Your basket is empty.

Two Poems

John Riley’s Murder

Floating across Jerusalem Bay
we have made myths of the rotting life.
A cloud of actual stench now
rising from putrid squid, eyes

sunk into their heads, in a pool
of their own ink. The flanks
of yellowtail smoke. The air bites.
We come for slender hairtail, the chromed ones,

through sheets of moonlight.
Your poems about needs that can destroy
a human heart, the way you lay down
your whole life, light shining from your nouns

across the pages. I thought you were
one of London’s myths until
I read your poems. The snake-head
of a shag cuts the surface, the slits of its eyes

barely open, it sails by, coughs
then dives back under the black bay.
Nearby prawns tumble in a cloud of sand
under a waterfall. On our way back

into the winter breeze with its
thousand razor tails, you make some order
of the tackle, in the stern with the ribbonfish.
The night is glowing with fragments.

Alive as the catch you shiver
but continue, on behalf of the human
creature, wrapping your metaphors of dead stars,
gift-wrapping the abyss for us, wingless scavengers.

Tropic Bird

Lord Howe Island 1996

Wakes from nimbus cut to streaks
by the clipped volcanic peaks
mingle with an orange sky, the colour
of parrot-fish gut. Monsoon

time, nothing’s quite right,
people drink or sleep or drift about.
On my deck chair’s arm a tumbler
of gin has sucked in a dragonfly.

I drink myself sober as they say.
All that happens is my past
oozes through its pack of black jokes
and disasters. During Under the Volcano

I sucked bourbon through a straw
from a milkshake carton, at 4am
eating handfuls of ice-cream
I tried to soothe a hangover that went on

for a decade. I watched three
Siamese cats and as many marriages
sink with the fish. Always fish.
Tight water in black pools, moonlight

etching outlines of game-fishing boats
onto my brain. Moored in slots,
fat with money, yet taut, their
trimmings set to kill.

I worked them, sharpened hooks
for high-rollers, sewing my special rigs.
Bridles for bonito, live bait that
trailed the barbed viridian in our wake.

On the arm of my bamboo chair the glass
of gin is blossoming. The sky opens
and in sails, on black-edged wings
a white, gracefully inhuman, tropic bird.

More from this issue View all

Four Poems

my understanding of a nation is not abstract/ if america did not let off Ezra Pound/ it would not tolerate me/ no! I am not satisfied with my own country/ but that does not mean that I shall love america
Read more

Claiming the Colossus

In 1958 when I was eight years old my parents took me to New York. I fell in love with its powers of abstraction. It became the city of my mind. In 1988 we took our son to New York. He was eight, and the same thing happened. Now, the door to his room is covered with a large map of midtown Manhattan in detailed axonometric projection. He reads books about places and technologies and is thinking of becoming an architect.
Read more

Two Poems

Xi Chuan ('Western River') is the poetic nom-de-plume of Li Jun. Born in 1963 in Jiangsu, he grew up mainly in Beijing and published his first collection of poems in 1991.
Read more

Speaks Shadow

I suppose I knew, even then, that my feelings for David were unreciprocated. But such feelings were complex; one could not easily unmake them. So I stayed longer than was sensible, an artist’s dark-haired mistress, the drunk, the second fiddle, the woman at parties and exhibitions, jagged in her speech, pathetic, rude, waiting to be conferred some order of substantiality.
Read more

More by Robert Adamson