A MORNING in the city is a couple of packs a day:
fires ring the Big Smoke, a habit heaven finds it hard as hell
To break, and clouds won’t break and rain won’t fall, but ash falls
On dinner with your daughter en plein air.
A consumptive bling on everything urbane.
The air is an apocalypse, an afterlife of trees.
Contemn the weather long enough, and this
Is what you’ll earn: the light, a sallow holiness of grief. Sunsets so
Overpromise in a drought; each day
at six a fuchsia bauble decorates the west,
And the beauty daylight dies in
makes a mockery of hope. El Nino’s an affliction
Of the spirit, and every climate crisis starts at home. Want’s an empty bucket
At the bottom of a well. Drink
the earth under the table, and watch the rain
Forget to fall, the rivers how to fill, the fires
abate, the birds to breathe. But still life refuses to sputter
Or duty cease. And so, you walk from the train at midnight,
And the moon’s a blood orange pared on a bench,
and who among you ate the other half?
As if the carpark were a fireground,
leaves lie smoked and cured and curled and uncared for,
As you walk to the car: the spirits of small household gods flown
And fallen here beneath your tired feet,
the bodies of the children of Pompeii.
Nights in fire weather are so often
like the sea, the days their wreck. All week treading water
In the pall, while forests fall and rare things fail, you find your way
To the river, at last. But when you find it, the river’s hardly there at all.
Still, with your children, lucky in their company,
You row. You paddle the downed stream,
learning drought in hired boats—an obdurate
Idiom—all consonants, no vowels—you’re asked to master in an afternoon,
When love, itself, takes lifetimes.
Nothing’s where it should be, but here
You are. Were there no drought, three meters of
the river wouldn’t fill the city’s baths,
And the river wouldn’t run again so close to roughly where it used
To run. (Nothing seems to teach us
how to leave it well alone.)
These should be riveroaks you navigate,
not stumps. And the waters should yield
Kingfishers something more to feed their young. Your oars are bargepoles,
And the river is a swamp. But two hours
with your children are an ocean when time has been so deep
In drought. This is a paradise you row,
lost like the world, thriving on necessity because the future’s
Run so dry. Later there are milkshakes, and soon the day is done. At night
The world burns on. Its boat is beached, but love
may come, and with love, rain, and with rain, rivers,
and with the rivers, brand new words to float the world.