In the cicada's season, down at the Cove, we watched
The long swell which banks the summer berm
In tangles of scintillating mica, cracked shell,
Black seaweed brittle below earth's kikuya swell;
Blue-blazing Pacific and polarized sun.
One day, the sea swarmed with jellyfish
Nudging against us like floating polythene,
Blue-clear and poisoned,
But they did not sting, I was sun full of joy,
Forging out to white water
With fiberglass kicking buoyant in the foam.
Then the surfboard swept me shoreward,
Up with gyroscope arms,
Sun on the bottle-glass sea,
And wave-dazzle leaping in my mind.
It was great afterwards,
Combing hair warm and salt,
Faces cramming the car mirror,
The heavy heat of the day cicada song
And then the tight sharp curves
Down the road to school -
That last day was slow and the best and the sea
Lay flat and calm in reefs of sun
Waiting in shimmering immensity,
Waiting with the poise of silence after lightning,
Before the thunder speaks.
The horizon gathered cloud and sweated into haze.
We hung suspended on a pause from which
The swells would lift us deep into the sky
Then down again, a slow hydraulic lift -
And might smash to pieces right in front,
Riveting the air with icy backlash.
Then from that convoluted inlocked lull,
Current's nautilus whorls and thermals,
From that a larger swell would then emerge,
Slowly, like a slow-swimming sea monster
Lifting its back toward the sun,
And we would gyre to face the shore,
And it would rise toward us, faster.
The sea would tremor deep down, wary,
As we would drive us forward, paddle:
Behind us this great silence would ascend
All the pent scales of earthquake
Till its music stunned with stasis.
Then the sea would shift
Up and on an instant be
Green thunder I ride thunder
My friends phoenix
And the downstorm shatters around me
Water heavy as lead,
Going down for the third time,
Surface, and see the few survivors
Sweeping toward the parasol shore
In white waves of sunlight.
We would come into English
Just as the second tremor of the bell
Tipped the school into the day's last period,
Our hair drying hard, and here would be -
What? Illumination? Pinter's words
Unreeling in cockney accents from the tape,
Telling us of the grey caretakers,
Souls in the running raintides, or Billy Liar, sun chaser,
Striving through dead burnt day
Toward the fantasy of a brighter sun -
The surf-fires cindered to ash within me
I stroam hours, cold as the Nazgul, a wax doll
Smooth-faced in a vague self-contentment and unease
Through corridors where in the walls my face
Shimmers briefly like the fish-swell of moronic moon
From amber seas of heavy varnish.
An indistinct light presents
Later it will glimmer like a creviced crayfish
In brown teapot metal after I swill warm leaf
Onto grass at night beneath an outside light.
Here, in heavy corridors,
Voices swill their verbiage, a garbled treble,
Where faces maul their features with the cruelty
Of half-formed minds; the human rat
Leads pack-life in this lesser maze;
Black hairs cranny like swarming thoughts.
Now I clump up chicken-wired steps, entering
The maths room and a puff of varnish,
And, passing, glimpse this neat pink rind
Tentatively alive in an aluminium screen.
Inside, the dodecahedra swing
In twirling arcs of winding string
From bolted metal beams;
Cubism becomes me.
Once, here beneath these cardboard shapes,
I became a machine soul as I handled
A coherent power of integration, elementary,
But which had shell-sharded to incomprehension
Within a month - only a memory tells me
Of a truth beyond crammed facts -
Austerity of heaven and hell?
Austerity might mean something,
Out there in the sea's swell,
The great water shell of mneumonic sound,
The sun's flat rest, out there beyond
Where shoreward shingle wracks back in overlap,
In onomatopoeic shuzzle and hiss,
Out there beyond the white water, out there
At first break, waiting for the big tide to steep up out
Of the water's weed toward the sun,
You'd feel like the black comet
Which hangs beyond Pluto in the sun's rest,
The vacuum's balance. From out there,
Flat on rough wax on the deep green,
You could see man as a coda to the dinosaur,
Or the clack of chatter after symphony,
Holding the stars' red shift and quaser's flight
In small hands bright with mass-milled coin -
To disappear before the ant's caesura.
Summer craves to dust,
And autumn blights;
Then winter folds us in its season rains.
The scratched disc of my watch records the slow turn
Of the day's last period through afternoon;
The clamour of the electric bell impends
On this quiet as the hands spin on to three;
Time whirlpools in a small maelstrom;
Twelve radium figures bob up and down
In three bright needling currents. Rain fingers the horizon.
Beyond the window a teacher noiselessly departs.
The rain breaks silence on corrugated iron,
Everywhere through leaves,
Laminating the porcelain insulators with light.
The empty library echoes like hollow limestone
As I try the flat syllables of my voice and rime
In its odourless interstices of knowledge,
Where Time rubs shoulders with Agriculture
And the small print of the classics which conserve
Their chaste voices for the long pull
Of immortality down avenues of cheap editions,
And the big fat print of Alistair MacLean.
Birds scuffle in the chimney beside me where
Their nests have built, year in, year out,
Throughout, it seems, the total of my past -
The bell rings and breaks my progress back
Through almost five past years which now conceal
Some time when I had never dressed in grey
Or faced the sleepless hours of night
Which proceed both study and examination.
I cannot say
That time was better, or that this
Education has not been a great opportunity
At least half-grasped and quarter-appreciated;
I cannot decide any longer as the rain
Blurs all and unites the grey threads
Of happenstance, expedience and regulation
To an accomplished fact, a sphere of existence
Resolved from probability
I cannot fathom, far less question.
As we ride home,
I view this strange land,
A million years too young for farming,
Yet farmed despite its youth,
And so eroded where not still in trees,
Earth maturing to a smoother sun-sloped ease.
I would have laid another million years in forest,
Dreaming in the mind's still hinterland.
After examination comes
The apprehension of a failure entered into
With full knowledge in evenings when time
Grumbled away in minute analysis
Of the mysteries unmysterious
Of withdrawal and depression,
Condemning this day to the little doom
Of aggression or of scorn.
Extort words from the wind's grasp.
This building ages.
But out there, as a swell rocked under, passing,
Beneath the sun you would not feel it,
The sense of import in minor calamity,
Because the sea talks creation as the swell
Explodes on the southern rocks and rips
Forward in a frosting arc toward the shore:
This is more than strife and law;
This is more than any man and all his lore.
Man's first death is the random potential
Of aeons before conception,
And the surf, merging life with form,
The surf is creation and rebirth.
I have been one who has stared at the flat page
Of the history of Icarus
In the big Hawaii surf which looms up
A great green wall of opal decked
With coraline spray and the bloody garnets
Of clad divers who blast down
Down the sunburnt slopes
In a moment of balance
Of sun and moon.
I have been one who has stared at the flat page
Till the waves stirred beneath the stress,
Bulged, and shifted forward in green mountains.
Down those long slopes rip glaciers
Of foam from the long boards; the ages
Cramp compress, the earth is built
In green chaos where a man is fused
With his blank lungs and the green sun
And the rib tear away from the spine -
Or time in victory may dilate, until,
From the early warning, through sky,
To the cataclysm of white water
Successfully evaded or passed through,
Years are spun from ten seconds;
The man matures.
I would like one day to spend
A whole ten summers casting off amateurism
Of a hasty venture come and done, an eleventh done,
And in those months learn all there is to know
Of the green saturation bomb,
Survival at ground zero,
The moment of molten flux when the air becomes
Thick bottle-glass sun
And the mind succumbs
To the vaunt, surge and corona of sunlight,
Victor in sealight, a surfeit of thunder.
I would like to wade
Back out through the crazed glass enamel
Of the slag sea after fusion, bearing sky,
Like a gull,
In close to the sky.
Publication details:"Cicada Sun" was published in Landfall Number #118 (Volume 30 Number 2) June 1976 (ed. Peter Smart) (Christchurch, New Zealand) (pages 131-136). Copyright © 1976, 2002 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
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