Bishop in Louisiana

Twelve days since I took up my post in this village,
a handful of clapboard houses crowded round the harbour
and the concrete yards glittering with scales
where church groups serve up grits and tamales
from long trestle tables and the interiors of white vans.

I myself eat at the hotel, beef, pasta, anything but fish,
watching the black sea break foamlessly
against the chemical barricade. On its surface orange curds
ride like surfboards or children’s life-preservers.
After dinner I take my coffee in the privacy of my suite.

There is little to accomplish here. I walk on the beach
where the nests of common terns driven upwind to breed
are marked with red flags mounted on popsicle sticks,
hundreds of them, bunting in the wind. Each nest is no more
than a dint in the sand, easily made with a fist.

Yesterday I saw a dead sea-turtle turning to soup
inside its own shell. I am not immune to the irony of this.
I write cheques for the fishermen fitting their boats
with booms to skim the water, and speak to sad newscasters
under a flypast of helicopters and a crop-duster salute.

Try to imagine what a hundred million litres means.
You can’t. At night, before bed, in the surprisingly deep bath,
I push my big toe into the streaming faucet
and feel its pressure build to a hot, relentless gush,
nightmarishly pleasurable, like pissing myself in my sleep.

 

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