Change Alley

Alley of change utterly changed.
The name of the place names
the lost decades, the places and times
gone with our belongings, migrated
along the routes buried or closed
to the country of changelessness.

Many dark tunnels ago, a child rode
on his father’s back through the trades of tongues,
the bazaar of puzzling scents and smells,
an underwater world of sailors
stale from the sea and travellers
drowned in dreams of home,

floating through its length skeined
with striplights and bare bulbs, the stalls
spilling over with imitation wares
for the unwary, watches, bags, gadgets and tapes;
in each recess he heard the conspiracies
of currencies, the marriage of foreign tongues
holding a key to worlds opening on worlds
for the wakening senses of the child.

And then the laughing clowns
in the toy shop at the end of the Alley,
secreting peals of ghostly glee, derisive
and disembodied, keeping the child
enthralled and fathoming through the years
as if the future was then foretold
before the Alley’s enchantment broke
in the dazzle of a weekend afternoon.

Later the grown man in loneliness
would return as evening snuffed out
the life of trade and the Sikh nightwatch
hauled from its silent depths a worn string bed.
Standing at its mouth he cast his stones
of questions to plumb the depths, to fetch
the echoes of consequence and distance
off all the alleys he had wandered.

It seemed he had come through the changes
unchanged, searching still the place
for signs leading home, or out of the streets
emptying into loss, whichever turn he took.
And while he waited the country flipped
the book of changes; streets lost their names,
the river forgot its source, soaring towers
policed the skies and before the answer
could come like the laugh heard changes ago

the Alley packed its stalls and followed
the route to exile, its nomadic spirit
inhabiting now the country of the mind.
All is utterly changed, the map useless
for navigation in the lost city. Only an echo
remains, the man haunting and sniffing
where the Alley had been, measuring
its absence till the spirit of place returns,
till a door yields at the end and he walks
out free, changed beyond all changes.

FROM After the Fire
(Time Books International, 2006)

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