Tuesday Poem: No streets, or maps to find them, by P. S. Cottier

Rushing fish commute between rubble piles,
bearing pressure that would burst human lungs
like a careless child’s lost balloon.
This is where they once worshipped,
their gods now drowned amongst them.
And that is where they traded coin,
king’s faces fading with each tide.
Fans turned out for the athletes here,
just near a sunken arsenal of bows
and arrows tipped with wigs of weed.
Long since silenced, those who screamed
as Atlantis dived into the sea; the wealthy,
joined to the poor, momentarily, in an economy
of gasp, and a sudden run on oxygen.
Now an elegance of rays skims over columns,
quiet triangular shades, hovering like memory.
They kiss the split, empty skulls, housing eels,
and the heartless chests with ribs askew.

Credit note: “No streets, or maps to find them” is published in P. S. Cottier’s new chapbook Quick bright things: poems of fantasy and myth (Ginnindera Press, 2016), available from the publisher.

Tim says: Quick bright things is really, really good – and as a bonus it has a great cover, as you’ll see if you follow the links above! I was spoiled for choice when it came to choosing a poem to request permission to use as a Tuesday Poem, but “No streets, or maps to find them” particularly appealed to me both because of the skill of its construction – “an economy of gasp”, “an elegance of rays” – and the subject matter.

I’ve always been partial to the Ubi sunt motif in literature – “Where are they now?”:

Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing? 
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing? 

– this from Tolkien’s Lament for the Rohirrim, itself based (it appears to me) on the Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wanderer”, which Harvey Molloy has translated in his recent collection Udon by the Remarkables.

The sea and time both have the ability to sweep away the wealthy and their coin, the athlete and their speed, the worshipper and their worship, with only memory and song to mark their passing. As the sea rises, we may increasingly come to feel that we are living in Atlantis, and that the floor is trembling.