Six o'clock, the morning still and
the moon up, cool profile of the night;
time small and flat as an envelope –
see, you slip out easily: do I know you?
Your names have still their old power,
they sing softly like voices across water.
Virginia Frances Martin Rachel Stephanie
Katherine – the sounds blend and chant
in some closed chamber of the ear, poised
in the early air before echoes formed.
Suddenly a door flies open, the music
breaks into a roar, it is everywhere;
now it's laughter and screaming, the crack
of a branch in the plum tree, the gasping
and blood on the ground; it is sea-surge
and summer, "Watch me!' sucked under
the breakers; the hum of the lupins, through
sleepy popping of pods the saying of names.
And all the time the wind that creaked in
the black macrocarpas and whined in the wires
was waiting to sweep us away; my children who
were my blood and breathing I do not know you:
we are friends, we write often, there are
occasions, news from abroad. One of you is dead.
I do not listen fearfully for you in the night,
exasperating you with my concern,
I scarcely call this old habit love –
yet you have come to me this white morning,
and remind me that to name a child is brave,
or foolhardy; even now it shakes me.
The small opaque moon, wafer of light
grows fainter and disappears; but
the names will never leave me, I hear
them calling like boatmen far over
the harbour at first light. They will sound
in the dreams of your children's children.