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Save Time By Night Services
(Kenneth Shoesmith, c. 1930s)

Shoesmith was content year after year to serve Her Majesty's dominions
in steamers of the Royal Mail via silken ropes of Empire—

from Kingston & Holyhead through tropic bilge to lush port cities of the South.
Came queened & franked the self-important post.
Looking-glass portals & stout bulwarks:

the Sun never set as yet — there's a Union Jack
over spools of cotton, canisters of Ceylon tea (the uplands very suited
to the uses of cultivation)

Shoesmith limning trenches in an opaque ocean, winches hauling salt shadows,
great engines throbbing, hull smeared with feathers & blood

while as ship's officer he sips tea in a caul of fog unfazed,
having engineered said fog to test the masthead lights.

Round the fore & aft he circumambulates
(the crew would know his painted ships if Davy Jonesed
or steered by Shoesmith to permanent dry dock.)

But his Night Services ("arrive in Paris in time for a day's business")
the wings of some frantic thing furling from the smokestack

a second ship from Southampton racing along flirtatiously
blue whale saving time on Britannia's waves entre deux guerres —

what can we know of Shoesmith & his youthful romance with the deep
wild birds of the littoral brash & gold ships transecting the swell,
the plural uses of art perhaps to make the sea clang warning bells.

  Carol Alexander __

The Last Swimmers

Because the generation moribund in the narrows of unthinkingness
will never someday answer our nocturnal calls

not even with a reedy voice tuned by thinning vocal chords
not even in those patient intervals of water glass and lift

we descend via bathysphere for cockle and pearl fillip
dragged by undertow, fishy eyes a full fathom's rest.

But once there were dirt roads and muzzy quilts speckled with wild rose;
there were half-prayers and buckets to catch primeval rain.

There was the scribbled cove, trout and sunnies strung on waterweeds,
graves we dug with twigs for a palmful of skeleton.

But was there also a lynx, its crouch mimicking the shadowy granite?

Until it lolled on its back, wind riffling tufted ears,
sun trapped between the thumbprint spots. A stumpy tail.

The pretty birds it ate; molt of afternoon trickling through air.

  Carol Alexander __

The Codicil

Although we don’t intend to die, observe the language of this will
which leaves per stirpes equal shares of drying meadows laced with mice,
of shattered windows taped crosswise against the eerie hurricane,
of oil lamps guttering like the souls he will not, never, no, snuff out:

so that our heirs, thumbing the foxed pages of this gibbering will,
refrain from raising hand against each other’s hand—
we would not have them wrangling through the winter’s dark
nor razing this gray house before its unavoidable decline.

Being of sound mind and body, the boy goes wheeling down the lane,
then, snagged on snaking wire fence, clamps a grimy hand
where gouts of glorious blood, cells replacing cells at lightning speed,
are wiped with casual disregard on seat of jeans: so is rude life spared.

Let’s talk now of madness that is mute refusal of the dying art of cells.

It’s the small things that will get us in the end: hardening
of the thick sclerotic arteries, hugger-mugger shutting down;
those brightly bubbling pathways that could drop us like a stone—
they pinch us, these tightening mortal shoes, they stop us, stop us cold.

Therefore, know our will, a flighty and half-conscious thing
that flickers in the dripping glass with manic, foolish glee;
we didn’t intend, ourselves, to die, in fact will be the last to know—
read the codicil, the articles and uproarious fatal clause:
we will leave you lingering mist upon the glass, per the incontestable word.

(This poem first appeared in the chapbook Bridal Veil Falls,
Flutter Press, 2013)

  Carol Alexander __