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In memory of Burhan Tufail


White Spirit

The sky neither blue nor black is the colour of longing.
An ageing half-moon lies on its back over the city
without company of stars.

She – as always she, though deader than a bone and deader
even than the earth’s dust or its flint, never having lived,
is falling, passing away.

The pearl light above the park and the buildings standing back
is steady, unexpendable, like something beyond hope,
lasting after hope is past,

as the sand settled below the wall on the Thames’s shore
weighs in the hand like stone, being all stone – is endlessly ground
in the anger of time

at all what once was brick or stone supported or contained,
whose tearless weight remains. How much of that was light or joy
in the dry years falling down?

They lived as muddy water clinging in the heavy grains.
Look, she has made the museum, the ended woman whose arm
takes the child now for ever,

not old, not so very old – so old she was never young,
living if barely alive, dead and living in sepia,
as also in a new flesh,

a mode of the void that’s yet to make the museums. The moon
sends its ray on the just and the unjust, soaking them through
with abrasive dust of grief,

sweeping blood off the roofs, coating with silver gelatine,
exposing the rafters that crack in our heads, a quick sound
in the middle of the night.

You keep coming into my mind in an ancient white dress
which you don’t have, stepping lightly down between the rafters
without company of stars.

You’ll say it’s not you and not your dress, wrapped in your blue coat.
I know this longing is nothing new, is the same I knew
at first, and will at the last,

which was that muscatellish fume already fine enough
for spirits to drink, and now is an eau de vie distilled
in copper coils of elflocks.

I can knock back another slug, as grandpa would have said,
‘to your bright eyes’, made about as pure as tongue can take it.
Next time round it’s white spirit,

no longer fit. The same one all along, as at the first
and in the end, longing for a breath, and another breath,
a breath, then no more longing.

John Gibbens

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