A Place Called Ash

Patrick Maddock

I carry my head under my arm, the slates
no longer real ones on the roof of my house.
A crack runs through my favourite spongeware
mug hanging from its hook on the dresser cupboard.

The globules of sound in my mouth are buttermilk.
I want to speak, to make myself understood
but there’s a scarcity of ears in the district,
even the wagging ones of little piggies.

Throughout the years, loaded and emptied sacks
pass each other up and down the gangways.
Their bearers shake hands as they pass without
ever losing the rhythm of their stride.

Long chains of buckets will, it’s said, draw water from
the river until the river itself sizzles out upon
a place called Ash. Where might I be at such a furnace
hour – in the nearest parched waterhole or gully trap?

(How truly random are my thoughts when I’m forced
to sit down to arrange them on a blank sheet?)

The Warnings of the Elders press strange shadows
into my book of dreams: I turn the wick up on each
atmospheric event and try not to break the glass globe.
With the aid of the oil lamp, I look to figure it out.

True, nothing stays fresh: everything goes off
at the speed of a herring. This results in a terrible
rush on salt and ice among my unsweetened thoughts.
I don’t even have a new adage to present.

Yet I have at my disposal a ball made of rags.
There’s also a bladder I can blow into and tie
the opening up – something which allows me a few
blissful moments, depending on the shape it takes.

So many lives were veiled in simplicity: born
close to poverty, raised in broadest honesty –
is there not to be a light eternal, a locus of peace?
Not even a mappemonde etched on a seagull’s egg?