Three poems by David Tait

Three poems from The AQI (smith|doorstop 2018)


I don’t have long to write
so let me tell you that today’s smog
is so thick that I’ve sat inside
with a headache, wearing a face-mask
next to an air purifier, that the recorded figures
are double the hazardous limit, that these measurements
are probably a generous estimate, that I’m sitting
within my dubious force-field with leaking eyes,
that outside there are mechanics and window cleaners
and school kids and flower-sellers with lungs
like the bottoms of an hour glass,
that they are breathing and coughing
and dying too soon, that I love a man
but they won’t let him in, that it kills me,
that it’s killing me

The Blue

I hear her behind me
beautiful, beautiful,
on days like this
when the blue seems endless,
when the train belts south
for hours and hours,
when cooling towers simmer
like contented kettles,
when it’s winter, but you see
the twigged nests of trees
and think of life not death,
when the further south you go
the more things go on living,
when in a split-second
you pass a field of peasant farmers
unearthing vegetables and watch one
lift his face towards your train
and imagine him smiling or sighing,
no facemask today, maybe humming
some sonorous peasant song,
one of those you’ve heard on the metro, at night;
when the sun glints on the pylons
that seem to hold their cables a little looser,
on days like this, where you can race the vapour
trails of planes, when the woman behind you
takes picture after picture, for eight whole hours,
pictures of edgelands, pylons, girders, half-finished
skyscrapers, traffic jams, brown fields, iced-over streams,
construction vehicles, the sky, rubbish bags
on a platform, trees, a hamlet’s hillside pagoda,
muttering beautiful, piaoliang, beautiful,
a maple tree, beautiful, a roadside quarry, a glass factory,
the sky, the sun shining on grey stones,
ice floating down the Yangtze, junk boats full of coal,
a school, a tree full of egrets, a lonesome bull, more pylons,
piaoliang, the sky, smoke rising from a bonfire,
an abandoned town, a colourful village, a fishing lake,
shipping crates, a countryside driving school, a JCB
perched on a mound of rocks, a pipeline, a farmhouse,
a white stone hut in a brown field, six hay bales,
beautiful, the blue, beautiful
then a sudden tunnel, her own reflection,
then out again into the blue, it’s heavy and astonishing blast,
like bells, bells that have just stopped ringing,
on days like these, days like these
when it feels like we’re winning.

(first published in In Transit: Poems of Travel, The Emma Press, 2018)

Window Cleaners

They stand on the tops of skyscrapers
like toy soldiers, they of the pole-system,
the lowering box.

Today they are abseiling down Huaxia Plaza,
one hundred floors of prime location
and not a unit of it let.

I imagine them as deep-sea gravediggers,
as tiny fish that nibble the flesh between toes,
blind masseurs tasked with a sperm whale,

or just as they are: men on thin winches,
pummelling their feet against the bomb-proof glass,
washing away footprints as they drop.

Next to them another building is going up,
cranes lifting girders, planks of wood.
As night falls we see sparks fall from high floors

and the window cleaners pause a moment, look up
at the new biggest building, a hundred and ten floors
of prime location and, so far, none of it let.

David Tait lives in Nanjing, China, where he works in education. His first collection Self-Portrait with The Happiness (2014) was shortlisted for The Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors. His pamphlet Three Dragon Day (2015) was chosen as a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, and was shortlisted for The Michael Marks Award. His latest book is The AQI published by smith|doorstop in October 2018.