Ashore

Ashore

We don’t even see each other, pal,
but we’re both wearing the scent of Nyabedde tea
which might momentarily intrigue women.

That pin-hole we call the Morning Star
seeps a fog like the Callao miasma
we steered out of in September.

Invisible and anonymous, the ship’s
moored at the bottom of the road
in the gap between Endurance and Despite.

As we go underground and west
(how is it that the pavement’s cerulean?)
this interplanetary mist eddies

and we emerge to a choice of seventeen
kinds of doughnut with espresso or filter,
an interim chapel of light and steam

for the sleepless innocents, for those without love
or work; with the power to damn
nobody, they watch the door. The woman

whose red silk scarf’s a throat-gash whispers
to herself. Harry stage-manages the merchandise.
Each flavour is a port-of-call:

apricot, Macao; vanilla, Salvador;
the purest torus is New York. His ex-
percussionist tends the urns and piping,

keeps his hand in with the sugar-shaker.
It’s not home, but the currency’s familiar,
buys us coffee and advice not to cross the river.

So we go out and trawl fog
for the bridge. Tomorrow we’re loading for Muscat.
For miles in three directions there’s no traffic,

and no dives. We cross the river
to where buttresses lean away out of smoke,
carrying the road, and the pavement skews.

The men here have lit fires,
lighting up at their back the runes
that spell the triumph of soccer

over capital and the Shah.
A Baltic gesture of the air
shifts the fog a yard south to show us

a hundred, lying and sitting and standing
as if they’d been cast up here, and waiting.
Let the cloud curtain us again

from the defeated shadows of shadows,
their patience become murmurous
and then unheard as we walk downriver

seeking the bridge, the dock, the stacked crates
that tomorrow we’re loading for Muscat:
winding gear, and Cheddar truckles in muslin
for homesick commercial attach├ęs.