That night something distant unsettled
them, they poured out of the sand
ran up the squat legs of the bed
the bamboo limbs of the hut
scattering into palm leaf walls
raining off the palm leaf roof
black and brown rivulets of ants
agitated as hissing water
they had picked up murmurs from a
boiling where the world had cracked.
That night the hut was running away
from what we wouldn’t know till
next morning when we died almost
looking up at the sun through water
the ants had gone not far enough
they were still streaming when it hit.
The way they started and started moving inland
was the way we try to escape a hut on fire
there was no fire
the night slept as usual on top of the trees
but the monkeys were falling off
the elephants stood up and smashed
through the mud hole
snakes looked up
a porcupine shuffled
it was still black when the jungle tipped inwards,
leaving the dripping beach up in the air
hooves and paws were sliding, slipping
and the trees parted to show all the exits.
Every year they abandoned their high
California home to be by the Indian Ocean
they wanted a Christmas tree hung with
golden mangos and live monkeys
a temple bell to wake to and the shriek
of the cook the elephant the peacock.
They wanted the season to sparkle in salt
breakfast to crackle with squid and seaweed
rides in the Jeep to go on for ever
like Christmas lunch, walks on the beach.
They wanted to dig into the shore
at the foaming edge of their birthplace
and know that from there was pacific water
all the way down to the iced end of the earth
they were sleeping late when the water
came in and nailed them to the wall.
The green day was spent teasing in the sea,
dozing in the old sea-sprayed house
named for a Portuguese saint; the night
was spent round a bottle of humble wine.
When they woke up to the next day’s great
shudder, they saw to left and right
walls of water carrying off cars and cattle –
just as the wave hit, it parted and flowed
harmlessly round the obscure saint’s house,
flooding the garden, sloshing the veranda;
the dead on either side would be cleared
with the fallen trees and broken brickwork.
When they broke down finally, they were
in the middle of prayer, safely, oceans away.
After the abrupt deluge came the ghosts
the nightly shrieking up and down the coast
the survivors sleepless, kerosene
lamps scorching huts till dawn
dead children’s screams came after the beach
emptied at sunset, dead men’s roars after
the last train cleared the coconut bend
the howling dead women you saw almost
long hair like train smoke in the black air
you craved a bottle of arrack to crack open
there is peace now – holy water mixes with
seawater and the pale exorcists are gone
children left behind twist sarongs into cassocks
race on the sand, make signs of the cross.