The Stop before the Border
Final stops are first for locals.
Ground I explore their forebears
tilled and built on, drew what they saw.
They paid the tourist tax daily
with sunburn and chapped lips. That flagstone
jutted for years before tripping me.
Mountain, tiger and human
were brushlines on sections of felled pine.
I looked up at bare slopes, asked where the big cats were.
Operators of small businesses grinned,
the peaks grimaced cloud.
The new road needs rocks, and six-wheel whales
bring them in their bellies, snorting
gear changes. My prints and arrangements of alphabet
wedge where wooden beams concuss me –
the lake fish still lithe, and birds trilling everywhere.
The sky was simple as we pushed from the quay;
there was no storm to fear with the far shore in sight.
We trusted the surface, knew the day would end
as unsalient as bare feet on wet grass.
We clutched at the rail and giggled as the first
lurch of the keel warped our course.
This was no case for the luminous waistcoat,
no hands looped on fear. We were aboard.
No face went lame or lips turned dry
under the moving sky.
Then Ear Lake bared its length to a blast
from helix to lobe. The wind blew trenches
in the water, pounded lakeside trunks. Gusts
shocked the boat, their timing guesses. The turn
to the shore would twist and capsize us, the sliding
door of the cabin slammed open and shut.
Sniffed and licked by a faithful fear,
we looked into the fathoms. The Captain’s wage,
crisp and light, was no currency we could take
to the floor of Ear Lake.
Skill in misjudgement or a kind of jinxed luck,
tillered our hull towards land
until the waves and our pulse rates lowered.
Shining stone crawled out of the sky,
and we slowed to the zone of shallow breaths.
Were we drugged by New Year’s Eve,
our senses less than acute? Our feet
wobbled on the gunwale, our minds a collision
of curses at Captains and at our trust
in a misjudged mission.
The Tin Islands
Surf disperses like sawdust
as the bow prods through the water.
Provisions bleat in the hold.
Chalk looms. Our pilot’s chart
sketches a child bounced
from the knee of Gaul.
So close you might think
land once governed here.
Waves rise as we return.
Sea and sky flood workings.
Tribes assemble to fight.
The crossing skews our keel.
Three lines disperse us
on zigzag seats;
our overalls and suits
make a daily diaspora.
We skim news, forecasts,
young skin bared.
The terminally bored
have grooved the glass.
Signals glide past,
The day is trading
blue skies at last.
Hours extend at desks
where seconds are saved to disk.
Boxes slump onto packing lines,
the thrill-less rides.
As the light goes into recession,
out of dark cloud
metal maintains its howl
propelling its brittle cargo
who identify their homes besides
the railway lines,
locate the rough park lawns
where they barbecue birthdays.
One of a kind and one in the mass,
each of us half-old and half-new.
And the Railway needs to know
where sprayers dip through mesh.
at one edge of sand and gravel, between three tracks,
under this slanting concrete, slim bushes emerge,
flowerlets gape from pressed gaps.
Detained in the stone is Cold War air,
the expired state of fur-hat stares,
encabinned drivers, passengers finding,
defending seats, the meticulous inspectors.
In the sand and gravel each path is initial,
aerosols test new surfaces.
Swivel to watch trains
as walls make room for wire fences.
all toy trains have discontinued service.
Shunt school and belief down sidings.
Old friends will be infrequent sightings,
there will be head-on collisions.
Tug down the window, let the breeze
of the trackside forest strike.
Throw wrappings off. Wobble
new names into notebooks.
Muffle the sound of the hometown
as the loco klaxons significance.
The grim-peaked are moving down the corridor
passing or failing transit visas,
their assistants nuzzling undersides.
In the wild triangle bushes and underbrush weld.
Traverse grass, bypass nettle
to arrive at the gap in the mesh.
Copyright ©2008 by Alistair Noon
Alistair Noon studied German and Russian at Bristol, UK, and Voronezh, Russia, has lived in China for a couple of years and been based in Berlin since 1993. He has translated from German (inc. August Stramm, Monika Rinck), Russian (Pushkin, Mayakovsky) and Chinese (Du Fu, Xiao Kaiyu). His own poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies from Chicago to Tokyo. He is poetry editor for Bordercrossing Berlin and runs the Poetry Hearings festival in Berlin. (2006)