The Siege Breaks

This loaf is last. The oven’s fuel is spent.
The millstone rubble, and the golden field
That grew the waving wheat sprouts tent on tent.
Grass crushed to compost by an army’s heel.

These wheels askew on broken axles lie.
Dead oxen led the dray. Now there are blood-
stained outlines of the meat coin could not buy.
The silks and spices moulder in the mud.

The royal gem is cracked. The crumpled crown
Rests on a brow serene; but mangled nose,
Crushed limbs. Cold eyes that led with bold decrees
End, buried early by the broken stone.

We hold. This shattered wall; these burning streets
Shall not be conquered while a heart still beats.

Cloud Mages

The visitors sweep into the yard like whorls of dust in the air, barely touching the ground. Fluffy and floating, all frills of grey cloth and dandelion-puff pompoms. Zae imagines them gliding through the sky like that, floating town to town like the dirigible that goes past every few months when the fields start to turn yellow.

One of them sweeps towards the tree at the centre of the garden. Looks up, almost at Zae.

Zae pushes aside one of the big round leaves, and peeks down. The tree sways a little, up here. She’s closer to the crystal-blue bowl of the sky than the red ground.

The visitor moves away. Says something to the other cloud-person with her hands.

Zae leans out for a closer look. The branch she’s sitting on squeaks, a little. It’s been doing that more and more lately. Even with Mum-with-a-T watering it every day, the big tree doesn’t make as many leaves as it used to.

She reaches her face out further, and down, sticking one leg off the other side of the branch. The tree creaks loudly. The other visitor looks up, and Zae sees straight into her bright orange eyes.

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Step Aside ‘Rona

Step aside, ‘Rona
You got another thing comin’
If you think you can pull
The ‘pocalypse I’m runnin’
You got your big mass closures,
got your big mass graves
But you ain’t got nothin’ on Climate Change

You’re an airborne plague?
Yeah well air’s my element
Gassin’ the atmosphere and I’m killin’ it
Float like a butterfly,
Get hit like a gale
Gonna blow your little bubbles off the Beaufort Scale

You got funeral pyres?
I got pyrocumulus
Summer hellfire gonna roll in ruinous
Burn your bridges,
Gonna boil that tar
Virus got a driver but you won’t get far

You’re up the creek
And the sea’s gonna follow you
Storm surge swampin’ out
Your R-nought ratio

Cities’ll sink
And the livin’ll leave em
Death on their breath
But they ain’t gonna breathe it
Two degrees C
In decade 3
It ends with me
And you better believe it!

In a Heavenly Cause

Blinding was the banner bright beside her
True, the tales they already told:
Already twice a hero, twice a saviour!
Wonder not we rallied when she called:

To no more slay, nor spare to slay again
To spill no more new blood for wrongs of old
To no more trim the rot, but trace the trail
Back to the bitter source and burn it cold

So when she broke the seal, we stood beside her
Dared with her to delve the long descent
Met, in serried ranks, the roaring magma
Beat, and bound it back —

But we had spent
A day too long, beyond the mortal seal
Our lives too short, to end in such a quest

The Love that Searches

O Aphrodite! Lend a line that fits
This un-romantic tongue. A polished phrase
The hips! the waist! the face! the hair! to praise.
A poet’s passion for these fingertips

Give me the words to mend a tender heart,
Turn jaded ears, or widen bright brown eyes
Wherein I sink so deep I disappear.
The whispers fit to blush a rosy cheek!

Remind me of the blind, untempered love
That launched us both in song, and let us fall
Fearless and strong, in one another’s arms
Replay that soundtrack, when we had it all

Or else — and weep! — the night we met to dine:
My hard-won words. His script he found online.

First Principles

You dare to study my unnatural art?
Then lift your gaze beyond this mortal sun
To sight the truer light, that stood apart
Before the stars; that stands when light is done.

Ascend the endless stair, to wander there
And scent the sublime flowers of the mind
That set their seeds in thought. Nor cruel, nor kind
The awful beauty of what is, is theirs.

Nor tend the seedlings with a heavy hand.
You’d shatter silicon to common sand
Before these blooms obey a rough command.

You cannot drink ambrosia. Let it flow,
Bend bud and bough where ichor pools below.
E’en in this bower, bow to what is so.

“I know.”

This is a mistake. I know it as soon as I set foot in the place.

It’s beautiful in its way, I suppose. Grey-gold rolling hills; trees still green even in this biting cold. A clear powder-blue sky with the green-and-pink ring of dusk on the horizon. But it’s not where I need to be.

I kneel down and put my hand on the soil. It’s ice-cold. In an hour or two it’ll be covered in frost.

I spread my fingers, pushing aside the tall, dry grass. Absently, I notice it is grass, not dead stalks — every blade still pointed even as it cracks under my fingers.

Between the blades, there’s another kind of leaf: a spiky-eared rosette trying to prick my fingertips. It, too, is dry and dead. At its centre, a silver flower sits.

I pluck it, and on impulse put it in my mouth.

Spiky. The taste is nothing but old straw. I bite down, feeling prickles dig into my gums and tongue. Taste sweet nectar, like the soft essence of honey. This flower has died useless and alone.

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Leaves

The leaves are lying face-down in the courtyard, stem-tails up in the air like dabbling ducks. They’re not dabbling; just flopped ungainly down in their red-and-orange pyjamas, making leaf-angels in the wet concrete before it’s time for garden bed.

“I’m not sleepy yet!”

“Look at me, I’m a starfish!”

I’m a starfish. You’re obviously a rose!”

When the wind picks up they’re boisterous, chasing each other around the courtyard and running up and down the roof — pitter-patter, pitter-patter — on their little twig feet. They know they aren’t allowed up there.

On wetter days they jump into puddles and make mud-pies next to the pavement, getting their bright new pyjamas all grubby.

“Who’s going to wash your clothes now?” the old maple grumbles.

But the little leaves just laugh and dive into the next bit of water. “See, we’re all clean now! Look, all clean and shiny!”

And they are, too, until they run through the gravel to cross the street.

They really do get everywhere — up and down cliffs, in and out of the river — getting caught in brambles and underfoot. Always rushing, always laughing; and laughing all the more when the unexpected happens.

The oaks and apples grumble with the maple at the folly of the young leaves, but there are smiles in their hearts. They know in the end the leaves will settle down and snuggle into the earth. Let the wind and the rain gently put them to bed.

Then the trees can finally turn in themselves for a long, restful winter, before the leaves wake up again next year. Hungry, busy, looking for branches to perch on and light to sip. Rested and calm and ready for a long year.

Birth of a Ship

The ship was safe and snug, on solid ground
With cosy chocks along the keel and bow.
A wrap of scaffolding and gantries ’round
And city power running up and down.

The engine block is in. She’s heavy now
Her gears and bearings tested, true, and round.
The paint on every inch of her is proud.
Pull out the chocks, and let the fog-horns sound!

It’s inches, but a mountain thunders free.
A blue mug on the slip-way — dust — debris!
The mass that moves, no human hand can stay.
The breakers waiting, break, and turn away
Under a keel sharp as Eternity
And might on might, the vessel meets the sea.