with them, these ever-
presences: mould spores…
They mean us no harm;
they have nothing to say
or sing but Simplify.
Or, in our terms, Decay;
lay down your intricate
molecules: fruit, meat.
skin flakes. Reclamation crew,
and-breakers of what
we let slip… First the self-
engorgement of the peach
then its shrivelling.
In the moist, the dark room,
the ghostly blue-grey
of the lustre on the plum skin
is developing its imprint
of the after-life. Then again:
from a further remove
what’s the shimmery bloom
on the rind, the lichen
on the rock in orbit,
but us: cave-
its tiny luminescence
in the black of space?
Green-grey age-spots on the Perspex
make a sub-sky
under which we wait.
Each speck of bird muck starts its own slick
where rain takes it.
Small crude galaxies,
a curdled Milky Way.
Mould colonies as fertile and contingent
as the flood-banks of the Nile.
A year or two since this was new,
to the state of nature,
almost as close almost as inside
our own skins,
as out of reach,
its interior weather
casts an aquarium light.
In it, no one looks well.
Exposed, developed. Variation. Re-
capitulation. In all
things, the silent sonata. Or
a five-finger exercise, the great performer
breaks us down
to arpeggios: barcodes, black, white,
yes or no,
of the chromosome code,
its racks of fractal
demi-semi-quavers, not so much
the art of fugue
as the state of one; suddenly,
among its tireless tiny repetitions
a slip… And we’re gone.
It’s a matter
for us who are matter,
on each least note of it,
of life and death.
If we could just see it so: light
sheeting up from the shipyard
behind high walls, the night
shift flickering in arc flash,
clash and clangour, the high
ferment of it, where a fifty-
year-old ship comes home to die;
the yard too is dying but picture it, more
ritual than economics: the hulk
dismembered till they can’t be sure,
the old men, when to cease to call
the ship they made by name.
Prime scrap for smelting, like our-
selves, if we could see. No shame
in the breaking, if we could stand far
or near enough, till who’s to know
if that’s the welder’s spot, a crumpling star,
cell, or fused synapse, you, me. No
loss if… if we could see it so.
Leave your still-life bowl of fruit
a little longer. Life, still. The nectarine
hints, one last time, at puberty.
Alongside, the end of last week’s
white-sliced, its interior architecture,
its echoey corridors of substance,
is being broken, being broken down.
Like dewfall, this comes from the air,
any air, that lung-sip you’ve just taken;
impartial in its care, no fear or favour,
it prevents us everywhere. Yeasts,
moulds, our secret sharers, in our creases,
under finger and toe nails, most at home
in our moistures. In bread rising, leaven,
that came to our table from the cold,
the damp, the dark: the uninvited guest.
Philip Gross won the T.S.Eliot Prize 2009 with The Water Table, and Wales Book of The Year 2010 with I Spy Pinhole Eye. Recent collections Deep Field and Later dealt with his father’s final years and loss of language. A collaboration with artist Valerie Coffin Price, A Fold In The River, came from Seren in March 2015, and a new collection from Bloodaxe, Love Songs of Carbon, (a PBS Recommendation) in September. www.philipgross.co.uk