MUSIC OF THE SPHERES (2018)
OVER THE SHOP
I LATELY DREAM
A FLAWED GLASS
DAYS OF GLASS AND ENAMEL
AN ALTAR IN A BAROQUE CHURCH
ON GROSS HAMBURGERSTRASSE
THREE VIEWS OF A SQUARE
TONIGHT NO MOON
THE YARD IS EMPTY
ARMFULS OF SPRING FLOWERS
MUSIC OF THE SPHERES
OVER THE SHOP
Ah, to be young: you
living over the shop
and it not yours; wet June
when day bled into night,
flooding the present
with something beyond lethargy
as, indifferent to the jab
of frost, we parcelled out
the year like study-blocks
while your mother orbited
eternity on her beads.
Once in a decade, this,
the yard a box of heat, air a breath
from an open-mouthed bird.
An electric bell drifts across the town.
My hand is tingling – a weed pulled needlessly
in the garden of a crumbling house,
its plaster turning again to lime.
No movement, no resistance,
and suddenly I understand
an old man lying back in long grass
entranced by the height of day,
at ease, earth cool along his spine
and how, now all hope spent,
the sky of his boyhood stretches again
its long-swept flowers, its blue.
(i.m. Dermot Healy)
There is an unmapped point where drumlins
end, where river becomes lake. A solitary bird
flies against wind and current; carries more
than its own story; it carries lives or skies
never the same, not just because it flew
but that the sky was waiting for its flight,
the story for a teller that would make
voice and listener truer to each other,
calling up what we already knew
in the fantastic; making us more human
in every step we took out of ourselves.
Such simple truth. A lone voice counter-current.
And never will we hear returning geese
without the silence of a pure voice stilled.
Swallows skim along
a diminished river,
its ghost water
banished from the plain.
Houses are built upon
a first-holiday garden
whose picture-postcard tint
wells from nowhere,
bubbles in a rush
overwhelming as the scent
of nameless flowers
crushed by pebbledash
where moths hide in cracks.
This strip of riverbank
is strictly verboten.
No, don't go back.
There's a line between
antique and junk
in mind as well as shop.
Take this for what you must -
a concrete pastoral,
a honeymoon growth, hope
like that car doomed to rust,
all leather and metal
purring at the miles
that will devour it.
Walk toward nightfall
in narrow streets, dim
glass, heavy, coloured,
and that old clock, faithful
to all who promise
a return someday.
Pause, ignore the missing
chime; how infinitely
slow, the hands' movement,
Like soldiers peering over the top of a hill,
these nettles, dark green now and agéd.
It was a milestone for every toddler back then,
that brush of acid along calf or shin,
and a first discovery of deception –
how could that feather-tip on skin
so quickly turn to pain?
What a strange business it is, this growing old,
how rich and deep their leaves before they die,
and how I see them now, almost with affection,
resting in the shade of an abandoned farm
or colonising the rubble of some builder’s dream,
roots a network of subterranean streets,
underleaves speckled with eggs of gold.
When you were young,
my other self, and fell into the earth
you found between your teeth a grit,
common clay or saltpetre.
The smell you didn't recognise
was sulphur mixed with sweet,
it was the age of the earth, it held
every colour; and when you bit
down on it, your child's body jarred
as if in knowledge of your future,
the shock of it travelled along
the fault line of distant fracture,
doubled you like shrapnel, or fruit
leaking into the lungs, the throat.
Ageing. To see a bearded friend
shuffling down the hill, smooth-skinned
and chemo-pale, and I unchanged;
to hear a radio burbling that we're all
in this together. There are those who fall
unnoticed, leaf-like: others, hail
to send us scurrying back into the years
when everything made sense. Too late, too far,
the heartbeat always charged these days with fear
of its stopping. Strength and a lengthening step
to you, old friend, and the nip
of many winters on your fingertips.
I LATELY DREAM
I lately dream
of distant relatives
as if they queued in turn
to move from some dim margin
across a disturbed light
about to be erased.
Last night you stepped
from family photographs
of twenty years ago.
Although your voice was strong
your song was stilled
afraid, I think
of the weight of palsy,
the burden of a lyric
Day now, and you gone.
And if you're bound to wait
I pray it be ever
in the four bars
when the drums roll
the band kicks in
and the song ta
The room clarifies
like a slow calling to mind,
a shadow becomes a fireplace
hidden for twenty years
by unused furniture,
its scalloped canopy
still black as fresh coal.
At opposite ends of the town
wide and narrow panes
admit our differences,
the grass and walls we pull
our curtains on.
Listen. A chime is missing
in a Sunday morning peal,
drawing us to the gap in the hymn,
the unassembled pieces
of the day ahead.
A FLAWED GLASS
Morning after a storm. A dog snuffles
in a hedgerow, its instinct
reined in. A lead, a half-shadow,
and you a sudden study in patience
lost in the terrier’s twitch; still,
as if back in the self that split
with your younger brother’s birth,
a hole your sense of worth fell through.
How could you know, growing up, that blame
was like junk food, that kindness
was to be accepted, not consumed?
And how could others, being as they were, deem
your lashing out as anything but rage
and not a comfort- blanket for distress?
Years played out, each passing by writ large,
tense as the muscles in your face.
The shadow moves, morning a flawed glass.
You and the town have looked too long across
the warped grain of a separate growing.
Only in mist, earthed to a tugging leash,
do you become that child cut off by chance,
the ghost of what you might have been, a glimpse.
Your dog yelps and paws where a lone thrush
has broken cover, panic in its song.
Hands climbing to the hour,
the sound outside
of coffee houses emptying.
Seats and stories; one –
or rather two, the double helix
of a life twisted round itself
like two snakes in a well
and a look I’ve seen before
on the faces of funeral-goers
in the instant between
turning aside from the grave
and stepping back into the flow of life.
From a kitchen door
heat and damp, the end
of a creeping drought
and its airless weight
making the yard assume
the aspect of a man
not tired of life exactly
but stretched thin, transparent
as water at high tide mark.
DAYS OF GLASS AND ENAMEL
An insect, fullstop sized,
hard shelled, moves like a speck
of petrol across the yard.
Contours are cracks and boulders
in a desert. The eye has no patience,
it corrects painfully, turning
to the relief of shadows.
Days of glass and enamel,
the sky a thrush's egg, a robin's.
Music follows you like a cat
about to trip you up. What is it,
this fading of faces while names
remain? No one said imagination
would crumble before memory.
Pray for something outlandish,
that rain will come, its familiar
mud churning fields to how
they were. That orchards smell of fruit
on the turn, this strangeness of green
and blue subside; for a last print
of trees against the horizon.
In this age of sentimental
atheists, where septuagenarian rock stars
crank up unearthly decibels, there must be
a heaven for old guitars –
not collector’s items; the discards
whose strings grow rusty, pegs arthritic,
those unloved whose warped necks
were a beginner’s purgatory.
At last no more than the sum
of their elements, they wait for the room
to fall, the floor to crumble,
the drum of rain to pool
around their silence. Pity
the music they never got a chance
to make; boys who have long since
run to fat can still dream,
conjuring illusions along the air,
troubling their thinning hair,
but here nothing, a scratching of mice,
perhaps. Someone has missed
them, then forgotten. Don’t step across;
lift them, blow away the dust
with a mute tenderness.
AN ALTAR IN A BAROQUE CHURCH
Unfinished work. Everything that matters
happens at the side.
Take that praying figure coming from
or merging with the dark,
his forehead a hint of white,
a bubble on a stain.
Closer, the light hints at a life
all but hidden, leaning to a point
where night is almost welcome.
His hand under his chin –
how when we’re young we think
we can support the world!
When now a gesture is impossible as words,
our palm the nearest prop.
Here among the silver a mumble will suffice
where talking is with God, or that self
we jettisoned not knowing it would become
too late the best part of our hope.
So the symmetry of the world asserts itself
even as the artist lines everything in perspective,
the fledgling falls from the nest, an old beast
panics at not feeling the ground.
Prayer tips into nostalgia and a desire
to be elsewhere, the ceiling too high
for detail, feet make the head spin.
And what counts is comfort, a whispered breath,
a holding onto beads like an unsent message.
ON GROSSE HAMBURGER STRASSE
Hatless, I hesitated at the gate,
on the threshold of a small indignity.
An impulse to act the careless tourist? No,
such is where it starts, a slight to the dead,
a walk among inscriptions as through random boulders.
So every breach becomes a drop in a spatter,
a grain in the mud that defiles our story.
What did Adolph Menzel see
in such stones in Prague
that took him fifty years into the future?
Light hovered crow-like, brooding on that patch
of day and ground.
A week on,
and the sky bursts now, far from the plain
of Europe, over tin roofs, old yards. I watch
a rain soon to clear everything away.
THREE VIEWS OF A SQUARE
‘The place or the medium of realization is neither mind nor matter,
but that intermediate realm of subtle reality which can adequately
be expressed only by the symbol.’ – Jung, Collected Works
Two figures by coincidence
have broken from the swarm, the single mind,
they stand apart, still, like boats on a sea
becalmed. One goes, the other leans
on the railings, looking into the park,
his eyes fixed on nothing in particular.
How narrow the footpath is,
its edge worked loose like worn piano keys,
the square is an old neighbour left too long
alone, house-fronts sagging at the same rate,
gravel-grass left just too long for weeding.
Niobe at the bottom of the steps
gazes ahead, gives no sign of seeing
the empty plinth, white shards a halo
of confetti among granite chips. The tide
on both sides comes and goes, same sound, same end.
From rooms with windows almost ceiling-high,
heat sacrificed to light, tree tops
in summer break against
a car-park ugliness, the death of artisan rows
felled one by one. We could be happy here.
A woman moves, two shopping bags in hand,
bowed as if by that conditional,
the weight of a time when nothing was too new,
a restlessness that eddies in the end
to dim backwaters. Children of the square,
dispersed worldwide, peer through toughened glass
of office windows. Rich with vanished pride,
some city corner their eyes light upon,
straining to focus, feeling an old sense
of nest-warmth, numbers, the fluid ease of hope,
the gathering, breath on birthday candles.
And from the roof the needlepoint of spires,
little more than landmarks. One, icing-white,
looks down on remnants of a village,
old ribbonned streets, dead pastoral contours
giving onto the pincered driveways of estates.
Today, a sky dark as when the church
was a tip of light on canvas, a bristle
of purity among the slate and olive,
the fancied grove, the bled-out spring. A snap,
a skylight shuts, the armour of the now
drawn tight. If names were colours, the square
would be the mid-point of a crazy quilt,
each corner knotted to the long pretence
that nothing changes, children flown return
untouched, radiant, to enormous rooms
that recognise them, walls that guard their dreams.
The leaves fall, washed-out, thin,
and lie like papers on an earth
forever Agnieszka’s, a soft dark envelope
for her less than a year; the centre
of a green yet to be turned.
A family plot. No going back.
We live where the sharpest memories lie,
in the jostling of passion and pain, until
one wins out, sets, and sets us
in a pattern never dreamt of.
And the wonder at a flight
of bees, red swallow-throat,
a shimmering on the roofs of island houses,
arrow into the stab of loss
on seeing a child’s name on a cross.
All grief is cornered here,
let the sun struggle; this is its time,
let it struggle, as we do to recall
an unclosed face, a wakening,
in London and beyond,
our weathered dead.
Just another town now, its seven pools
never to be plotted. It still feels like morning:
good suit, black coat, circling the bottom of a hill
trying to reconstruct what had to fall to make
the car park. I stop to watch a beetle move along
a desert of brick and plaster; it has the petrol sheen
of fresh-sprung leaves, or dew on grass newly mown.
It flies or drops unseen. An emptiness. The town
resumes its character, like air in a room when a guest has gone.
And I see that here is, above all, a place for night walks,
especially when rain rolls in from the hills and parts
along the street; to the spring that feeds an ornamental well
or the river silent but for the gurgle and spurt
of its vanishing, cased in the drain of a thrown-up estate.
Now rolls in too, the first darkness after a funeral;
let it be gentle as that falling away in Chopin, that breath
from the Last Post drifting back into the universe,
as memories threading stream-like through a long silence.
Time to go. Oncoming lights have the gleam of cymbals,
of an insect slowly turning a fresh grain of earth.
Clouds like fingerprints, no two the same,
drift across skylights. Moon with its plaque
of meteors fattens and fades. A thousand roosts
shake and settle in twilit trees; here, home
is a light delayed, a long dream of ghost
weddings, slow rusting of a door unlocked.
Long weeks that passed too soon, their crush of sky
as if time were a dough rolled out too thin,
and what is there to show? An alphabet
of books that should have been thrown out, a run
of conversations ending in regret,
dark thickening round a late bird's cry.
Everything moves but me, is shaken and settles,
out there is a swirl of end and beginning,
a perfect silence where every sound is heard.
Day washes colour from a ruin of petals,
dries them to a transparency of wings
and they disappear beyond the noose of words,
leaving a space where questions are a thirst
no water slakes, nor anything more bitter.
Only the wash of air when rain has stopped
never fails, it rinses with a taste
of infancy – huge sky, uncertain steps,
an endless lane lost among the poplars.
Night is a long drive
between walls, the peculiar
grey-green of dim trees,
through roads whose camber
tugs like a wave against
the beam; into an endless
breaking, day stretched
too tight, a worn canvas;
finally the lake, its edge
stone-sharp, its breeze a fist,
and an island in clear light
more distant than in mist.
TONIGHT NO MOON
An island between two days,
a birth, a death. Unused to the night,
your eyesight weak, stars are doubled.
A moment, and air settles. Breath
plumes like a comet’s tail, brief
as each star’s pin-pulse.
Distance beyond distance.
Numbers outstrip our imagining,
Giotto’s gold above the stable, mere pigment now.
There is no greater dark than stepping out
into certainty, its wonder stripped,
that hour when the only truth
is cold, bone-piercing; when day’s ritual
is a child’s running towards its mother’s apron,
eyes shut in flight. Tonight no moon,
the roof, the sky, are different depths
of pitch; and you know the world
is a slow falling in on itself.
An outside light goes on,
the year’s first moth appears, called
as if by spring. Where does it come from,
that movement round the glass? Beyond
science, beyond explanation, this dance,
and suddenly how small the gap
we look across, back to a mild October.
All remembering, like all death, is one.
Darkness. Still a fluttering, powder, star.
It was never a great house,
the ceiling barely above your head,
walls at the mercy of natural light
and trees that once wheeled
like rooks above your infant head
crook today like a weary spine.
Don’t flinch. Think of it all as space,
as possibility, the ground blank
but lined in the mind of a builder
when horses drank at a pool
where in a hundred years, a road
will flood for no apparent reason.
Picture the world changing, not now, but then.
Be still one last time, static even,
reach beyond your sleeping, touch
an old sleeve, membrane-thin,
dust on your fingers, yet a scent
of childhood in your pores.
Expecting not to be believed
a man sings psalms
across a burning sea
on an empty evening.
It is a lament
for summer to come
bringing their number
to those at table
in an upper room.
The notes are bare feet
on a city
of cut-throat shells,
he reaches the end
in a confusion of wind
and where to go next
as he pines for ditches,
the smell of mud,
a wife's green fingers.
They must have been moulded
in the week of a full moon,
half-tone of earth and light
catches one side. Both made
to walk in line; the lead,
Lot's wife stopped in mid-turn,
speaks to the curve of her shoulder.
They carry the burden
of conversation part-withheld,
neither completely full
nor fully empty; they could be
an old married couple
never side by side.
THE YARD IS EMPTY
A note oscillates
from a machine
in a distant room,
it is a thin line, green
dipping to blue.
A century ago, a bird
cried across an ocean
for a lost mate.
There is a cut
so thin it stitches
the surface, a sound
so pure it has no melody.
The yard is empty.
O that we could pile it
with the mind's junk
and see if magpies
forage among what glitter
the sun per
ARMFULS OF SPRING FLOWERS
Nous sommes des brassées de fleurs de printemps
- Teric Boucébi
One of those days when imagined
conversations sweep like a squall
across the mind
leaving a litter of daffodils
broken on the ground.
From and to nowhere,
the lightning of an old anger
never assuaged, its pain arthritic
now. Who are these strangers
cursing each other
in someone's head they never met?
And am I there
with one of them, a dark
anonymous rattling thought?
Colours and desires,
where are they now? What happened
and how far back, who knows;
everything merges in the wind.
Armfuls of spring flowers,
we're ever at the mercy of those
who carry and scatter.
Between the two whites
of robe and shroud, the off-white:
a circling of gulls.
MUSIC OF THE SPHERES
Standing in Line
Above the churchyard, New Year lours.
A mile of traffic; skidding tyres
balancing on chewed-up margins,
the fingers of a fallen tree.
We pulled in at the upper end
and headed back into the wind
to say goodbye, to stand in line
for a most gifted, generous man.
It seemed we laid a century
or more to rest. I had a sense
of nature leaning, out of balance;
the present seemed to pause, as if
needing time to right itself.
A murmuring stream of prayer passed by,
unravelled like a playing spool
in some long-dead projection booth
from days when we could recognise
the concrete and the virtual
and moved from one state to the other
like apparitions through a wall,
like puffballs shredding in the skies
that held back the next downpour
and gave the mourners time to file,
each whispered memory shared yet whole
as fits an individual
bigger than stories told about him,
who rooted in his native loam
yet stepped in and out of time;
who saw the age’s lack of form
as purples carried on a storm;
for whom a town’s decay was much
as the rotting of a ditch
before it greens again. I kept
that thought a day or more; it left
its mark on what we touched upon
in our unfinished conversation.
And far back, fires. I tried to number them,
to give each one its own significance –
each one a shot of communal adrenaline,
the emptying streets converging on a smoke
too black for chimneys, air’s breath-sucking heat,
a billowing, the spit of punched-out windows
and once, an oily blob of dragon’s phlegm,
a sun escaping from a cinema screen,
and grown-ups scattering like playground kids.
A visitation, talked about for weeks
in child-speak or the hushed tones of bereavement.
And then we were too old. We understood.
I knew that rumbling sound was rooms collapsing,
I’ve felt, not heard, it since, too many times –
something internal tumbles floor by floor
and though you’re whole, you know yourself a shell.
It’s details now. The hush, the helplessness:
a woman sleepwalking along the footpath,
her neighbours linking arms to keep her back,
their faces grim with fear. Her strength; she moved
like a machine, her eyes fixed on a point
no one could see.
Today I couldn’t tell
which house it was, that row all of a piece.
Memory’s a town; expansion and neglect,
a gutting out, a scouring of the acrid,
a crowding at the heart; sometimes a stillness
waiting for decay to be complete.
The Roads We Walked
From room to room, it seems, this daylight moving
between the derelict and built-on. That row of cars
in the newly-levelled park –
where were they last week? Where did they come from?
I look across that stream
we had to gear ourselves to jump;
where now, children tucked in, thumb-type
above a drop that sucked a calf down whole.
The roads we walked.
And flowing alongside
an undercurrent of quiet savagery,
half-acknowledged, hinted at. It passed me by.
Not you, not others. There was a sort of look, steely,
fox-like, more than the bluff and bully
of the schoolyard. It was rare, it came
from nowhere, would glide across the face.
Rage layered between slyness. It made me think of flies
with wings pulled off, cats immured.
The casualness of putting fireworks
in a nest of insects was a sort of boast,
their cruelty had a sort of sheen,
an armour; did kindness rebound like arrows?
And sometimes a peculiar speech,
as though an old grievance was mediated
at a séance. They ceased to be themselves,
forgot themselves; their parents spoke.
Sometimes as little as an inflexion.
I know still of sleepers in whose dreams
housing estates become again scrub and semi-jungle,
dens where you saw in winter butt-ends, beer caps;
old outskirts where imagined slights were avenged,
youngsters brought in for interrogation.
A rehearsal. Weakness hammering weakness.
Where drawing blood upheld family honour
another generation, yet carried on its squalor.
The Empty Door
I push the empty door. It holds.
A quick check, no more
than a beat out of the rhythm
of hurrying home; a pause,
a palming to see what will give,
what’s secure. This is the age
of theft, a creeping within,
a watching from outside:
faces too you see, carelessly ill
or worn out by vigilance.
And some defiant: Here is my house,
my body. Do your worst.
Not you, who never said,
waiting, tubed, sedated yet still wired
by anxiety; the house you left
connected to the emptiness
the doctors made, your papered hall
rubbed raw with ether; do some
of them still crouch,
those squatters in a fold of fat,
a recess of the gut?
Our paths are salted in the frost,
the door is fast. Last night
when consciousness fought with its intruders,
small birds froze in branches,
dead to the world. This morning’s
hunger shook off cold. They go
from yard to yard. They wait in yours.
An Arctic Front
A walk before dark. Still, icy air,
footpaths the old begin to fear.
Under a looming, cliff-like sky
windows are cardboard cut-outs.
Greyhounds stabled, the evening paper spread
on the kitchen table, news flickering in the corner.
Familiar doors, knocked once for a dare,
life glimpsed in the fleeing,
unchanged it seems, a domesticity
set as a silhouette
but for the bank of wilderness
climbing toward the church,
briars bent in great bows under the weight
of their own vitality,
the simplicity and energy of the rank
pressing down on the tired. For such
is a town at some unforeseen hour of its life,
like the slowing, the silting of a river,
or a pause for a shortened breath
in air that can go no further; which sits,
clear, pure, tight, but is a kind of smog
befuddling the will to see beyond the chill;
where nothing exists but the inevitable,
where it is too late to rejoice
In the past life of the knocked, the derelict.
Not yet. Life like an Arctic front is merely pausing,
someone will pick up the stones that have tumbled
from the old wall and set them back
not out of love, but for something to do,
someone for whom a useless wall
is a novelty, a pair of eyes
free of the burden of history
who sees empty spaces for what they are,
a gap of air, silent, mild, unhaunted.
A Dream of Vinyl
A view of the country, boxed, unlit,
haunted by the ghost of what was felled.
A quarter-acre, rubble-tipped,
chalk pounded by rain to gloop,
wallpaper a sodden moth-wing.
And the remaining houses,
teeth unremarked till now, broken by extraction,
its hint at hidden rottenness elsewhere.
I step back. Another, further, into familiarity –
a scene from a record sleeve.
The songs won’t come, the title gone,
nothing remains but lines of hard-edged houses,
factories, conical hills. No light, no shade,
pencil-point on white. Long listening hours
supplied the green, the grey;
no colour matched the rainbow slick
on a pristine record surface,
tilted before the first play.
Perfection. Future. The colour of the possible.
Vinyl. Liner. Sleeve. When did these become old men’s words?
And since when impossible to look too long on white?
What are places?
What is the hand in front of me?
The hand of a sixty-year old man,
unmistakable, impossible to be confused
with its younger self.
So too, places. Our place
a latitude, a meeting of lines,
most often an emptiness
through which we move: it makes
more sense to look ahead,
at the receding leaves in the park,
new paint as tenants come and go,
skips and arrivals,
the rising pitch of children’s voices.
Late night talk of characters.
Let them be, they spanned a time
they never knew to call their own,
they tried to stay afloat, that’s all.
No less than we, they felt the strait
coming up, always too fast,
woke too, at an unearthly hour
bolt upright at a nightmare spill
of rain through slates, of death through walls,
the silence from a neighbouring room,
its emptying a day too soon.
Did we call them up to blur
the future, to tamp down a fear,
that their once being flesh and blood
might ease our passage into lore,
some age-old spake attributed
to us in turn, our stance or gait
conjured up some tired night
by others sliding toward the bank,
calling our shades to hold them back?
New moon hung between poles, crows
wheeled late and loud the first time
I heard the words the difficult second album.
Whose mouth they came from I don’t know
anymore, though my toes remember
cold from a turning of the year.
And a taste too, of iron in the air
I hoped had made it from Duluth or Hibbing.
Twice, far off, dry, silent lightning.
A night that lodged, that may never have happened,
the small stuff of myth, the type of yarn
spun by men for whom time is a bubble
in a spirit-level – too much, too little,
not knowing the jiggle, stop, and tension
are all that matter; to see the lines
move toward the centre, as a notion
aligning truth between its poles.
Music of the Spheres
Sleet, lull, sleet, the day after
you left. I check the house –
warm air again in landings, the boiler
fixed, purring, long glacial weeks
banished. Outside, the heaviness
of thaw, rain clotting, a drift
of more to come. A figure
we once knew shuffles, peers
at a familiar, peeling wall as if
seeing beyond himself: and I see us,
not old men, but children forever
exiled from a simple life,
each step of adolescence
the crossing of a hidden fissure,
each song a loss that punctuates
the music of the spheres.
Half and half.
These are the moments
that once were a grace
of turning over, drifting,
now a prolonging of unease,
the fear not of waking
but setting foot on the day
as if it were a ceiling
that would give way
onto who knows what.
And the thought which came
when light was milk
falling through water
bobs in a corner
like a swept-away bridge.
Vines grow where the cinema stood,
bindweed, nightshade, groping
for a prop, a neck to fasten on.
The wind has found a gap; we always
knew it would. But before
our time – we never saw that coming,
and now the sun lights nothing,
shadows merge, rubble finds its level along a slope.
We must have sat just there, ten feet out,
Mid-air, in line with beer-shed roofs,
hung above the world to see it better
for its not being true - imaginary loves,
heroics; sweet right and wrong;
remember how the blood sang
when we came out defying cold,
to face another week?
More than clay, this patch
with its layering of ghosts, the sameness
of dreams: ours, our parents’. Sixty years
of filing in and out, that great
communal hush when the lights dimmed;
the seconds of dead space before
the great projector cranked; and looking back
above the smoke, the story spooled
backwards, tiny, from that booth
we never got to enter. Nowhere
else was there such closeness:
a nod to neighbours, the film like a coat
half-on, half-off. Well, now it’s gone.
It’s had its day, like every ghost. Pull down
more walls, let the light in, let
the seasons scour the alleys clean.
The road we took last month has been washed clean,
its mud swept into gouged-out gaps where the lane turns,
banks where bluebell buds break the surface like stubble.
Bells from the town carry here on the clearest of days
when the sky is like glass, the ear taken by surprise,
its sound less than memory, a calling from another lifetime.
In the same way, that farm building will always be a school
until the last block falls, its broken panes patched by writing slates,
chalk smeared, ingrained. The dust of words peers out
like children on a rain-filled noon; no spectres here, only
the sweet smell of hay on name-carved shelves, on old nest
lining the cupped rim of an ostrich egg.
There is a yielding in the air now. Something like a sigh
washes over the churchyard, a hum of tractors, the squabbling
of birds about to pair; and a smoothness, a lack of static,
the silence of an empty bench, the lathe stilled. From here
you see the town not as on twin hills, but in a hollow, its steeples
thorns from a felled branch about to be overgrown.
And now that the sky has for the moment ceased being angry,
fields in the distance seem to be folding into each other
much as the years do now – if we unpicked them,
what colours would they yield: salmon, amber, cobalt, such
as we know never flashed across our monochrome recollections?
Save what shades we can for canvas, for the future.
And on a bleached summer’s day,
the kind our mind conjures
almost against our will,
houses stretched like the bones of a whale
scattered on a far shore.
A boy, pretending to be me, made his way
step by breathless step, along the hill.
Heat, light, loss. I feel it still.