Poems from
Beyond Calling Distance


The Sea
Fifth Of November
The Ring Man
Bubbly
Neighbours
Waltz of the Night Guard
Out Of Season
The Legend of Apollo
Sand

Esther
Morgan






Beyond Calling Distance
Silence Living in Houses

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The Sea

One night the tide went out
and never came back in -
its shoals of moonlight lost
beyond our horizon.

We woke to a desert
a salt-crusted silence.
For weeks the churches were full.
Then they were empty.

The sea became a myth
our thin children don't believe in.
They mock our obsolete knowledge
of trade winds and currents.

They turn their backs on the docks
where the boats are all sinking
white masts leaning at angles
like a forest of dying birches.

We grow long-sighted,
watching for sails
in the shimmering heat.
We fall asleep

listening to shells.


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Fifth of November

I draw the curtains, turn the TV up.
The dog's already cringing, despite a shot
to calm her down. She trembles

like the fringing on a lampshade
as a distant earthquake starts.
Hair-trigger hearing; she barks

as the postman changes gear
a mile from home, cocks her head
at the silence before the phone rings.

She senses storms hours in advance,
cowering as the wind roars and flattens
fields of corn in the distant Borders.

Now her ears, fine-tuned into the dark,
are flickering, picking up the spurt
of each struck match, the sizzle of fuses.

She creeps into my lap, her tremor
thrilling through my ribs. I croon
It's alright, but she's deaf

to comforting. Her eyes slide sideways
showing their whites. I see clouds
scarfing the moon like gun smoke

a crowd of pale faces lifted to the sky,
children covering their ears
ready to scream.


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The Ring Man

They say he could sense gold
hidden in the sand - an ache
at the root of his tongue
told his hands where to dig.

They say a fortune of rings
bit deep into his sea-stained skin,
that his thick knuckles were dusted
with the sparkle of lost stones.

My mother swears she never saw him
without his hands thrust in his pockets,
but I've heard the women of the town
smuggled their hearts down to the harbour

where they whispered to dark sailors
and their naked fingers danced.
And there's a rumour he was buried
with his wrist stumps dipped in tar,

that our fathers wrecked themselves
on the look-out for likenesses
in the faces of their sleeping sons.
Now in certain lights

stealing glimpses of myself
I see a stranger in my eyes'
horizons, a Russian tsarina
in the slant of my cheekbones.

But a question could change forever
the weather in a home,
lives bruising into storm.
We are all wedded to silence.


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Bubbly

I want to go to your head tonight,
shake you up like a grand prix winner,
rocket to the ditzy stars,
set the moon's mirror ball spinning,
lead you on a merry dance.
I want to fizz right past your brim
and keep on fizzing.
I want to get the wolf in you to whistle,
the world to wobble
God to get the giggles.

Tonight I'm Marilyn
lying in this bath
of creamy magnolia.
I'm just dreamy,
blowing frothy kisses,
flirting in my foam bikini.
Can't you see
I want you in a lather?
Darling I'm your upper.
Pop me.


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Neighbours

I request the pleasure of your company.
No need to RSVP
just kick down the front door
splinter the safety chain.

Call me by my formal name. Ms.
You'll find milk clotting in the fridge.
Apples shrivelling in the bowl.
Help yourselves.

I'm the lady in waiting
screened behind the shower curtain
snug as a heart
in a white enamel basin.

I've been listening to you
this past week -
the throb of bass through the floor
the thump of next door's headboard

the rasp of awkward keys
the thwack of a perfect backhand
across a face.
I tell the time in theme tunes.

I'm ready to receive you now
my hair spread out like weed
in the dark red water.
Be my guests.


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Waltz of the Night Guard

A skyscraper sails
the city's slick of night

like a ghost ocean liner.
He is its captain

from the green-lit basement humming
like an abandoned engine room

to the rooftop in the stars
down through the gleaming lift shaft's

fifty empty floors.
He shuffles deserted offices

shackled with keys. Families
smile at him from noticeboards

a message glides across a screen
Back soon . . . Back soon . . .

In the silent entrance hall
his footsteps echo marble,

a polished mahogany desk
curves like a ship's bar,

lilies still as moonlight
rest against the lip

of a tall glass vase
like girls waiting to be asked.

He shuts his eyes,
and risking a whistle in the dark,

slips his arm
around a waist of air.


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Out Of Season

This is all we could afford -
a one-star room
with a dribbling shower,
grey towels,
a thin tablet of soap.

You scrape a chair
across the mock-marble floor.
I hang my flimsy dresses
from thin wire shoulders.
The empty suitcase sags.

At breakfast, we stick to hard facts -
the average rainfall in January,
the local flora and fauna.
The table's littered
with shattered bread rolls.

Outside, the wind piles clouds
like dirty underwear.
We pose alone in front
of scaffolded monuments
for photos we won't develop.

Days spent in silent museums
learning the island's bloody past.
Bored waiters serve us dinners
of tough, char-grilled steaks.
We leave cold smiles

of fat on our plates.
The night air pimples
my bare arms. Cabs with plastic
dashboard Madonnas
keep bringing us back

to this bed with its hard
bolster pillow, its sheets
of old paperback yellow,
the crawling caterpillars
of green candlewick.

Lips sealed, we slip
into its tight envelope.
The crab of your hand
inches towards me, shrinking
my nipple to a hard knot.

Sex judders through us
like rubber wiper blades across dry glass.
We cling to the edges in the dark
listening to the slow hand-clap
of a shutter in the wind.


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The Legend of Apollo

They wished for the moon
then granted it themselves
appearing in its silence
like clumsy angels
dressed in white
with halos of vapour.

They learnt to walk again
through the dream dust
of long dead seas
to gaze like children
at their blue-glass sphere
tissued in mist.

They returned home as gods
with a cargo of rocks
leaving only relics
of their miracle -
a flag of stars
footprints that have lasted

an eternity
and this photograph,
its bleed of colour
in the night's negative -
a nuclear family
smiling at the dark.

Note: Charles Duke, one of the Apollo astronauts, left a snapshot of his family on the moon


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Sand

That last spring I seemed to guess.
In one long dusk I harvested the garden,
hung clusters of flowers from the rafters.
I pressed violets between the leaves
of dictionaries and bibles, filled
whole seed trays with keep-sake petals.

The summer burned hotter, turning
the hydrangea heads coppery,
rosebuds into bunches of dried blood.
Their dusty pot pourri still lingers.
I fall asleep, my fingers tracing
the wallpaper's trellis of honeysuckle.

I am the last one left in this valley,
empty and brown as a beggar bowl.
All day I sweep the desert from my steps.
The slate floors crunch like emery boards.
Wood loses its lustre, dulls to the matt
of a cataract eye. My skin cracks like a lizard's.

I turn on taps out of habit.
The plumbing is racked by shuddering sobs.
I risk bad luck - umbrellas blooming indoors
like black silk poppies. I've spent hours
sifting the attic for grass-stained tennis balls
shutting my eyes, inhaling the past.

No twilight. Night falls like a blade.
In my dry bed, I dream rain;
fat droplets on waxy laurel leaves
clouds the colour of tear-run ink,
the subtleties of mist. I dive into a pool
and wake. The dunes curve their scimitars.

Silence - except for the tinnitus
inside my head, its constant shush and whisper.
The horizon shifts in the moonlight,
a drift surges, snapping a telegraph pole
like a pencil, a forest of pines
shrinking to Christmas trees.

I think of the pale green domes of cathedrals
buried out there like unhatched eggs.
Soon this house will go blind, its windows silted
the sun eclipsed, an hour glass twist
in the fireplace. I already sense its silkiness,
the kiss that will stopper my mouth.


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