new zealand electronic poetry centre


 Capital of  the minimal
I a i n   L o n i e

Letter From Ephesus

In Ephesus they believe in change
Devoutly. One cannot talk
With an Ephesian:

It is like walking
Across a swamp where the stones
Disappear as one sets foot

On them. The Ephesians
Feel it themselves: it gets them
Into deeper contradiction

Which their buildings express:
It is hard to tell
What they are made of

Although their colours are certainly vivid.
Along miles of coastline
Over rocky headlands

And by long swampy beaches
They confront the dignities
Of the ocean

Which looks as if some day
It might choose to flatten them.
This is what every

Good Ephesian half
Hopes for in
His desperate heart.

They make a brave show
In pinks, blues, yellows and

Orange: but you cannot tell
What their walls are made of.
It makes life difficult

Which for Aristotle was easy:
Buildings are built of wood and stone
And this is their material

Which the architect then arranges.
Also they have a purpose
And in this are like ourselves

Or like the beasts –
Inferior only
In that they are artefacts.

In Ephesus, man is an artefact
A Penelope’s web
That patiently unravels itself.

My own house, for instance:
I could not tell you
What the walls are made of.

I think it must be
A kind of aery paper
Though proof against Firebrand

Built out over a swamp
In which it would gradually sink
If it waited long enough.

On bright mornings, the swamp
Has its own life, a life
Of coloured birds: they flicker

In and out of the rushes
And red coral trees, pursuing
With happy cries the golden

Green or blue insects which
They then devour. The swamp
Abounds with these insects

Also snakes which on hot days
Appear in the garden
Like visions, to fascinate

Children with the delicate
Pink of their bellies contrasting
With their dull, black

Backs. Obviously
The swamp is a menace
To health: it will have to be

Drained. It is quite easy
To offend nature: she withdraws
For a time, sulking, but

We are mistaken to suppose
That because angry
She is not also deeply

Hurt. Already
In one corner the reclamation
Of her pagan soul has begun

By means of loads
Of municipal ash, plastic
Detergent containers and sodden

Sheets of building material –
Their pinks and blues
Reflected perfectly in

The still, black water which
They are soaking up.

Edible matter attracts
Flies: these constitute
A problem for the philosophers.

If we leave windows unscreened
On a hot day, the white
Ceilings designed

To give an effect of coolness
And space
Start quite simply to bubble

With the black round bodies of flies
Until the whole house
Becomes the skull of a beast

Or of a man, sunk to the eyepits
In a forgotten swamp which swarms
With black, carnivorous insects.

Over the swamp, a factory
Geared to the cheap production
Of building materials

Has the squat permanence one sees
In Roman imperial monuments
Or mounded Etruscan tombs.

[LFE, The Bibliography Room, UOO, 1970]

© The Estate of Iain Lonie 2004


Last updated 11 July, 2004