Two Poems by Paul Christian Stevens


We navigated towards the exit from the dense
machine of England’s acres, running away from
the ranks upon ranks of power-pylons, which strode
everywhere with some fixed purpose, across the hills
and hedgerows. We steered away, under a low-ceilinged
sky, through people and cars packed hard together
in endless gridlock, inching our way nervously across
the Severn Bridge’s span, which disconcertingly
swayed in the air that rushed up the Bristol Channel:
until, Croeso i Gymru — we reached the farther shore,
where a Red Dragon gestured from a field of heraldic
green, pointing up to the limitless white. We accelerated
into the woods and hills, suddenly freed from
England’s ordered, engineered artifice.

Now, wild in russet and green, trees leap, mounting
unsculpted, rough ridges, careless of plan; and the gothic
arches of Tintern Abbey detach themselves from earth
to float skyward too: masonry parabolas, gaunt,
skeletal tracery; they lift from where
cold culvert, drain and sump gather, collect,
and channel density away, so stone can climb from earth
as buttress, pillar, column, arch — so stone divests
itself of gravity, and levitates. In this close warming
room the shivering monks huddled away from
the carved halls, the brute corpse-chilly blocks that built
the abbey. Their souls lifted too, away from winter
and world, to follow the Galilean’s heavenward
gaze, whose eyes peered through the material
seeking out death, who inspired this leap of stone
and soul to sail away, to cut free from life, lofting
into the eternal. Way above the buildings, an airbus,
silent from here, makes tiny, deceptive motion
westward towards America, towards some new world.

As we studious groundlings picked our way beneath
this broken lacework of arches, the crack and tear
of air split by a jet fighter’s sonic boom
smacked the sky flat down, ripped back the fabric.

On a tumbled carved-stone rosette, in a row of fragments
on the abbey’s floor of grass, I found, neatly placed,
the fresh, severed leg and furry paw of
some small creature: rat, squirrel, pixie.

The Chart

This chart of one to one, locked by its legend
as signifying this and only this,
has corners calligraphically embellished
with loops and curves in curlicues, unscrolling,
with swell of blowing whales, flash dolphins rolling,
with fat-cheeked winds puffing our flotilla away
across the wave-washed map of empty places,
towards Cockayne or Eld; such destinations.

Secured by tar, we haul canvas and rigging,
make passage through the Spice Isles and the weather,
the compass rose still pointing to the centre
to which all voyages must militate:
a wide lacuna splits the parchment, curling
its edges, to a space burnt through with light.

About the author

Paul Christian Stevens has boated down the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, supped on shark's fin in Hong Kong, drunk ale in England, breakfasted…

Read the full bio

Issue 02 · December 2008

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