Sketch 19

A woman in high heels walks slowly along the broken avenue.
The boys tangle their leashes trying to get ahead, turn and
look back at her, then veer up the hill towards the open
field. The park can’t contain their desire. It pours into the
atmosphere in particles that speed and collide, cause small
children to lose their balance and fall off their bikes. This is
quantum entanglement on an unseasonably warm November
afternoon, the smell of coffee from Bittersweet that makes me
bend backwards into morning, the spring of another year, trip
while rushing home to meet you—

Aura

Listen to me                               little water
I called you up            believing something
would arise                         in me believing
I could make                          you reappear
on my way                         to the cemetery
every face was                              luminous
as if they knew                something about
the dark                                     I think you
were in us all                  reminding me not
to despair or if                 despairing know
that we did not                  lose each other
either side                           of the calamity
we fused                           you went inside
& I could not                                  see you
but afterwards                           afterwards
I could see                             underwater I
could see in the dark                I could see
with my eyes closed         I could see past
the shimmer that        separates the living
& the dead and I knew there was nothing
no separation                            it was just
aura the most                          remarkable
sadness &                            if only I would
keep looking                    I would see you

Angel Hill

Someone must be looking after the headstones.
It might be you with your easel and brushes
And your big sheets and charcoal for drawing
Snowdrop cumulus and lichen lettering.
Someone must be looking after the railings
And closing the rusty gate behind her.

My Life According to You

So I was born and was small for ages
and then suddenly a cardboard box
appeared with two furry black ears
sticking out of it it made me nervous
but I was brave and gave it a bell
to play with and then out it jumped
and loved me it was my cat I called it
Morris Morrissey it matched
my mother’s Morris Minor

For the next bit

I was a teenager and then I grew up
I had a flat in Dublin and a boyfriend
he was a vet little bed little kitchen
little towel rack lots of little cups
and saucers and then off he went
to Africa he sent me pictures
of giraffes and of the second
tallest waterfall in the world
when he got back he wasn’t my friend

anymore I cried

for a week I was also at university
a bigger place than school with bigger
chairs and desks and when it finished
I found a suitcase it was red
with purple flowers it had a scarf
around the handle I put in everything
I needed socks and a jotter and snacks
and took a plane across the ocean
to Japan to visit Godzilla

where it was

summer and boiling hot and the people
all kept wind chimes to make it
cooler and rode bicycles to the shops
and at the same time held up umbrellas
though it wasn’t even raining
and when I met a man in a bright
white classroom the darkest parts
of our eyes turned into swirls then question
marks then hearts so we got married

and went hippety

hoppety splat a mountain a lake
a desert we bought a house a tiny one
at first and then a massive one a baby
knocked at the door one night
but didn’t come in and then another
baby came he cried a lot
we thought he had tummy ache
we gave him a bath in a bucket
he was just lonely

for his sister

to come and keep him company
but you were still floating about
in space inside your bubble egg
it had accessories a switch
for going sideways a switch
for going upside down or faster
it was a cross between a sparkly green
and a sparkly silver the moon
was very annoying and then whenever

we’d all been bored

on our own for long enough down
you came on a path of lightning
to finish off the family you were born
on the living room floor at three
in the morning in front of the trampoline-
sofa and I heard them say A Girl!
and sat up straightaway we were both
pretty and I opened out my arms
and that’s it really

When you grow up

I’m going to be so busy taking you
to the house shop waiting by the play-
ground gates to bring your children
swimming I won’t be any different
I’ll keep your room exactly as it is
for you to visit bric-a-brac collection
on the shelf the bed your father built
the letters of your name in neon
appearing on the ceiling

when it’s time

Ghazal of Guyana

Do you see? The bones of stars are falling,
crashing to the earth like trees, like greyed spears

again I find myself amidst a frieze of bodies
lost in our commune of ritual sweat

a hurricane is spinning Saharan
winds through the constellation of islands

they whisper my name from the muddy rows
of cane, reminding me, the flesh is sin

the trees ache in the light, their ashen limbs
a warning to birds: do not alight here

this tree which is not a way of breathing
of keeping your head above whipping waves

we praise in spit and surf to our God
but not to this sea which is everything

until I can not help but think that I
am again: a flesh and blood poetry

my sister can remember how to make
baigan, blistering bulbs on splitting flames

on the Parika bank of the river
a boy sells water out of a rice sack

in my office sits a stoic Ganesh
intricately carved out of fiberglass.

Prayers for Exiled Poets

Were you to ask me where I’ve been…
I would have to tell how dirt mottles rocks.
How the river, running, runs out of itself.

Pablo Neruda, ‘There is No Forgetting (Sonata)’
Translated by Forrest Gander

Prayers no longer hold up these walls in my absence.
My own country rebukes me. I hold the world on my back.

Look for me in translation. In my own language you will go unanswered.
My Ugandan passports are a quiet place of ruin.

Where I come from, money is water slipping through their hands.
They eat what falls from trees and turns the flesh to gin.

I am of the same fruit and close to extinction.
My only root is my father’s name. Both of us removed from the soil.

In recent times, despite my deeds, you let me stay
no longer in bondage between earth and sky. No longer

do I hide in my own shadow. No longer waiting to stop waiting.
This rock becomes a sanctuary from which I can repair the ruins.

You have given me back my eyes.

Telemachus

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.

The True Story of Eleanor Marx in Ten Parts

1.

Eleanor of the eight-hour day
Gets betrayed by Edward of the two faces.
She orders: chloroform, with just some traces
Of prussic acid – blue – a beautiful imitation.

 

2.

She says it’s for the dog but she is the dog.

 

3.

The Housekeeper finds her dressed in white.
It’s not her bridal dress, she’s not a bride.
It’s from her childhood. She lies as if asleep.
She has strangely purple cheeks.

 

4.

In her ‘white muslin dress’ she is laid out.

 

5.

The Coroner is exasperated with feeble Edward.
CORONER Was the deceased your wife?
EDWARD Legally?
CORONER Were you married to the deceased?
EDWARD Not legally.
CORONER What was her age?
EDWARD Forty.

(She was forty-three.)

 

6.

On Tuesday:
Fire –
But the Phoenix,
God of Suicide,
Doesn’t rise.
And Edward doesn’t claim her
Because now he has a real wife.

 

7.

So the urn that holds the ashes of the soft summer dress,
And of the woman who knew the power of the proletariat,
And of the chunk of poisoned apple that she bit under duress,
Are taken to the offices of the SDF.

 

8.

The offices are in Maiden Lane.

 

9.

And in the offices in Maiden Lane,
There is a cupboard with two glass panes.
And there they place her to remain
For years and years.
Her tears are dew
And she crushes nothing.

 

10.

Nearly all of this is true.

 

Nine Nights

The Set Up

If you did see people that first night. People for so. Who come from town, from far like St David, from near like St Mark to this little St John parish. It had the makings of a good funeral. Pure bus park up by Gouyave roadside like ants. Them mourners arrived, shuffling with the shock. The priest opened up that wake with plenty prayers. Corn soup bubbled in the iron pot, red beans slowly converged with rice, thyme and coconut milk. Chair clustered like fowls in the yard. Till he mother fell down under the weight of her dead son. So young she muttered so young.

Song

Grief song is a different story. A clap of hands then a rocking back and forth story. Grief song is a body dancing to a jagged melody story. Grief song is so searing, it’s the belly drops to knees story. Grief song is the way his mother sinks into The Rock of Ages story. I tell you Grief song is a hard to tell story.

The Dreams

Martha had dreams for so since the night he died. And wise woman Clarise could not make head nor tail of flying fish or hummingbirds over rough river water. Of eddo swelling under rocky soil. Of septic tank full of bleach and blue soap. What does it mean she muttered what does it mean?

Funeral Announcement

To hear his name called dry so on radio – was the son of… brother of… left behind, bruck her up. And them doltish dogs howling a relentless dirge for they master who never pelt them with kick, who boil one fresh pot of dog food; chicken neck with gravy and white rice, every morning like greeting. Them dogs howl so till grief lock off they windpipe.

His Resurrection

When Lazarus fas up and step across the threshold of he own wake, rank with corpse stink, the wake bruck up. Who put foot out of door quick time. Who start pray fast fast. Who faint and get revive with smelling salts. Miss Gibbs forget she hips bad, till she tek two steps and fall Bra-tap. Mr Power start moan bout the good good money he dash way on pretty funeral frock for Betty and now she can’t even use it. Uncle Johnny start fling rum shouting You     dead     man,       you        dead! like libation have any power over the resurrected.

Vexation

It had the makings of a boss funeral, the mourners muttered, sulking into wake’s shadow. Martha steups up and over like chant, her venomous kiss teeth terrifying even tough back crapo. Mary vex too bad, How could he go and make their serious show of grief into a pappy show. Mary head got hot – look how much white candle he mother burn to light his way and how like stubborn jackass he refuse to follow instruction, Just turn away from the light boldface so. This was just like when he was hard ears to leave he mother womb. The old choir women in the back room stop singing and only cussing bad word, wild at the shame and slander of this thing.

Fling Down Party

Lazarus dash way hymns and cuss words from he house with the heavy bass of a thumping speaker box. The floor boards start tremble, as he foot rise up and skip, as he fingers lick and clap, when the Rasta man chant take over. Give thanks. Lazarus dance fire and brimstone. Dance chant down Babylon. Start lick fist on fragile board wall. Start shout more fire, more fire as if alive scatter springs into he steps; as if alive shake up he mind. He locs swinging like thick twine tied to air and he chanting i&i livity, i&i livity.

Geography of Resurrection

And when the reporter woman ask Lazarus what it was like, as they sat in the cream-wall room with the hum of mosquitoes and he say, there is a chart to being resurrected. An atlas that have mud swamp, sweet water river and thorny paths. There is a one foot in front of another chart. A believe and it shall be chart. A surrender chart. A rhythm chant chart. And you just have to trod it all rude girl, you just have to trod it. 

The Laying of the Hands

And when they saw he still lived to this ninth day, they cancelled La Qua funeral parlour, grab he up in a white sheet, tote he swinging like he in a rocking hammock to the sea shore and roll him in the coarse hot sand. Then dunk he head in the salty sea, washing death’s stench off him. Then they anointed him – all palms seeking to touch their feeble miracle.

The City Admits no Wrongdoing

Somebody put a golden girlchild on a southern railway in the 1920s, with a satchel of chicken. Picnic for one. Northward  toward a better life. Billie Holiday loved somebody who put her on a railway with a satchel of chicken. When the food ran out, they called them honkeys. The white men who drove up to harlem in fancy lawn vehicles and honked outside of the houses of the goldenchild, praying for sex and no wrongdoing. O’hara loved you. Orson Wells loved you. Miles loved you. You are loved. I love you, too, What is a heroin addiction, really? What does it indicate? What is the difference between a honkey and rapist? Can she live. Can the stage be riddens enough, the begged for bruises, the softly-spoken desire for a frozen pit bull and a club of her own, northern promise enough to make trouble up. Poised suffering. All she had to do was sing, one man wrote. And cook her dope into the chicken. God Bless the Child. The white actress Judy Garland was sent back to the country to wean off of heroin around the same time Billie Holiday was hospitalized, handcuffed to the bed,  with no friends allowed to visit and her last five dollars strapped to her garter, and no candies. She loved candies. We need sugar. We run on sugar. Melanin is carbon. Carbon is sugar. Billie is shook, hurry, you love her. You worship the one you’ve broken. You still cook the fur off, chicken. Sugar, I call my baby my sugar, I never maybe my sugar, that sugar baby of mine. Funny, he never asks for my money…  Put on these amber glasses and all the light ain’t blue.

Nightfall, Jane Ash Corner, St. Thomas

Ice splits those millennia of canes.
They stand by the coppice
in ready patience and danger
when I pass by the barracks. A mongrel
pack, in their heat, vanishes
into a lane. Cane and silence.
____
Ash-frosts glimmer houses
sleeping by the factory.
I pause to breathe deep the molasses vat.
Progress is back, but centuries
are one here. Flogging
laughter in the schoolyard;
____
a book tortures ants, then gets
thrown into the latrine.
I hide blue bibles in tree roots,
until evenings, to take them home.
One lumps in my back pocket now; the embossed Gideon
and amphora I have not broken.
____
I am eyes in the old slave quarters.
The future will arrive in four years and burn
the river grouse green and kill
the library cormorant, whom
I had fallen for.
It will close the bible age.
____
Morning exhales pitch dark
on Peacock Hill. The rigid lines of tractors
hitched with hostel-size carts
come clear and the first cane cutters walking towards them
in burlap ponchos, most smaller
than me, or so it seems, leap over the errant-fish cistern.

//

My mother lays the table with chopsticks & ceramic
spoons, expects you to fail at dinner. To the Chinese,

you and I are chopsticks: lovers with the same anatomies.
My mother tells you that chopsticks in Cantonese sounds

like the swift arrival of sons. My mother tongue rejoices
in its dumbness before you as expletives detonate: [two

women] [two men] [disgrace]. Tonight, I forget I am
bilingual. I lose my voice in your mouth, kiss till blood

comes so sorry does not slip on an avalanche of syllables
into sorrow. I tell you that as long as we hold each other,

no apology will be enough. Tonight, I am dreaming again
of tomorrow: another chance to eat at the feast of the living

with chopsticks balanced across the bridges of our hands
as we imbibe each yes, spit out every no among scraps of

shell or bone. Father says: kids these days are not as tough
as we used to be. So many suicides in one week. How many

times have you and I wondered about leaving our bodies
behind, the way many of us have already left? My friend’s

sister loved a woman for ten years and each word she says
to her mother stings like a papercut. Each word she does

not say burns like the lines she etches carefully into skin.
I have stopped believing that secrets are a beautiful way

to die. You came home with me for three hundred days –
to show my family that dinner together won’t kill us all.

28.

Today the turquoise view
swoops faster, swirls like lime juice in a cold glass,
the bay flashes, tumescent, a noon-time joy, steep to the side.
The early moon a pale slice in blue. Scent of manure and hay blow,
sheep wink, coastline trees like brown twiggy hair blowing sideways.
My David’s a pebble of strength too bright,
too smooth to be flung.
Nothing’s certain but changing landmarks, sifting coves.
We’re aware of each other’s breathing; the Mini’s forced nearness,
the sun catching his knuckles, freckled wrist, silver watch,
his quiet shifting of the gears, dusty brown Topsiders stepping hard
on the gas          rising      high.
And down
to the mossy,
valley house. A white block
windowed memory.
We click still.
A net curtain moves.

Before I meet his mother
he takes me
among his father’s rocky fields,
shows me how to swindle
honey from a hive.
With a cigarette ‘just for this purpose
he puffed acrid smoke like an old rusty engine.
A slow thrum,
the sound of tiny drills.
The conquered Gwenynen Fêl
short up, away into the blue,
her drones chasing like a chorus of boy-lovers.
I had been hungry.
He gave me the first sticky comb. 

1. Of those from the ships

Ptolemaeus the king of Egypt was so eager to collect a library, that he ordered the books of everyone who sailed there to be brought to him. The books were then copied into new manuscripts. He gave the new copy to the owners… but he put the original copy in the library with the inscription ‘of those from the ships.’

Galen

So you can come along and you can scan it:
come along the docks, as are your curious customs,
and you can move among my spread
among my freight my cargo.
And you should catch a draft to drift
to drift from crate my love to crate
my love through freight my lovely argosy.

So you can leaf your dusty tips through wheat and chaff
and riffle out each inky index
through all the silken slough
of all my gaudy textiles.
Flick through it, resort it, recall it
to recount and to your count enlist
my disembarked, my unencrypted holdings.

And so, ascribe each part, just so,
inscribe each piece, just so,
describe each Hippocrene flask, just so,
each cask, just so: of all my all content.
To each a place in place to place
in your exact accountant call
of row by rolling row anatomies.

Now as you go, steady
my dizzying inventories, steady
my whole to holed in hold and steady as you go.
Until amongst the richer sort, my finer stuff,
my love, my weft, my warp, my woof, my loom,
you come across, you chance upon
my books, my textured library.

Like Antony, enlisting scrolls for Egypt,
I’ve weighed up with ranks of primed romance,
rows of charged letters, waxed flattery.
Please read them quick; respond at length but
on the instant, as each squeezed line tips
tight up on the grazed edge, squeaks ‘come!’
and soft speaking means the softly same.

Pinched, each plundered volume plumbs
your depths of cheek of face of front.
The bitter gall of it, from row to row
shelf to shelf and decimal point to point.
You and your low-toned underlings, sotto voce,
unstack, stack up, pack up and off
with those, all those from my ships.

Your tough customs, your officious vandals,
all horn-rimmed reading glasses
and hob-nailed boots spectacular
along my aisles, through my stacks,
and scrawling down my gangplanks.
So silence please. And no talk back to back
to no recourse to no redress to silence please.

You rogue librarian, filling packing cases;
you rough justice, packing shipping crates;
you vile bibliophile, stealing a borrow;
you unrepentant lovely lender.
Fingered, found red-handed
shameless-faced, each fly defaced:
of those – you wrote – from the ships. 

You with their hollow whispers
of silenced, pleased apology
towing away my textures
of those from the ships
You book thieves pirates book robbers;
you book thieves collectors borrowers lovers
of those from the ships

Of course, I knew your Alexandrian law.
I knew you’d come, and knew you’d take them.
Of course, I brought along my best materials –
first editions, originals, manuscripts –
and must have hoped you’d steal them.
This is the hope, of course off course,
of all those from such a stricken ship

of all those from the ships.

The Plenty of Nothing

i.m. Jenny Diski, 1947–2016

Pale duty stamps about in plenty of nothing
____like the night when you know everything to time
when each step is beaten off when the rack might add
____more glory and I would watch the stars
not kin nor proof to rule the sphere to know
____by clothes and tea how to cut lino out of them

Now see who has the little boat of love and wave
____adrift more salt at its best splash scornful enough
away on your right to curve well in some hope then
____plunging like blame, my hat tossed up and bent
and lost wires lurid if there ever was one at hand
____to walk with me out of my mind’s eye always apt

Old china caught to seize as springless nature seeps up
____and wells at stake to risk another fire
in a forest of beasts where silent stories end in a beer
____or in dark lists above the clause that starts to die
left to review by me my kindest cut scabbed as a free
____local disguise made naked to suffer for doing just that

You can give it up for hope’s always a bit of web to ignore
____sound into the relief fire bad as you wish for
this lack of a figure in the grip of method on the screen
____to burst out of acid to be like last at the spindle instant
as a gripping vertigo flash vacuum leaves spores in place
____of humanism for us when this frolic unveils payment

End tricky time to get enough pink forms to reconcile
____two worlds of the mind to say the least at work
safe hands on what we know to move abroad like autumn
____leaves the trees revealed at last as a mouthpiece for language
a copy to taste such stress detail at times of less art chat tangled
____to a dead tune in sharp clothes in a space of her own

Make one palp by another hand leaves another letter fail to
____earth what it says out walking on skin debris from two
true stories in matters as if we lavish its fine tip on lungs of art
____to put a stop to his tread or peg out between ruts
in thin sheen as that eye that glass jar screwed cold and dark in pots
____too out all the same with a stump eyed from the window

After midnight it was a baffle or a very good copy in song style
____stapled deep with a mist full of blood for free detritus
flooding slides in capital sequence to watch them drive stout posts
____bleak to look at into the dark ground the black lightless fen
all about the aims of the front bound in like a literary theory
____snarled in rough cuts to earn a living to repudiate

The hoover fades beneath a lethal march off this page
____to another partiality from the air against his masks
to form him now in terror forays or shape him in dumps
____in flame run half afraid on a floor of damp glass a lip
at fault speaking idle threads down to the bona fide dress
____shirt in hand over fist spooning into his face

So would you care to remain here and be consumed
____round the neck as the only route downward like a load
of light verse enduring through barrage and fancy filaments
____twittering in the ceanothus of invention parcels
air bent into aesthetic shapes of this mercy or that or broken
____right apart eaten away starved crushed old mad blind and stamped on

Later level force embraces anybody if that’s true and I agree
____with you out of my hands to where the cities are to play power
splashed out in a witness sense, a complex merit one class say
____or ever becoming a kind of work out loud burning
it from one end to the other just because of skin declaring decay
____that might be a view from nowhere but a day in the country

What was made by us is hanging about covered in ribbons and birdshit
____and aprons all set on this time of night for any other way through
tangles of a seedy mind to hold nothing touched or even true
____to the same life just a door step away from a sheepish mouth
munching a sliver of something carmine and ludicrously
____pastoral as fishpaste or cracks full of dust or an entire bowl

Don’t nod or scramble so ruefully for dupes or lying for the poor
____furtive moon-blush army come again try the view alone
odour of almonds am here am you we’re a monstrous pair of crows
____doubting summer’s purchase a blush in a garden of gleams
sow seeds by the aunt clair path sow the wind in the tender cedar
____rush light charm above the door dilapidated its charm raddled

And see off a dumb tally over a long night’s counting till the sun
____glides the new sand sole account crowned legendary and lost
a film a few saw sheepishly on a blank promise to be better after it
____gilded inside to do as we go into the barrier on a face opens
the book of wishes and glides illegible as badgers in a complex pattern
____buried a bad label a gesture or tab shawl they’d like to escape from

Ignore o secure relief fluid at your age one exists or leaves and will
____dissolve by final flux over you unaided inflicted and not once more
be ever one we hear so much and weep at windows in lost sentences
____ignored in the forests. The words on one level condemn us to death
of the use of them as we must simply know the part in the whole
____devoted to a singular being without being which there’s nothing left.

i am very precious

I see all the black marks on the page, the lines
hallucinations falling off the edge of the world – my tongue
we haven’t talked about desperation,
yet you tell me about pornography, girls with death wishes
attached to their libidos, little warm arrows
aligned to their supple bodies, inside where the parental hole gapes;
do you understand that when the day breaks
semen in the body turning over like a silk belt, slashing
the way the poetry aches like it does when fantasies
abate and leave beds turning over like guillotined heads
and my eyesight’s killing the words as they fall
into the blinking retinas and all the images burned inside
tearing the cloth on your body with wide-eyed
longing. My darling, you write, my darling, my love
reach into the glove compartment and pass me my map,
and my scissors to snip your underwear, to snip at your heart,
little buckles undone to reveal the muscle torn
and purple and ermine and the little black-leather-
buckles. When I used to wear my fuck-me boots and walk
the streets at night I could feel men looking at my melancholy curves
I felt hot and I wanted to call home and say my death
was not only imminent but simply a scar that never healed –
crying in my sleep, my chest heaving and body fastened
to every shape ever thrown in the bed in June
when Nature told me to no longer be pregnant. I’m a big girl
I said. Roomy in the hips like Buffalo Bill’s victims
in Silence Of The Lambs. I oil my skin
so the desire will slip off me and onto the floor and crawl
around and get carpet burns and I will glow
like a cigarette burn on the arm of the whitest smack-head
in town, I will glow like the face of the girl who loves him and is willing
to watch him die out, slowly, and with no flames to fan.
I was that girl. I made him listen to a song I loved
and he cried like he’d never cried in his life that this girl with cuts
on her skin would have liked to hold him, crawl into his
psychiatric ward bed and breathe all over his damp, white shoulders.

Paper Boats

(for Greg)

After Mass, my gentle brother folded thoughts
and messages into paper boats, all sharp
angles and colours, to sail the muscling river.
No one could ever remember the Shannon
so high; racing mad between King John’s
and St Munchin’s quaking banks – where
we stood, empty and full of things unsaid.
Someone said a prayer, while others flicked
through well-thumbed pages of memory.
On the boardwalk, our Viking children ran;
Their longboats already heading out to sea.
With them I sent my first book of poetry;
With love to Mum and Dad. My mother now
among the new, my father among the old dead.

 

 

This poem is a response to the National Poetry Day 2016 theme, Messages, and has been specially commissioned by the Forward Arts Foundation. 

From ‘Joy’

The walls are wordless. There is a clock ticking.

I have woken up from a dream of abundant colour
and joy

I see his face and he is a shepherd and a piper and
a god

I see him bent by the gate, setting the fire, and he
is a fallen demon

I see him listening to the wind and sorrowing

I see wrath and misery, fire and desolation

A thousand fires in ancient London

And then the grass comes silent silent with the
hardest colour of all

The mirth colour the corn colour the summer
night colour

A thousand thousand summer nights pass

And children weave their daisy chains and place
them on the heads of fallen idols

He wept he wept more tears than there were days

And never changed the door lest, he said, we drive
an angel from it

And every morning he dipped his brush in wrath
and mildness

And out of him tumbled the biggest things of all

All of them righter than the rightest calculation

And truer than any compass

Yet where they were right and true none could say

And how they were right and true none could guess

But I knew I knew

He was an eye, and the eye wept and frowned and
smiled

The eye watched

The eye watered

The world was a mote in that eye

The mote was a world in that eye

And his brush was a blade and his tears made a
Lake.

Pause

Sole partner and sole part of all these joyes he read
to me in the summer house where we sat when Mr
Butts came knocking and found us naked reading
as we read every warm day the poor man liked to
tell that story to everyone as proof of the wildness
of our life though it never did seem wild to me but
consistent in all respects and fill of holy sobriety
which looks to the untrained eye like wild joy

William stood then and made a deep bow to Satan
who had been watching and said you are welcome
to our garden sir

Satan had a round sad face like a waterwheel and
seemed tired and full of pity, he wore his rainbow
snake around him and when he saw we meant him
no harm he bowed and shrivelled to vapour

But Mr Butts came in and ate some grapes

Pause

Have no fear Satan, said William, we will not harm
you

Yet all about us

War drifted from year to year like the seeds of
weeds in autumn

And the looms made sails for warships, and the
furnaces cast cannon balls

Men trained their horses to run towards death

all around us in schools and churches and meeting
halls

corpses marched their filthy regular steps

And men spoke about it and the words themselves
in pain, the words thirsty

For new life, the words wanted mercy

and in the midst of all this clearing in Lambeth
and South Molton Street and Fountain Court and a
torrent of such wrathful innocence pours forth,
such light that the violence staggered, violence fell
back

a spider a worm a beetle could approach it

but violence could not

an ant could find its children by it

but violence could not

And I tended that light

And he was the light

Roosevelt Hospital Blues

I thought that nothing ever happened to me.
To other people, yes, but not to me.
But baby, I was as wrong as I could be.

I slipped on the ice last January, broke my wrist.
Thinking about you, slipped and broke my wrist.
Forgot how long it was since I’d been kissed.

February, March – we grabbed the hours we could.
My wrist was in a cast but we grabbed what time we could.
It was never enough but it was always good.

April in Haiti: we visited some schools.
Went to Haiti, visited three high schools.
Back in the hotel, swam in a turquoise pool

A tree grew by the pool, its fruit was gold.
A nameless tree, its fruit was glowing gold.
Let’s live together until we’re really old.

My red bathing suit was drying on the bedspread.
We’d been making love all over the bed.
I want to live with you till we are dead.

They stoned this artist to death right in the street.
At thirty-one he died in a Petionville street.
Death is cold and life is full of heat.

The eyes he painted stare from the other side.
Those eyes: a challenge from the other side.
They say: I’m dead but my spirit hasn’t died.

The lawyer in mascara looking like a raccoon,
The divorce lawyer disguised as a raccoon
Roots in a garbage pail under the moon.

Went to the doctor, didn’t like what he said.
We held hands and listened to what the doctor said.
As long as I’m with you I’m not afraid.

He told me to go to Roosevelt Hospital ER,
Rush hour in the rain to the ER.
I hailed a rickshaw – next best thing to a car.

Riding in a rickshaw up Tenth Avenue,
Peddling in a rickshaw up Tenth Avenue,
My CAT scan sucks but I’m in love with you.

Love is a rickshaw bumping along in the rain,
Our love is a ride over potholes in the rain.
It’s too intense, don’t ask me to explain.

We’re on some journey sweet and fast and slow,
Some adventure moving fast then slow.
Let’s go together, baby, wherever we go.

From ‘Salt’

He cleared snow from the path and laid down salt.
He was conscious of oxygen, then: the word, also the way
his breath came back at him as mist to leave a trace
of ice on his upper lip. This shortly after dawn,
the sleepers in the house fixed like the dead, except the one
who turned in her dream looking for elbow-room, her voice
just short of reaching him, the snowfall soundless white, the salt
finding its way, the scuff of his boots in all that ghostliness.

 

 

A thickness in every breath.
The streets are white under hard sunlight.
‘Where my shadow falls just short of me…’

 

 

Low skies bringing rain in off the sea, the deep odour
of wet tarmac. How often have you been here before:
those two on the boardwalk going in step, an old man
waiting to cross, the girl muffled in blue,
hand raised to flag a taxi… actors edging the real.

 

 

The agéd primagravida does the splits. Forceps are brought.
Her world of pain is such that she stands aside
to watch as the child is born to a season of rain and wind.
Selfhood is everything. Like mother, like son.

 

 

In that tiny diorama, she waits at the open door.
She is perfect: nails and lips and hair. The windows
carry reflections of hills, and a river that seems to flow.
She has never been to such a place.
How can there live such loneliness in her?

 

 

‘Without salt flesh gathers worms; and though flesh be our foe
we are commanded to sustain it. And we must afflict it.
Habete, inquit, sal in vobis.’ Offer me salt in every sacrifice.