Always a slow maelstrom of dirt
Smothers our town.
Over the tonsured heads of the hills
Clouds promise nothing
But white glare
And gigantic silence.
Here I have my dry yard of acacia trees to inherit,
And my vanishing language to dream in.
This is my place to hang the familiar flags of religion
To walk ragged, unsanitary streets at evening,
Where pavement cooking pots, rubbish mounds
Are the national dress.
The litter of generations
Is clogged in the slack brown throat of our river.
At night I can smell its strays
Wiry, restless like their fleas,
Sniff the fishermen’s poles, nets
Distracted in shadow.
Ragged men stir on the bank.
Slender as herons,
Only they can recall
The old glamour of tumbling water.
When the moon’s peasant manners
Fall upon the famine of the other bank,
The squatters’ irrepressible shanties
Locked in their secret architecture of shame and poverty,
I know these homes, these families, shall melt into the river
With the wet season coming.
All our lives pivot above such precarious mud.
Taste the sound of thunder in the asphalt sky
And rain, that shall wash away
Our refuse, our ashes.
—from Rattle #13, Summer 2000
Robert James Berry: “Born in the U.K. in 1960, I currently live and work in Selangor, West Malaysia.” (web)