The last valley of oil
We brake on the rise, the cloud of dust behind
Envelopes us in a gritty tide, below
The roads rampage up and over and across
Pinning down the land, the trees
Herded on to traffic islands, the landscape
Becoming incomprehensible, truncated
Configurations cut off at cross sections of rolling dust.
A haze sweeps and forgets its way, here, elsewhere, everywhere.
The valley is a murdered garden, a butchered kingdom
Of palms, the sky is furtive, hiding behind veils of mist
Or rolling east like tumbleweed, For Sale signs slide
Or lean or topple, now all bought and sold. Telegraph wires
Dip and rise, dip and rise in emigration toward the light.
Scarecrow antennas, poles criss-crossed like crucifixions
Leap on to nowhere, the desolation so unreal
You ask yourself was God in on this deal?
Time half way up the driveways withers into unclear surfaces.
The view will not confess, lines of cypresses swerve
To avoid any intersection, the conversation between man, sky and light
Has ended in blank befuddlement. California here has finally stopped its dreaming.
As you drive on the light barely glows, drags across your car bonnet
Gaunt trees stand all together in unrelated families
Type and gender orphaned, palm with conifer
Tea tree or eucalyptus paired with dust-reddened cypress, foxgloves trespass edges
Of roads and whisky grass rides high along the loping ridges.
The land of God’s acres and orchards lies spent. The fences fall or run amok
The gates grow rusted runners in the dirt. The rhododendrons
Have spread low with flowering weeds, the wars of roses with the Joneses
Are all over. We continue to drive in timeless silence, through a mistaken land.
Perhaps we had taken a wrong turn or swung through a chance gate, blown open
After years of rot, broken locks and rust. Somehow the scraggy trees look ashamed
Caught with their foliage down, slumped above lakes of black gold
And the rigs with their weighted arms pump as if to God’s command
And the only motion of being is to suck into the sea of oil
Slowly rising with the clang of turning ballast
Pumped into pipes heading west, towards the dark refineries edging the sea.
Postcard from Latvia
Folding your napkin in a Latvian seaside hotel
The waiter attendant, waiting for you to go
The same with the sea, a waiting wintry grey
Carelessly cresting to somewhere you do not choose to know.
In honour of the bronze thirties décor you chose
A three-piece suit to wear and a Windsor knot to eat with, alone
In the huge dining room, a high-ceilinged temple to occasional throat-cleared silence.
The gold chandeliers glowed a garish tribute to midday.
Surprisingly the fish (a flounder) was delicious. The music, however – a dirge of Russian
Origin was listless as autumn leaves on the hard stones of socialism.
You ate your peach without a knife or fork
After Prufrock no longer thought to be so courageous
And you thought of your youngest daughter, bored and married and
Pregnant, far too soon, in snow-cocooned New York…
God – how the wind here moans against those quivering hotel windows
Lost like the sounds of gulls dissolving in the fog
Or guard dogs or poets forgotten in Siberian prisons
Or your mind rebelling against ever fitting in …
You wonder what an old girlfriend is doing now
The one who taught you Italian in Trastevere down there in Rome…
And wore a black velvet bustier and suspenders like a natural skin to bed
The first time you met her, and who wouldn’t stand for any sex
Totally naked, described it as like having to digest cold toast
Unbuttered, together with hotel punnets of frozen jam
And a paper napkin for luck, which you had always delighted in sending back
Untouched in tribute to her, especially when left to dine alone in grandiloquent hotels
Empty and solemnly lit as this one, time pinned under the glaze of winter time…
Where the cutlery would unquietly tinkle away to itself.
Where you came avoiding distractions to try again to write
And ended up being distracted most of the time
By big-toed attempts of staff to be silent, the wry
Ongoing reflections of your several lives and lost wives
And daughters finally gone to live their lives behind windows elsewhere.
* * *
ABOUT THE POET
Luke Whitington lived in Italy for nearly twenty years, restoring Medieval structures in Umbria and Tuscany. He continued this work in Ireland, restoring the Norman castle of Portlick at Lough Ree. He founded the multimedia gallery Pleasants Factory in Dublin, which supported artists and writers for seven years. Luke’s poems have been published widely in Ireland, including in The Irish Independent, The Westmeath Independent and Poets In Cahoots. In Australia, his poetry has appeared three times in the Henry Kendall Award anthology and in Overland, Quadrant, The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, Melaleuca and the Five Bells anthology. He has read poetry written for art in galleries at Cessnock, Bowral, Pearl Beach and the Charles Cecil Atelier Art School in Florence. He founded the Jean Cecily Drake-Brockman Poetry Prize and divides his time between the Central Coast, Canberra, Ireland and Renaissance Italy.