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Robert James Berry

  

The Thought of Islands

The despairing song of waves
The echoing thought of islands

Brings me where dusty winds whirl like dervishes,
Where Allah commands 'Thou Shalt Nots'
From sun-stricken minarets.

The women in purdah I know,
Dry as Old Testament verses,

The idle, burned street vendors
Who keep faith with only their flied produce,

and the foundered ships off Quay Street,
Like desecrated carcasses in the stinking mud
Bitten by sand flies and tides.

When God has swept the furnace of this sky
and his sun haemorrhages over the sea,
Only then the betel palms shall sway slowly

And the final remains of a dead empire
Pedal its trishaw down Beach Street,
Waving generous good-byes.

Tonight an unlikely rainbow has settled over home.

  

Precious Stones

Cold islands entice me,
like carved stone cathedrals.
Their single mountains are the
Exalted white saviours of our continent.
Fallen devils in winter.

Go South, where long archipelagoes
Follow the land's evolution,
Isles like shed, splintered tails in the sea,
Giant's vertebrae planted for war.
This is a horizon smudged by storm and salt.

The furnace of tropical islands evokes
other memories. Wild orchids swaying slowly.
Heavy, fragrant, ocean-scented fruit. Taut sails
in emerald twilight. The purge and bloodbath
of sunset.

Yet the old whale tooth amulet,
and the bright scarlet flower of the flame tree
Are essentially one. Only latitudes change.

Looked for on the horizon,
Islands lodge in sleep, conceive myths,
Are emeralds in all the world's languages.

 

Stone Cradles

I am thinking of the cemeteried dead
Who fill the hillside.

Always I am aware of their broken homes
slumping but not quite effaced by the high hedges.

Even in blackness empty as widowhood,
There is a vulgarity in death,
The discomfort of their silence.

In more articulate starlight
Headstones show their best profiles,
but still all their grand sentimental words
resemble each other.

New bones erode over old blood.
That is the culture, the tongue
of death.

As first snowflakes
Settle on the long lashes
of the gravedigger's starlit eyes

and the mourners ebb off, divide like
tributaries, into the living

I am left standing, clutching the
lonely, sad hands of my dead.

  

Robert James Berry was born in Redhill, England, in 1960, and was educated in the U.K., Ulster, and Scotland. Since 1991 he has lectured in English Literature and Language in England, New Zealand, and Malaysia. He currently lives and works in Selangor in West Malaysia. His poems have been published in poetry magazines and journals in the United States, England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Malaysia, Sweden, and Trinidad. Most recently his poems have been translated into German. He was a prize winner in the NST - Shell Poetry Competition. He is married to Ahila. He loves cats—especially his Siamese, Sheba—classical piano, and poetry.
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