Christmas Seven Times Seven

Seven-times-seven of these
till now, one spent alone.
I watch first lights come on
on a houseboat by the dim canal.
There are two whole families
somewhere on the earth I’ll call
who wouldn’t be surprised.
Seven-times-seven of these.
I woke up eye to eye
with my little zombie tree
whose blue-green-crimson bulbs still light
a path through other trees
to the beckoning unearthly spot
if I thin my eyes and think so.
Seven-times-seven. Today
falls on a Saturday,
like a tramp who’s trying to say
it’s Saturday to the holy beaming
family riding by,
their tinsel tied and fluttering,
their kindness claiming his kind
though seven-times-seven times
in fifty times they leave him
wordless by a dustbin.
The early light is pale and tinted,
precious, this one time
I’ve nothing much to bring it
but our old words for numbers.
Seven-times-seven breaths
and something comes, as if
the dark won’t stand for it,
silence can’t endure it either –
whatever breathes time breathes
and that abiding something-other
holds me like what holds those who
these seven-times-seven years
have clustered to their eerie
consolatory short story
that’s everything a child would hope:
that a time comes, reappears,
that with a firm and measured step
it’s all at once beside us
like seven-times-seven footsteps
along the sounding tunnel
as I walk this old canal.
And as often as I turn to see
who’s there and they’re my steps,
I think they’re mine till somebody
goes past me without turning.

from Pluto (Picador, 2013), © Glyn Maxwell 2013, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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