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Andrew Duncan


Altyn-Dagh

1. The Gold Mountain at the centre of the cosmos; the beautiful child who slips from his parents' grasp


We fly through the visible
as if on wings
hearing the arche-syllable.
As creatures of light (roshnan) we shun the darkness
as dwellers in air we shun what can be touched
Snared by the time caught in narratives
We watch the genres grow and decay
with the heroes caught in their scenes
Tunes for the acquisition of a body
meters moving out without words inside them

In the mountain glare
where everything is close to everything else
we apprehend colour as damage
and wonder how a bowl breaks
cracks running through its clasp
the energy taken up by the cracks.
As the sheer flux is torn into colours
we ask about
a silent erasing engulfing current
that breaks up the clear speech
lines crossing
an integral and adequate and lost extent:
as one language becomes two
hearing lost in hollows between rocks
Rules of splitting, of irreversibility. Of loss of symmetry in ingots.
Of loss of contact out of hearing.
The surface of the shear was granular,
pitted by sound
a single place splitting into four.
What fell east
became Chinese, what fell north
became Siberian, what slid south changed to
Iran, and the westward downfall
became European.

Syllables thickening the air into ridges

Spell for the decoying of a soul into a child
a single voice luring something which only wants to vanish
I don't want to
how do you like it now
Make that sound again
being drawn into the loops that always
reach their own head and return again
again sound
again sound
again sound
that persuades the child to learn words
before words can persuade it

A beautiful child is jealous of a new baby,
stops swimming towards us, thinks
I'm not going to learn this language
Slides through the warm air, eastwards

2. He grows up in China, learns their culture, forgets their culture, becomes alienated, and flees to another place

After climbing down the slope to the East,
he searched for missing parts of the series
made collections of rare words
What country is this?
how many milliseconds split one sound from another?
why is the fertile land divided up as it is?
why is the West white?

He decked the trestle with crazed bowls
painting the cracks on sized bamboo strips
in series of hundreds, the inventory
of jags and forkings
where the caged heat withdrew consent

where the hollow lost its grip

Beset by false memories and sensations
he ejected what he'd learnt.
The series fell out like beads off a broken string.
He forgot who owned what
forgot who could sleep with who,
the difference between men's and women's work,
forgot the order in which sounds were joined.
Forgot why the two sides of the body don't match.
He walked out looking for silence.

3. He is escorted by Manichaean Sogdian merchants on one of their cyclic journeys

Stretched thin like vapour over far ways
an open hand brings the distant into reach
of a kind of narrative walk called peddling
We know all languages and never rest
We carry tartaric cloths, the spinnings
of worms, and the sorts are
Amita Dimita Trimita
Staurax, Blattion, Katablattion
Chrysoclavus, Tyreus, Fundatum
Exarentasmata

seized by a body and losing emptiness
they seize an idea to gain emptiness

With tender hands that could wipe
the scratches from the face of coins
read in the dark
the lettering of royal luck, khvarenah
the cape of natal light

Taking ten per cent
on the exchange of one year for another
Nine per cent
on the exchange of summer for fruit

Delving pits for the charring of wood
to scour the grease off gold
to make the luck pristine
the meshless cape that sweeps

On the heights
you see the true emptiness,
watch from a high tower
the original pearl that fell
corroded by symbolism
to gain finitude

the pearl at the core of the brain
is the jewel we dive for
in autumns of written leaves

the uncorroded drop of white
the forms dissolving
incessant loss of memory

the act of forgetting as flying
the act of remembering
as falling
the texts on silk paper
opening the edges of the body


4. A sound spoken in the Pamirs is heard in the forests of Europe

Picked from the shore of a Siberian lake
the pebbles he rasps for colour to paint a bird of clay
and as he pierces it so a sound is released
that flies across the shoreless ground
deformed into a dozen shapes
by the lapping of linguistic drift
stiff wind, loose wind
that changes shape a dozen times
from piandj to pyat' to five to pump
to the final shore, the Atlantic
Oracular wind
that never stirs
the sound painted in stripes
on swept but stiff wings
of the fired bird
by the lake in Siberia

Recoil of the feather the cat swallows
bent in the gullet
and resurfacing
swallowed in two directions
- drying in a neat heap with the claws

The mountains of languages
ridges of stiffened air
with their falls that protect
fabulous and gatherable variation
relict curves of lost sounds


5. He takes refuge with the fire-worshippers of the oases; forgets their culture, becomes alienated, and flees to another place

The Parthian provinces of the north
snows crossed by chains of buildings for travellers

closed myth cycles
drifting west
on the mouths of horsemen

going up where the birds from the Green Sea go

a soft shore where knowledge ends
and there is the vibration of water

Who built towers to catch
the light of stars falling through chill dry air
like a river poured down an infinite slope
into the world of separate forms
that look like damage

By fires they sing a lullaby
to lure the baby into its mortal body
a rigmarole of delights and savours
hanging on every bough
spinning glass to call
a rare bird onto a tree of glints
too curious to use its wings -
a visitor who asked a thousand questions
and could never leave this world again


6. He wanders to Europe, forgets their culture, becomes alienated, and flees to another place

He forgot their language and so
walked past a culvert
with water flowing in 2 different directions
where Slavonic and Persian part,
sound cohering as its internal structure changes.
Where the marmot makes every call twice. Where the mouse
has children with two different names.
What if we carry a romance
from east to west
re-scanning the rhythmic groups
translating the form of words
twisting the asymmetries that turn
telling Parthian minstrel legends in Russian guise?

The mind that was its own environment
in the wind-still
memorized the shapes cut into the standing stone
and turned into them
settled in villages to wear the ways

At the edge of the grass
Till he came to the land covered in birch trees.
To the eaters of butter. To the women who pleased themselves.
To the mountains with the hearts of copper.
Rowed sheep out to the grass of the summer isles;
where the beaches are choked with driftwood.
Drank at the burials in boat-shaped coffins
for the pits with lynx claws, with the wings of many birds,
with the bowl of crab apples against the pull of deep winter.
Learnt the poems in alliterative metre. The braided tales
about the four red parts of the world.
He forgot their customs and their names. Forgot where to walk
as he moved in the hercynian Forest.
Never saw the village again.

7. He wanders north to Siberia

On the shore of the swamp
the chest amulets clatter like brittle ice
with heroic beasts frozen in their scenes,
tarnished beasts of the lake family,
the helpful spirits.
The good-tempered cold-weather dogs keep
the mimic aggression of the guardian,
put their faith in the closeness of all to each;
wrapped with long lash-hairs
to keep ice from getting into their paw-pads,
they chase geese into the water.

The geese lashed to a sled escort the sun
under the pristine northern waters
to all the dwarf willow thickets and the fresh lakes

8. He laments his true home on Golden Mountain where all forms are indeterminate

The infant tilted towards the world of sound
faces both ways, looks back from the finite
at the boundless.

And his voice said: Why should I lose
My perfect state, shattered in parts
That forget the language of all mankind
And the geometry which contains all shapes?
A message reached me from my home in the mountains
where they climb the ice with the claws of lynxes
the place equidistant from all places
where all objects have the same shape
It called me back to my family and home
where serenity is brought back by forgetting
where drops of sunlight freeze as gold
on Altyn-Dagh - the actinic mountain
where bowls of ice protect piles of fruit
without colour, glassy, shedding rays like the sun

Everyone in the high pastures was worried about me,
And they wrote me a letter.
Be mindful of the Pearl,
for whose sake you have gone down into the south.
Remember your robe of glory,
recall your splendid mantle,
Their verdant garlands never fade,
They are wreathed brightly in numberless colours.

Fingers draw cracks in the bowl of the sky
where the Serene walk, not hastening or wavering,
in white clothing, bearing tall white staves
towards the face of tangible gold




Copyright Andrew Duncan, 2009. First published in the Shearsman collection "Savage Survivals amid Modern Suavity"


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