New poetry by Grey Gowrie, Fiona Pitt-Kethley, and Amy Barone
The universe is touchy-feely
in the hands of Professor al-Khalili.
Dark matter lightens, quasars dim
under the deft caress of Jim.
He orders a few red balloons.
Lo! Particles play loony tunes
and chase old Einstein off the stage
for milliseconds (E’s the sage
whose still accepted authorised version
caused a fine visual-aid excursion).
It seems for this we have to thank
the bleaker vision of Max Planck.
One of the things Jim does so well
is righting wrongs by the Nobel
Committee who will be sent to toil
shirtless through winter for Fred Hoyle.
Bald and smart-casual (perhaps Boden?),
Jim leads a younger group up Snowdon
to weigh themselves and demonstrate
what gravity’s wire does to your weight.
At school three hundred years ago
I hated Science (stinks, you know).
Occasionally, and through the fog
of memory, genitals of the frog
loom; pickled, too, for vivisection
and unconducive to erection . . .
Ugh. But quanta I do adore.
Imagine supper with Niels Bohr!
And my wife’s Munich family
knew Heisenberg! He’d come to tea
on Tuesdays though, alas, pre-me.
Darwin and Alan Turing and
Daniel Dennett form a band
to set our cosmic feet a-tapping.
No galaxy catches Khalili napping
nor even Dawkins’ selfish gene
can find a thing to say that’s mean
about this lively pedagogue
who looks like an Aristophanic frog
made happy by such unbridled love
for grains of sand and heavens above,
who laughs at his own propensity
to tamper with the Critical Density
and bring his Psalms to you and me
via cyberspace and the BBC.
Even that oddball, William Blake,
who found Newton so hard to take,*
would celebrate Khalili, who
believes Big Bang’s a cosmic screw,
a burst of four-dimensional lust,
a physical-metaphysical gust
delivering Life. Ourselves. Stardust.
*Here I am indebted to—an ancient Auden clerihew.
Quijote was spelled Quixote in the time
before the days of Spanish holidays.
I grew up with a sumptuous edition,
heavy as the average church Bible is,
illustrated throughout by Gustave Doré.
Trying to read it without a lectern
gave me dead legs and cracked its gilded spine.
I enjoyed its wealth of anecdote,
hating the burning of his favourite books.
My grandfather, another iconoclast,
destroyed books that he thought heretical,
a preacher, self-taught reader of Ancient Greek,
who drew the line at the apocryphal.
Various Cervantes anniversaries
encouraged Spaniards to read the book.
The language is archaic for all now.
I stumbled through just over half of it,
translation at the ready alongside.
When I first took a bus journey in Spain
we passed the ruins of windmills everywhere.
“Slain by Quijote” was our family joke.
These broken windmills are a burden now,
quixotic mayors try to raise cash for them
and all the ruins that grace the countryside.
A conservationist is like a knight,
fighting for what is right against all odds.
Cervantes, in his time, was a Marine,
or the equivalent. His regiment,
the oldest European one, is based
in Cartagena where I live. I’ve met
some men from it, tough and intelligent,
while walking a 50 km mountain route.
What of Quijote’s character? Like Lear’s?
Renaissance Alzheimer’s? A standing joke
to all who came in contact with the man?
Treated with kindness by some of his friends,
Sancho plays Sam to Frodo in the tale.
We all must age. We are the lucky ones.
Those who’ve survived long past the follies of youth.
Should we age gracefully, or carry on,
swashbuckle our way throughout our latter years?
Embrace the courtly role, fight to the end,
against our adversaries, imagined or real,
paced by the music of our creaking joints?
Callejón del Duende in Cádiz,
a narrow curving street. Legends abound.
Perhaps it was a smugglers’ route,
“Duende” being the leader of the band.
A captain met a lovely gipsy girl,
a little later, in Napoleonic times.
Quarrels broke out and he was murdered there.
At All Saints, candles are pushed through the bars,
appeasing spirits heard to wail inside.
But, from the archaeological point of view,
it’s just the runnel from a Roman circus,
a place where chariots raced and sometimes crashed,
and gladiators fought, some to the death.
So, what flowed out from there? Blood, sweat and piss?
These days it’s blocked and is no thoroughfare.
A locked gate keeps the vandals out. I see
bouquets of flowers and plastic dwarves inside.
Duende is a house spirit. A garden gnome’s
a parody that lacks all dignity.
Duende is another kind of muse,
a darker one, possession of a kind.
For years, I’ve followed concerts in my town.
I feel it when I hear it, yet don’t know
how to define this unseen quality.
I’m here with a Flamenco club, we’re all
Duende groupies, every single one,
although we never ever use the word.
“Auténtico” is all that we´ll admit.
We walk the city looking for blue plaques,
and bronzes of performers, frozen in time,
who’ll sing and dance no more upon these streets.
No Grecian Gods. A normal human shape.
La Perla, slightly chubby, middle-aged,
her simmering energy trapped in this form,
reminds me of a kettle on the hob.
Chano Lobato, wiry, in a chair,
gesturing to an unseen audience.
I saw him sing twice, just before he died,
a true performer still at 80 plus.
That night we heard a young gitano sing,
We all chipped in to pay the singer’s fee.
How many voices of the good and great
had echoed through that smoke-stained cellar space?
I say that he’s perhaps a future star,
but know the fickle Duende can´t fix that.
It’s not the voice. There is no guarantee.
Chano and others all had something else.
Grit? The ability to walk the path
the whole way to the end, wherever that is.
Four poems by Amy Barone
A love supreme
He trudged upstairs to pray for days.
Descended in rapture, armed with a four-part suite.
John Coltrane’s saxophone blares “Acknowledgement.”
He chants to McCoy Tyner’s cues.
“Resolution” swings and screeches:
agape lives and matters.
Elvin Jones on timpani amplifies the faith.
In an Afro-Cuban beat, “Pursuance” embraces grace.
’Trane gives fellow travellers a bonus track:
poetry of gratitude played out in the notes of “Psalm.”
Sanctified sounds from the ’65 vinyl poured from windows
on spring nights in “The Haight.”
Plethora of gifts from a man and his horn.
Turning water into wine. Parched listeners sated.
Pouty-mouthed figures with ribbony arms in majestic and languid poses
fill the rooms of Pace Gallery. Many recall the sharply-chiselled face
of Abraham Lincoln. Some wink, others hide eyes. I meet The Aristocrat,
Hades’ Head, and Cave Girl. Hallowed in precious white rock from Carrara,
where anarchy boomed in the 1800s and ex-convicts and fugitives worked the mines.
Dangerous work still. But marble thrives. Retracing Michelangelo’s steps,
an Irish artist travels to Pietrasanta at the foot of Tuscany’s Apuan Alps.
Builds trust with families whose artisan studios eschew machines.
Kevin Francis Gray sculpts from a prized resource that glitters in raw form.
Fashions his version of David.
Full moon over Cairns
Kangaroo dreams were shaking my sleep,
so I took the Muse Down Under.
My verse needed a shot of nature and colour,
my head craved a new sense of place.
Thoughts of tropical heat in early spring
and music-filled nights made four flights bearable.
Despite ugly rumour, the Great Barrier Reef breathes.
Residents in brilliant hues of green, orange and blue
circled our boat. Lone sea turtles surfed underwater.
Coral, dancing and still, spoke to us.
Far from shore, a whale waved hello.
Near dusk, a flock of fruit bats flew low as we strolled
from McGinty’s Pub. A tropical mist coated the indigo night.
Dark clouds floated below a black tattooed moon.
Immersed in shrill silence.
Cairns, like a calyx, growing thorns to keep us still.
A day without a woman
In my city of New York, women dressed in pink and red,
sporting caps and buttons with strong slogans,
called in sick and took to the streets to protest inequality.
They profess feminism, call for resistance, demand reproductive rights.
Across the pond in Hove, a friend honours the eightieth birthday
of her late mother, an educator, traveller and muse
whose quiet but resolute demeanour typifies an earlier generation.
She lives on in a precocious three-year-old granddaughter,
a son who runs the wing of a world-renowned art museum.
Her memory and courage sustain a daughter who cares
for an ailing father, as she steals time for a writing career
and workouts by the sea, now better prepared for all that lies ahead.