Those of us here in this skeleton time,
this time of the year when the nights are thin
and dark, and dark with anxiety, peeling
as layers of an oyster shell, brittle and effaced
and somehow iridescent.
When the bell tolls out the time the sound is thin
and reaches into fractured air and softly
seeks the spaces between the atoms and
misses the vital Os and CO2s in a lasting,
failed pinball. The bell sound dies in
some space between midnight and thereafter,
and each tock tock of slipping cogs is
a repeat and not a moving on.
The air is filled with each dull sound,
each tock a repeat and a repeat again. And the
slip between this old year and the new is the
slip of ice on ice, a thing that will melt and
lose its meaning before the sun can rise.
These dead hours can spin out with
no regard for time, and
no regard for the drub of a beating heart
and – no regard
none at all.
The moth at the window is a silent ghost, but
the wind has the persistence of a knife.
Thin. Thin, its voice high-pitched,
its blade slipping below slates, prising
but never quite lifting. The colour of
bruised blue-grey shale the colour of the wind.
The night has no colour but this. And
elsewhere about the slivered curve of this globe
lives go on in light and warmth, and voices raise,
calling for another, calling for peace, calling
(for the last time) that dinner is ready. While we,
we here, we held like specimens between midnight
and three, we have no thought of regularity, and
(if we are lucky) we sleep through the knife-edged wind.
If we are lucky, we sleep.
Twenty-two minutes into the new year,
each minute sharp and fresh, each minute
a blade of grass pushing through frost,
solitary and small, and small in hope.
The fireworks wage a kind of war,
their timpani a small shake in every window.
And somewhere outside their beauty bursts,
a sign of life, the sparking fire a christening
for each new and tiny minute that passes.
My back is turned to war and hope as each
percussion makes the children start in sleep
and murmur unkempt things and curl like
autumn leaves against a kerb with each blasting
start of sound.
And then, silence. And then the empty time
when the new year has yet to take a breath
and the silence outside is the silent drift
of cars and wind, a white noise in the night
marking no time, making no meaning
of this unknown ground.
One a.m. and people amble home, car doors
slam and open memories of late nights, coming
home, carried from the car in a cocoon of
sleeping bag and father's arms and the sodium glow
through half-cracked eyes. And now car engines start,
a soft purr to warm the air and a comfort still, of
folks returning to the warmth of arms and beds, and
we will put this night to sleep
before we wake the year.
This tinsel-time is still upon us, and
pine needles grow stiff and parched,
and patiently still hold baubles high,
and even when no one is there to see,
they wait in patience for the days to unfold
and the nights to slip like secrets and half
forgotten things. Gifts are still unwrapped
with bright crackles and smiles of joy
and hands held high in glee, and still we sacrifice
the calf and bird and feast like folks
from dawning times, and praise the fire,
the glinting sun, the warmth of walls and
blaze of lights. Still we worship our
lack of want, our hazelnuts held tight in shells,
the miracle of fruit in winter. Still we hold
our last-born children and pray they reach the summer,