently online in Otoliths and his most recent collection, Anchor Stone (Cold Hub Press), was a finalist in the poetry category of the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards.

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