The hornbill observation station The Straits of Malacca

After reading Kit’s these flying islands 

and misreading Hornbill for Hornball (Kit’s poems flow quickly, like the stream that has appeared in our garden) and Hornbills have a rasping sound a little like cicadas)

Poem written 2019. ‘Sail on’ Wolf and Gina

The hornbill observation station         The Straits of Malacca   


They are seated stoned, gazing on blue vibrations

inlaid with shallow mirrors. The tireless tide

is backing off from torn mangrove transitions.


They are not yet intimate with lives around them,

200 species of birds and 500 types of butterfly

or are these redundancies when love is kicking?


An old Chinese proverb says, ‘knowing the names

of things is the beginning of knowledge’.

We are waiting for the Hornbills commuting to roost.


Pneumatophores spear through kneeling mud,

the first in South East Asia to spring from the sea,

inheriting tags like Langa, Langka, Langapura.


I ask how they live on this island that crumples cloud.

Wolfgang’s hand is off the tiller, moored his yacht,

lives in this row of dwellings called Purple Haze


and has found work as a sparky in the new marina.

Gina adds quietly that she works on herself.

‘I’ve given that up’, I smiled, most possibly a lie.


Unable to recognise a missed opportunity,

I flow with no sense of a transect, unable

to a quadrat over time and places, or


tally a discrete muster of people (named),

adventures, artefacts and unexpected

spectral junctures orbiting the circumference.


I talk travelling days, index wildest countries,

complain how age bullies me to safer harbours.

From having timeless fun, time lines my expression,


anxious that green threads unravel leaf by leaf,

tree by tree by forest, drop by drop, river to ocean.

I write, donate and occasionally demonstrate.


Wolf is Austrian, heading the opposite direction.

Gina is from Switzerland’s Italian corner.

I describe crossing the language border,


gardens abruptly sag and tangle, houses relax,

Ticino Merlot for lunch, arousing eloquent

laughter, contingent, unpredictable, infectious.


We’ve lost the destination Odysseus fought to reach,

home is a concept eddying in currents of the modern

that propel ‘a restless itch to rove’, as Dante put it.


I try to remember the name of the commune

we explored above Lake Maggiore, ‘Monte . . .’?

Where they abandoned meat and clothes, where


Isadora Duncan danced naked, Tillich, Steiner,

Lawrence, Ball, Klee, Jung and Kafka ate lettuce

and Herman Hesse lived for months in a cave.


A Hesse novel squats in their rented shack,

‘Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, Glass Bead Game?’

They giggle. They have no idea, it’s in Spanish.


The dream of happiness is readily forgivable

but how come the future keeps failing the past?

Are many wheels turning? Are ghosts hungry?

A Wreathed Hornbill shoots the margins,

wiry frame clamped to oversized black wings

trailing the burnished goitre and solid bill.


‘Where are the rest?’ I demand.

I love her laugh, it’s fresh as fresh,

brief encounters need not be trivial.

Names are cerebral but absorb possessive breath,

a Black-hooded Oriole hooks gold behind us

sweeping out the remnants of blushed light.


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