After Tom McCarthy

“… the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices…”

– Shakespeare, The Tempest.

There is no north, no south,
no east or west in space,
no up or down,
all fixed points are arbitrary.
The map of the world,
just as easily,
the wrong way round.
Tierra Del Fuego trawling north,
the Southern Cross rechristened,
the hemispheres waltz,
whirling dervishes
slowed glacial
to a continental crawl.

The radio crackles into life,
Antenna>tuner >demodulator>amplifier
magnetic field to repel demons,
conjuring static, the séance sound of the Big Bang,
an irradiated echo. God’s own Requiem,
hissing through dark halls and cellars.

Flotsam, jetsam rise like secrets,
mankind’s capsized junk,
and breach the surface momentarily,
obliterating the mirror,
before sinking finally into the depths,
“Danzig was and is a German city…”

A single letter set in motion
gallops and bounds off the continental shelf
a single S gathering momentum,
scything westward through trade winds,
causing tankers marooned in the doldrums
to heel and list,
an acceleration multiplying until
it reaches critical mass,
terminal velocity,
as it strikes the shore
like a wave, a tsunami,
like the Red Army
with their beady Bolshevik eyes on Manhattan,
the Statue of Equality
sickle aloft.

From Cornwall to Newfoundland,
in the drop of a top hat,
the Morse Code S arrives,
the first transatlantic wireless message,
rippling down the eastern seaboard,
sending seismographs into spasm,
causing lights to dim in Gotham,
a mugger under streetlight
to lose his train of thought
and let the couple with the kid pass
safe and sound,
and the panhandler on the blue train,
three sheets to the wind,
to miss a mumbled verse
of “Just As The Sun Went Down.”

Cedar Street, Rosemount, Derry,
Ireland, Europe, Earth, the Universe.
A nine year old Caliban,
with a long wave radio that lights up in the dark,
dragged out of the attic,
and placed on the window seat
with a slate sea of rooftops beyond,
siphoning through other countries, other worlds,
not physics, not technology but magic
Red Star Belgrade and Dynamo Kiev,
Bolshevik Vladivostok and Islamic Medina,
the Bunyip and Perak the Spring Man
the skeleton lake Roopkund,
the murderwall of the Eiger,
the sea of trees Aokigahara…

Simple mechanics do not explain it,
this haunted box, this ghost in the machine.
Secretly you’d take apart the radio,
braving the risk of displeasing the gods
awakening their volts,
conduct an autopsy
then carefully put it back together
and watch it, nervously, hum into life, Frankenstein,
the name of the doctor not the monster,
you’re proud of knowing that,
you are nine,
you know nothing,
you still don’t.
“All railroad service in the Hiroshima area has been suspended…”

The first radio operators were mystics,
attune the right frequency and you could speak to the dead,
contact the unnamed civilisation that built
the canals and herded bison on the moon,
communicate with the administrators of Hell.
Just the right frequency.
“Hostilities exist…
with the unbounded determination of our people
we will gain the inevitable triumph
so help us God…”

Weather reports. Traffic. Earthquakes.
“Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever”
“Estamos condenados al éxito”
“V for Victory”
“V für Vergeltung”
Beethoven’s Fifth,
“I’ve found the pole…”
Attuning the frequency
we can and do
pick up the whisperings of the dead.

“Are you ready?”
“Ohne die Partei bin ich nichts”
“Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining…”
“… a date which will live in infamy…”
“… when the skies… clear sufficiently for our airmen to fly over
and view the results of their work…”
“We thank you
from the bottom of our hearts.
And now I recommend
you to go home
and sleep quietly in your beds.”

You can delve down through layers of ice, soil, wood,
and see catastrophes marked,
branded in the strata,
telling of meteors boiling the dinosaurs to a fossilised shriek,
ice ages when whole decades of silence froze in the air,
Boudicca setting London ablaze in a layer of ash.
And the radiowaves,
these hieroglyphs,
reach another race
beneath another star.
They take the Hindenburg for a practical joke,
the Torah, New Testament, Koran for soap opera,
Orson’s Martian invasion for literal truth,
they decipher we worship
not the cross or the crescent moon
but Mussolini’s sacred meat-hook,
that question mark,
swaying from the grotto roof of a petrol station
placed at the end of sentences.

The Shipping Forecast
a nightly voodoo ceremony
at the setting of our solitary sun,
Sailing By the national anthem,
and they wonder
after a century of noise,
sounds and voices,
ridiculous, terrible and sublime,
why it all

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