Steam & Cold
[ poetry - may 06 ]
At the OK Coral Island Gas Station, just off the beach,
(Prop. Jim Palmtree)
Jim is filling the tank of an old Chevrolet
with time-fuel, cheapest of all, it gets you there
before you left, no need to drive at all.
Nice day, says the motorist, what's up?
You're the first customer, says Jim, in seventy years,
where you been?
I tell you, Frond, says the customer,
we was all evacuated when the volcano blew.
Ah, says Jim, I stayed for that. Didn't want no evacuation.
Hole opened up behind my kitchen
wider'n the Grand Canyon,
but no smoke, no fire, no lava. Just steam.
How so, Frond?
Well, says Jim, it was the Magma Time Giant hisself
from the centre of the planet.
come to see how we was getting on.
See that opening there - his mouth -
well, out of that mouth came words.
That so, Frond?
Indeed. And being as I was right here - I heard 'em:
words from before and after ourselves,
backwards both ways from the middle, I'd say.
and mighty clouds of steam to boot.
To boot, Frond?
Steamed up so you couldn't look through 'em -
word visibility zero. But they gave me pause.
Pause to regard them houses perched
around the giant's teeth -
old people seated in the dark
drinking a dark liquor, thinking thoughts
and the cock not crowing at the back of it all,
stupid old cock, doesn't know what time it is,
doesn't crow at all.
That's what it said? the customer asks.
Didn't say it, says Jim. Steamed it though.
And then it went back down the hole
leaving a whole lot of spare time
I'm just trying
to use up.
You're a thrifty fellow, the customer says,
but if that's the case, think I'll
just stay evacuated. Bye bye.
And the Chevrolet vanishes too, except for
four shiny hub caps
rolling round the forecourt in a wheely dance
followed by Jim, tap-tapping after them,
skipping over the trails of phantom time-fuel
that darken the cement with absence of the present,
staining it with presence of the absent.
And the grey-black lips of the thrown-open mouth
that ridge the hot blue of the sky
about to snap him up in one gargantuan gulp
hang paralysed, open,
and round the shores of the bite-sized bay,
the patient tides
nudge, nudge at the island,
nudging it further out
Once the fire cracked, the cold
added to the crack, there was no wind
but the faces of stars, unblinking,
roared in the high dark furnace.
It was night. The foxes, at the edge
of things, were running from headlights
along the tree trunks that escorted
them toward the still unmoving black
where standing chimney pots and windows,
blanker than the night in which
no faces moved, emitted chill
stronger than silence, or a mood.
It was a face displeased by what it sees.
It was the earth's flame burned down low.
It was fire in a log that once had been
a laden summer pear-tree
now reduced to everlasting cold
that burns its face, much deeper than ignition,
into ember-throbbing, scalding red,
crisply lining out a mouth that cries
against its own invasion by the rage of fire.