Light on light

light sparkles in clear water
mirror of quivering ferns

and strikes flames from the stones
on the spring’s floor

gathers under the skull
with its hairy thatch
and bursts out
opening a breach to the sky

 The travelling sun
at night the pricking stars
beam into the place of sight

 the long low golden trail of a comet
sets off the charge

 Wakening on wakening

 the young wolf stretches her paws wide
stares round her mother Earth
in pure wonder



When I was born, minds
were still splitting open to the light.
Crystal clear sight and spawning number
connected the sky’s depths
to the abyss of the heart.


Love joined waking creatures,
dog with cat, deer with hare;
beams fused across boundaries.
I loved an ocelot,
swift easy grace,
and our cubs shone
with the finest lines of each of us
and the brilliance of both.


All things were good inside
my brow’s arch. The light
showered neighbouring sky
with rainbow darts,
round buds on mountain trees
opened bright green hands,
a long-toed bird taking flight
over glittering marsh
inscribed a name
and stones dreamed their rounding.


When I was new I played
happily in the sunlight,
chasing my tail or my brother’s tail
or a lizard among the plant stems
but sometimes I heard a day beyond day
tapping on the egg of my skull,
and presently it cracked and burst.
I drowned in the flood of light
and when it abated
all I could do was lie watching shadows
roll across the immense plain
leaving stretches of clarity
swaying the foliage of my mind.


Later I ran and the light paced me.
Every cell hummed with life
from avid nose to the hairs in my tail.
The tall rocks processed through me,
birds wove pathways for my sight,
the wilderness seen from a hilltop
prostrated, sprouted, counted beats
measure and abundance of myself.


I liked to go to drink
at a clear stream in a gully
under leaning trees. Spots of light
flecked the water and pierced
in shafts to the pebbles on the bottom.
Once a ray fell straight
on to a round stone engraved
with a cipher or syllable
a knot of visions different
more faceted than ours.


From what remote beings
do we inherit this world?
How many times has the light
been reborn in flesh?


The awoken creatures
needed a language
to scan their new spaces
and to bridge them.
They looked under stones
and along the edges of the sky
and deep in the whorls of flowers
and pieces surfaced that, pulled,
brought whole constellations with them,
patterns for saying.


I went to a gathering in the hills
to combine our discoveries.
We sat in a circle, eyes locking with eyes,
and before anyone could offer
a word to begin the chain
we all burst out singing.
The sky’s notes
embedded in our riven heads
meshed in a chorus of praise
for the unending birth
that sustained us.


When we could talk our first
urgent concern was blood,
our neighbours’ blood we spilt
to feed ourselves and the pain
of those born to be prey.
We did not choose, we said,
these cords that bind us in killing
but we are so made. Trust
in the killers’ obedience to the limit of need,
in the forgiveness of the killed,
trust in the light that persists
in the act of killing,
will keep our peace.


We had other dreams,
promises our talks brought forth
as our thoughts ran up and down
the scales of possibility,
happy in the swinging webs
of their own weaving.


Flying was one.
The birds encouraged
us four-legged creatures
lacking wings of flesh and feathers –
lightness is in your bones,
just let go your weight and rise.


And generation.
Male creatures would draw up their seed
to the heart and dissolve it in rays
to pierce the glowing pores
the females opened to them.
Strange couples could combine
since light with light makes fire
and in fire all shapes are welcome.

But these were prospects
not yet achieved and time
went in a different direction.
We started to hear rumours
of a naked race that stalked
with harsh looks over earth,
heedless of limits, scornful of trust,
carrying in thick hands
tools of death.


How could we prepare
for what we couldn’t imagine?
My people lived at the end
of a rugged plain, but they found us
and unleashed their madness on us.
I’d gone hunting in the foothills.
I ran when I saw the dust cloud
but I was too late. The creatures
had gone and a turbid silence
eddied round the broken shelters.
My family was dead,
bludgeoned at the entrance to our cave,
except one cub that still breathed.
I took him and ran back into the hills
and all night I tried to mend his heart
but it was too crushed.


None of my neighbours survived.
I was all alone,
only I alive and aware
in an immense empty desert
swollen with death.


Grief demolished me.
My hunger no longer fed
me but an alien, and the eyes
that used to be my guide
saw through me.


My loss was the threshold
of a vista of waste
widening through seasons ahead
uncountable to where
memory of joy
humming in the cords that bind us
to earth and all its beings
(children of stone and flesh,
wood and carapace)
would be faint and unnoticed.
The eyes said, only you
are left to span that distance.
Wrap the promises you know
in the cloak of your tattered heart
and die, freeze blood and breath.
Guard the seeds of light.


I didn’t hesitate.
It was a long dry season;
I scurried through dust and stones
between bushes turning to ash
carrying my load of memories
like a bitch seeking a lair
to give birth.


An abandoned cave, a well
cool in the living rock,
echoes of voices telling
stories of the earliest dawn –
I bent and drank, I sat
by the pool and freed my breath;
the heart fires flared
and before the conflagration
swept up and left me hollow
for winds of space to inhabit,
I saw a spotted toad
staring at the water’s edge.
He raised a foot: “Go well.
You will return.”




Death isn’t final
while lovely shape remains,
coil of a sea shell
containing the sea.

Once I came to the sea
suddenly, on a journey –
the quivering blue mass
flooded my senses.

My spiral is inside
rising from root to head,
the hairy pelt encasing it
and desiccated flesh

answer its tremor.
Someone has called.
The tide is rushing in.
Life swells and scalds.

Among the grit and weed
in the cloudy stream
pregnant syllables swim,
phosphorescent fish.




I was a child when they caught me,
small and ugly and fierce
and probably bright, they said.
From the waist down they encased me
in sensitive metal, a siren’s tail;
my spine was the core of the frame
for wings wired to my shoulders;
my forearms they left free, live tackle,
they’re dark-skinned and supple
as my body would have been
if I’d grown on the streets where they found me.

My mind was supposed to be blank
but they couldn’t erase completely
the memory of that body, those streets -
gorges and caverns below
the drudges’ tenements
where the children’s gangs lived
eating rats and picking scraps of the past
from abandoned data stores,
a random education.

I wasn’t built to fight.
I was a scout for the owners
of the planet’s resources.
I skimmed grasslands turning to dust
and zigzagged up the wide dry beds
of rivers that barely trickled out of the hills
and the only signs of beasts and people
were heaped or scattered bones.

There was not much land left
for the sterile, rapacious crops
they spread to feed the cities,
but I was made to report, not to judge;
I flew and I liked to fly,
I looked and I liked to see.


Once I was lost.
I soared to find my bearings.
The earth cast me off
like a boat upwards
and I circled over
the footprints of a giant,
his pestle and his cup
inlaid in the ground.


Stagnant green plains
withered stalks
are the end of the current story
but my eyes have seen
hardly knowing they saw
tendrils of a new birth
in the midst of destitution
oases, live pockets
lovely weeds
trees feeding on old stone.


I was lonely.
There were few ships like me
and we weren’t allowed to meet.
Sometimes I flew
spiral for spiral
swoop for swoop
beside a sea eagle
or a vulture of the hills
and the bright stones of their eyes
fixed on me
affirmed my resilience.


I landed against orders
on a mountain top
or perched in a thick tree
and encountered small creatures
lizards and bees and grasshoppers
unafraid of my stillness,
and discovered the pleasure of smells.


No one said I shouldn’t explore
the ruins of the old cities.
They were far from the fields
and boring in their shattered sameness
but sometimes I detoured
to fly the length of pitted streets
or circle the bent armatures
of tall towers
and I thought of the people that lived there
who were still allowed to worry and dream
and their death engulfed in thunderous
sheets of fire.

In the new cities there’s no more thinking
nor awareness of the hunger and betrayal
creeping close.

One day I was old.
I was grounded and left to die.
I cried and they said ‘Be quiet,
you have no feelings.’
As I lay with my strength ebbing
pictures of the earth I knew
played across my eyes
and I saw as if for the first time
wells in the burnt wilderness,
grass sprouting from rubble
in cities razed by the last wars,
and a rock with caves surrounded
by acres of derelict electronic brains
but breathing a denser air
as if broken sounds of a remote language
were escaping to signal to me.

I was a ship. My brain
permeated every motive part.
My main drive had been excised
but I felt for my wings, softly,
hardly expecting a response
and they fluttered to my will.
Please, I said, before we’re extinguished
here among our destroyers
let’s make a last effort
and escape to a different place
that may know hope.
Slowly, painfully my frame
tensed, shuddering
my wings lifted and strained
dragging us into the air.
We flew like a limp doll
a dying bird, miraculously,
in silence except for my heart
thumping in its cage.
I had no need to steer;
my brain in the machine
aimed for the caves I’d seen once
like an escaped prisoner for home.

And there on the dusty soil
in front of those gaping rock mouths,
we dropped as the last spark
of sentience in the frame expired.
The fall was violent.
I don’t know how long I lay
stunned in the wreck of my sheath.
When I woke I didn’t believe
I was alive, till I saw my flesh
quiver where the frame had split.
With my hands I wrenched it open,
I rolled, slithered, bumped on to the ground,
breaking lines to my head and wings.
Some tore out of me and I bled.
I didn’t know I still had blood.
I felt no relief at first –
I mourned my wings.

The moth emerges from its chrysalis
pale, crumpled and astonished
but it has gained wings
and I lost mine. My power
to hover, glide, spy from a height
lay shattered round me
and all I had to carry me
were these withered stumps of legs -
that amazingly could still move
toes trying for a grip on sand.

My skin’s recoil
from the rough warmth of the ground
became shuddering jubilation
at the return of touch.
I could raise and turn my head,
I propped myself on my arms,
but I couldn’t stand.

Around me piles of computer carcasses,
big and small, hung with cables
fenced the sandy clearing;
in front stood the cave mouths.
The taller cave was throbbing
with a sound that was not sound,
a pulse that was almost life,
that summoned me forcibly.
I forgot my helpless legs
and dragged myself aching
toward the dark hollow.

Two points glowing in the shadow
were all I saw at first
and then the glint of water.
The eyes, if they were eyes, were still,
not menacing, and the thirst
that overcame me then
so strong I pushed on;
but I was stopped by an object on the ground,
a heap of coarse hair, brittle
and stale smelling with sticks
of bones inside it.
A carcass I supposed
and wondered if I could climb over it
when suddenly it stirred.
I shrank back and sat
trembling while my eyes adjusted
to the dimness and the truth
of the scene before me.

A skinny bitch was lying on the sand
offering her swollen dugs
to the huge grey beast stretched out there.
Its heavy jaw sucked weakly and at intervals
The bitch was gazing at me
inviting me to share the pity
and wonder of its revival..

The kindness in her eyes
made me cry; I lay sobbing
on the ground and fell asleep.
Later I woke and the cave was full of moonlight.
The bitch had gone. I crept round the hairy pile
and drank at last, sweet water,
and as I crawled back to the cave mouth
a grunt came from the creature
that sounded like a greeting.
I put my hand on its shaggy head
then lay down and slept again.

I awoke to full daylight.
The bitch was back, the beast
must have fed again –
it was crouched now, head on paws,
and its shape was a wolf’s;
though the dark eyes it turned on me
as I sat up and stared
were wiser than any animal’s.
I spoke to it, “Who are you?”
It listened to the last vibration
of my voice and shook its head.
It tried to speak and a hoarse rumble
rose from its chest, resolving into phrases,
but I’d heard no language like it.
Suddenly it was urgent to understand,
necessary for us to speak to each other.
in all that graveyard one still viable
translator could surely be found.
I signed I’d return
and crawled out into the sunlight.
I still couldn’t stand upright
but my feet supported me
on all fours like an animal
and I pushed my way into the thicket
of cyber bodies. The ground
was not dead but teemed with life –
insects and scampering mice
and scraps of brains still charged
with flickering purpose
that glowed or hopped or burrowed,
I broke through to a patch
of plants I knew were edible
and stopped to chew some leaves.
Listening I realized the air
was full of small clicks and whirs
and a little way ahead
a more vigorous tapping. I crept on
and there it was, the box
of a multilingual decoder
separate from its tower but live.
I tested it for animal registers
and ship’s parlance and it worked.

Laboriously I pushed it back to the cave
thankful for the strength in my arms.
Seeing me come the beast
stood up on skeletal legs
and sat down again with a bump.
He almost smiled and I smiled back
and pushed the box toward him
eagerly, asking again
‘Who are you?’ He still looked blank,
but the bitch put her ear to the box
so I asked her instead and she sent me
a clear image and her name.
The dog that ate the mice that swallowed the chips
I thought, and told her, ‘Ask him now’.
A long minute passed while an answer
stammered out of him and passed
through her to the machine and its visor:
“Please call me Wolf. Who are you?”
“I’m Ship,” I said. “I’ve lost my casing
but I have my head and I can think.”
Wolf looked at me, sad
and amused too I thought.
“There’s not much left of me either,”
he said, “but we can talk.”
“Right,” I said, “across the ages
with a Bitch and a stuttering cyber brain
as bridges, we can talk.”





Ship:   Our stories are told
we’re together and amazed
What for?

Wolf:   I’m not sure I’m alive
I was only rags of dreams
in empty sky
Is this another dream
longer more vivid?
I recognize this body
it aches and breathes

Ship:   You’re beyond old, I’m maimed
neither can be restored
We’re not going anywhere
We can put together our views of life on earth
you from the beginning
me from the end

Wolf:   This is the end?

Ship:   My world is ending
should end nothing good is left
The light you knew is exhausted

Wolf:   My world was lost in an hour
too long ago to measure
I hid and died
I wake, recognize only taste of water
Grief for my children, our home
is buried in the sand of this cave
Now I must mourn
light itself dying
in later creatures

Ship:   Forgive me
You’ve come so far
out of the past to meet me
some virtue must be left in fate
I don’t know where to look
Can you tell me?
Wolf:   The past has gone
Ship:   I learnt in the archives
thinking creatures long ago
lost your clarity and joy
Some saw light in flashes
and called it god
But they were greedy
forgot to play and succour
wanted to coerce each other
let machines replace
bodies and brains
Now they can’t even dream

Wolf:   No future no past
The present?

Ship:   People used to say
the present can’t be lost
and it’s always lost
Any dumb stone or cockroach
in time’s vertical ray
exists no denying it
but the sharpest sight
of sage or scout
sees only the fading reflection
of an instant

Wolf:   Sad Ship
were you always so dull?

Ship:   Isn’t everybody?
Come to think of it
there have been times flying
when my sight fitted the view exactly
new horizons arose as I approached
from inside me
with no frayed afterimage

Wolf:   When the light cracked us open
that was how we saw
our mind immersed in the beam
that carried each instant from the void
Looking I was cloud hair leaf
my actions were moving light

Ship:   How was the fusion broken?

Wolf:   I didn’t see it break
I saw it die with creatures

Ship:   And the ones who destroyed them?

Wolf:   In pain seeking this cave I understood
light was not born in them completely
They were not split open and left
basking in wonder
but held the light in claws
it shone through in tattered rays
momentarily pure and bright
mostly stained with the greed
of brute animal nature
The light itself was a tool
of their violence

Ship:   Those creatures were my ancestors
In the archives I saw marvellous works
Beauty must be what happened
when light got free for a moment
to act in them without twisting
In stories they could be brave and generous
but those were special events
they don’t happen any more
Since the last wars
the owners live through cyber sets
that think and feel for them
and the people their victims
survive only as brainless
hopeless manikins

Wolf:   It didn’t happen to you.

Ship:  I was lucky
They gave me wings
flying taught me to see
But I was still their tool
Now they’ve destroyed me
and thrown me away.

Wolf:   Can’t you still fly?

Ship:   I can’t fly, I’m too broken
My wings were heavy
and they’re shattered now

Wolf:   You lived so long
beyond the pull of weight
Your body may still hold
traces of flight

Ship:   I’m crippled
If you’re right I’ll never know

Wolf:   Your child could know.

Ship:   What child?
I can never have a child.

Wolf:   What are we here for?

Ship:   Ah…

Wolf:   Don’t fear
Our broken bodies won’t join.
My energy simmering in void
has constellated as power
I’m awake to now
I’ll riddle you with seeds of life
and you may conceive
If you accept

Ship:   I must accept
Nothing else can make sense
of my survival

Wolf:   Or of my waking
If I can pass on to a child
a spark of ancient radiance
a purpose I once heeded
will be answered





In the limitless sky of the Wolf’s mind
tiny drops have condensed
one at each random season
each fluctuation of sight
waiting for will to revive
in the pelt in the dry sand

and gather them; only
a body can reassure a body
that its hurt will be fruitful
and lay its valves open.

The Wolf collects his powers
balanced on an edge between life
in the tarnished decrepit body
obedient only to this purpose
and the dissolution he wants
in void, his inner sky
merging with the unborn light

and the naked Ship decides
what she has never asked or dreamed
and could die of but that now
consumes her wholly.
She opens cavities
lets her wounds gape:
so many orifices
nature’s holes, above and below
the navel
the deep unhealed scars
where she pulled out the wires
that bound her as a ship.

The bitch supports her, brings food,
is near her at the moment
of accomplishment
herself receives the rays
More than one child could come.

The small star spun into being
by the force of generation
bubble in the ocean of possibility
ripens and bursts
lifting the body in the cave
irradiating it so every hair
is a glowing filament
the eyes blazing vortexes

light corpuscles spurt
transfuse the atmosphere
shoot into living orifices
rebound from the cave walls
still piercing and dazzling
a corona condenses and seethes
in the mineral surround

Ship is not consumed
the glow shrinks and fades
to a halo.
She’s shivering
toxic with light germs
suspended over a gulf
the source

Slowly the air quietens
rock and sand acquire their daily texture
Ship is sleeping

She wakes and sees the bitch
head on paws beside Wolf
what’s left of Wolf
hardly hair and the ash of bones.
He’s gone she says
They both weep a little
he didn’t ask to live
death is return to freedom
unbounded now

It’s up to them
to serve the life he carried
from so far

The cave has incubated
resurrection out of inertness
taken part in fecundation
now last remains disintegrate
into clean dust
and life swells in the bodies
resting in the sand.





They reach their unknown term
the bitch first, the pup comes easily
smooth haired like her
with the Wolf’s midnight eyes.
For Ship it’s pure pain
as her bones so long compressed
in the flying frame strain
to make a passage for her child
She screams as he oozes out
and loses consciousness.
The Bitch makes sure the cub
is breathing freely
and tends to Ship, afraid to lose her
nudging her back to life
but slowly she comes round
and turns her head to the child
new and singular creature
hairy and strong
with human hands and feet
and a wise hound’s face.
He looks at her and smiles.

The Bitch has milk for two,
mice and leaves are never lacking.
The children grow too quickly
for the contented mothers,
rolling and squabbling between
the robot barrier and the cave.
Soon they discover their own language
and their games become tactics,
they go further inside the jungle
of decomposing machinery
bring back parts and build castles
vehicles manikins,
study how to make them move
speak and recall.
With many pangs Ship
shows them all she knows.

One of the children’s boxes
begins transmitting news
of what’s happening outside
their remote enclosure.

Two channels, one loud
announcements for the populace –
“a ration shortage
necessary to eat less
work must go on”

- “the pointless work”, says Ship,
“building non-viable machines
to keep them quiet -”
“a solution is being found
obedience is the way.”

The other channel is busy
with voices muttering, gloating
occasionally anxious
all on the same theme:

“the ships are almost ready
a minor repair to a rocket
and we’ll be gone
beyond the galaxy”

“the gas is waiting
at strategic points
we’ll leave no witness”

Finally the orders
“Listen all city dwellers
tomorrow is a new beginning
stay quietly in your homes
nourishment will come to you.”

“Is there nothing we can do?”
the children ask and Ship answers
“Nothing, not now.
Just hope we’re far enough away.”

The sound reaches them
a boom and a high flash
from Ship’s city, the nearest.
Three fiery streaks cross the sky
rising through the atmosphere.

“They used the rocket propellers
to ignite the gas,” says Ship
and feels sick imagining
the holocaust in her streets.
“This is the end.”

“It’s not the end. What are we here for,”
says her son.

“What are you here for?” –
to hear him tell it himself.

“To make sure life goes on
for the light to return to,
for earth to be its home again.
The tyrants have gone
the dead cities are being purged
but there are people out there
others like us
other oases,
we must prepare to meet them.”


The cubs are not playing now.
Together they order their knowledge
of cyber codes and structures
then forget the machines.
Their study turns to themselves.

They have untrammelled senses
eyes that see the littlest grain
of dust or leaf sprouting
as well as both directions -
into space where the faulty rockets
shed scales and fall apart
and back through their own birth
and fleshy womb
to their ancestors’ unfolding.
From their father’s sphere
a stream of early light
breaks through; they face it
as often as they can bear.

“Your father said you might fly,”
says Ship hesitantly.
“Of course we will,” they answer.
“We have a planet to revive.
How else will we move fast enough.”

They learn to use their breath
to levitate, send heat
to incubate sprouts of wings.

One day they will succeed.
One day a boy and his dog
by earth or sky will leave
the cemetery of used purposes
and head into their fate.


Will it be enough
dense flesh infused with sky
mind studded with jewels
of concentrated light
blade sharp nerve swift
active intelligence
good will toward life?

Could it be enough
to stand back at the beginning
loosely grasping forgiving
all that went before
conceiving renewal?





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