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Robert James Berry

Pulau Pinang


Tropical islands are like drowsy bullocks sunning in the sea
but Pinang has no tail of land to swat mosquitoes,

only furious jungle
and the old poetry of stupefying quays.

Perched on the clumsy colonial waterfront
the mariners' temple grows from knots of joss-smoke,

but no one god can contest
the primal reek rising from the
spilled insides of fish.

Now that the ferry is a small dab of rust staining the strait
upon which the sun speaks in a spiked hokkien tongue.

A heron idles out of nowhere,
white as a visitation,
to pick its archangel wing on the boiling beach
among the cracked skulls of sea coconuts,
where allah sleeps in the arms of his sampan.

At sunset
the towers of Georgetown
burn like ingots of fire,

and the industrious cooking pots of the old quarter simmer
as they have always done.

Before mist soaps the bridge to the mainland
I shall preserve an image.

Behind foundered ships,
a smooth russet moon is
dipping in
the silver mirror of the sea,
like Nereid returned to the waves.

Robert James Berry was born in Redhill, England in 1960, and was educated in the U.K., Ulster, and Scotland. Since 1991 he has lectured in English Literature and Language in England, New Zealand, and Malaysia. He currently lives and works in Selangor in West Malaysia.b

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