He who arrives to a fan of turning
in the most exquisitely peopled room,
a train of rodents and gulls in tow,
will magnetise coincidence, entrap
the future, may leave his mark in stone –
he lolls through all the solid facts,
building with them empires of agreement.
Or he whose name became a noun
passed, like a gene whorled in fingerprints,
from history book to history book –
the great are loved as easy explanation,
unmoved movers, as those who took
the risk. But they’re just chance, the great,
functions of form and phase, like rogue waves
that rear up in calmish seas to derelict
the liner caught side-on in the hole.
And we are the whiskered and diffident turtles,
we are the O-faced fish held in their swell,
who rise and fall as they pass. They wash perhaps
an inch above the far tide-line
and take an arm of saltless pebbles back.
[previously published in Poetry Wales, Spring 2015]
The Making of The Great
1) Tracked by sky
Verified in satellite photos, snags in the water-fabric seen from 5000k up, winking mid-ocean and vanishing, the water that made them great still there but sunk into moderation, the standard patter and swell. The swarm of them – not hundred-year waves, ten-minute waves, summoned and dismissed, focusing and shoaling, fast daggers stabbing sky.
But weeks of tenebrous lines in the north North Sea, bouncing between the grey variety of platforms, their steel hostility and boredom, convinced us the rogues could not be captured. The ocean geometrician jerryrigged one in his hotel-room bath. The cruise-liner was his boy’s.
Bonaparte’s shades of blue sandstorm over the line. Poor Bonaparte! left behind, encased in being a General. Fulcrum of the fields, a map of Europe spinning on his back, tearing like tattoos, liquid fingers pulling at his coats. Too great for his coats, too great for fiction or fact, all his plans were implied and severely derived by his lieutenants.
3) In the library
The weight of names, the great names worming through the pages of every book along the shelf, boring a tunnel from bookend to bookend. The wormhole strayed across the settings of each sucessive page, hitting margins then recoiling as it burrowed through digestible mesh. Joining and erasing, leading from Plato right through to Bacon, nigh-on nineteen hundred years of hole.
4) Bufo Japonicus
Big old toad, posing busty on the pebble beach, waddled here from the sodden peak, stubbled marsh and brushwood crown. Temple toad, came down the following brooks, through dunks of bilge, padding through the rice-paddy swathes and knots of thorns, turning the shore-locked kale, the line of cuttlefish bone and seaweed muck, to dip his claws in the dissipating froth of one bold wave.
James Goodman works at a sustainability charity as a futurist. He published a collection of poetry with Salt in 2011 called Claytown. Twitter: @jamestgoodman