TOWARD BLUE BRIDGE (2006)
MORNING IS GASPING
BEYOND THE RAILINGS
TOWARD BLUE BRIDGE
AT THE CHURCH OF MARIA THEOTOKIS
THE SHOALS’ RETURNING
ACROSS TWO FIELDS
THE HOLY HOUR
WORDS FOR ELECTRONIC MUSIC
ONE OF MANY
IS WHAT IS
IN THE BALANCE
FROM A BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS
MUSIC FOR A SHORT FILM
AT THE BOTTOM OF TAYLOR'S HILL
HAVING TO GO
If the purpose of life
was to see your face
it would be sufficient.
But seeing that face
is not enough for life
that moves round supposition.
So we live in the while
between truths, and give that space
a certainty - love, religion.
MORNING IS GASPING
Morning is gasping as mist burns
off the shallow where river meets lake
and perch churn, fibrillating
mud and current.
Slowly this time of day died for you
its impulse was an enemy
then a nothing.
Offended daybreak stalks
in whispers past your grim sleep.
Three men came to bless
your empty hearth. Their talk
was of plenty, of a regulated
life, the dull glow
of a full glass.
The morning fire always lit.
A moment of stunned
wonder on their faces, they rubbed
ash into their fingertips
and were gone.
The midday sky is yellow as skin,
as skin where smoke
has too long lain; where a gold
rises from under a skin.
On the wall, parchments
are fading. In framed smiles
caught against relentless
bay light, something imperishable
has been stilled,
like a resolute song
or a carved angel
through rain and fungus.
Through your stilled fireplace
the sound of dogs in the distance.
Their social calling
breasts the curved hill of the street,
calls time more faithfully
than clock or beat.
They measure the length of evening,
they warm the chimney wind.
Around a dying fire
a generation ago,
turning on an elder branch
the casings of small perch
you talked of fate
and your voice
was heard by the stars,
by the ghost of every hunter.
You broke against trunks
the caps of bottles river-cooled.
What wonder spent itself
in the listening, each open
mind a wave pulled
to trickle and die
on a calm, unreckoned shore.
Later, bare boards and stripped walls’
damp cushioning every bar,
you played as if you channelled
the limitless, refracted it
into a pattern we could grasp,
our minds like fish
chasing each chance colour.
How they battled in that shallow,
swelling to each tug of phrase;
your mind and fingers flawless
in the notes they cast
haphazard on the mild,
Dark advances: not still,
but possessed by
a terrible, mute restlessness
that will not let be -
spectres of every song left hanging,
of every frittering away,
money unheeded, the good
it might have done.
Round such bones
the skin finds fault lines, delves
to what didn’t matter once, cold truths
no happiness can drug away.
Calm night: the slip
of an unaligned window
lets in the hot, damped beat
from a late bar
where emptiness has been cancelled
and all remains is the dreadful
weariness where time washes,
not even tragic anymore.
Take heart. In the end
there is nothing more
than this: whins sharp
as sorrow, their folded-paper
flowers waiting to be blown;
a grey stream choked
by growth, its bed nitreous, glutted
as we are at times
by overreaching memory
that becomes the thought and impulse
and stretches into the prospect
of revisiting a non-existent country.
And for truth there is the dried
mouth, the morning tic,
the achievement of emptiness
as it dies to a blank on which
you cast the shadow of the future
as you pray for colour.
Nights of easy mediocrity,
untrying, unrewarding. After the Anthem
an obligatory knot of half-cut balladeers
challenged our straight faces. Couples red
from over-jiving tottered up again,
swayed in odd time to something we'd just played
spun through a smiled-at memory. They escaped,
those dancers, into our songs, as if for spite
at the world, the ragged cold and sky outside,
certainty of morning. And we laughed
as if we knew the joke, and it on us
that we fought against our knowing ourselves the same,
resented its inevitability.
And now it's gone, that music's what we grasp
much as we gasp at shades of derelict games
played in the dying, last, ball-blotted light.
The house for once stilled,
silence breaks like luck
of some kind. The light is on my back
and I am looking at the slow
mottling on my hand, each stipple
a story that happened behind my knowing.
My eyes, tired in search
of a new sight, are following
on old pattern. Somewhere, a machine
is winding down.
is fresh, so fresh it pricks like a conscience.
The moon has lost its cinnamon complexion,
its seas and chubby uplands breast the yews.
Two children playing in the rectory garden
rub their shivering arms. T-shirted, blue
against the neat of mown and plastered, they
defy the snatched weekend we call a break,
the innocence that will outlast them plays
a major bar against the line we take,
the humdrum melody we seldom deign
to listen to because it is our lives.
So many rooms I've looked from, felt in vain
the pull to a perfect moment. A bright flash dims,
we know it for perfection: instant, gone,
a last quest in the twilight, morning-promise.
We face each other in the dark. No moon
dare break the empty box, no shade redeem us.
WALKING OUT INTO THE DARK COAST
For the term of the pupil widening
in which there is nothing to be seen,
the mind is washed by grace, the ear
by the melody of restless water
at a point beyond the wrapping of night
or the play of wind and hint
of drizzle on the face.
Were it not for the treachery of rocks
and the traps laid against wildness
we would dash ourselves against the urge
to feel the ebb of surf leaching the warmth
from the extremities of our limbs.
The steel of winter past! Razored dark
greeted our evening eyes,
I dreamed the seal’s dive-angle,
facing the mountain road as the neon
of a corner chip shop swelled in drizzle.
Remembering hot marram paths
was an act of faith.
And now light is a gateway - if only
light were enough, if we had the courage
to make it all, to rejoice in the constancy
of its coming, like those stone-haulers
five thousand years ago.
But we are running against our nature;
whichever way we turn, we sense
that worst unease: the ignorance
of the intelligent, from which there is no ease
but the itch of betrayal which we strangely welcome
as an unkind truth; constant, dry,
like the skin of a beached seal.
BEYOND THE RAILINGS
I was walking in the garden when your message came.
One of the ferns was lopsided like a broken wing
I was trying to prop it back to a semblance of health.
Your words had the music of a foreign tongue,
I felt the world where they were uttered. It passed
and you became that shade where the smell of earth is pungent
as damp at the bottom of steps.
How goes it in the land of steel and glass
where the long stem of day is perpetually
elegant, and fat churches pray for peace?
The bee reels from impenetrable
flowers here, and his hum is the din
of a river of far cars cut off
from their own sound. Like you, me,
all the others isolated by what we have grown.
There was a plan once, a manageable knowledge;
now, too exhausted to cut or nurture, we move
among small reliefs like a cat after a patch of sun
while noises out of vision settle to the hum
of exile. If we listened, we could pick out shards
of meaning from that drone
that would make a mesh of girders
permanent as a leaf. I know our clocks beat
to the same tick, but the shades of our understanding
are the greens of chlorophyll and copper
and those luminous hand-tips that call
morning to your waiting eyelids are reminders
no averted mind can bury with clear light.
The Himalayan nusq that has no heart
- just layer upon packed cactus layer wrapping a thin,
thread of xylem, like a stream trickling
where no frost can reach - has raked my palm
more than once, its dead leaves a razor-paper
mocking with a sting my ungloved carelessness
and this foreign impulse to tidiness.
Looking at those skin-slivers redden like a gill
I have been tempted to shake the drops onto the roots
as we feed the lie of who we are with the residue
of a far-off prick of discontent or a missed chance.
I’ve seen a day-old smear of blood on a stem as powdered
rust, or a vivid rash or alarm; a wild
and uncomprehending signature
or a scrawl of pain along the wall of a new building
where night creatures congregate to be repelled
and leave no lasting mark. Their lives will
in the end fold as sharply-perfect as a gable corner
or the stories we crease symmetrically along
the line of an astonishing reminder
from the fissure of the dreary and exotic.
TOWARD BLUE BRIDGE
Like a work of art, Blue Bridge supports no feet.
Only an early mist burning off the canal
dares thread itself through the lattice of supports,
ringing like a kiss the space between bolts
where the paint missed.
it holds the passing gaze while boatmen
turn, resolute, for the front where wharves
are open to ribbons of backlight, and gulls
wheel, their wings dresses dusty at the end
of an all-night wedding.
There is a moment
I have never found; where the bridge
belongs, is part of a perfect
triduum - eye, inanimate, water -
where the soul blinks in a locus no
mathematician can pinpoint; the widened
iris, welcoming light, hovers on the emptiness
between brush-tip and cloth;
when a drop
of pure colour can fall onto unrecognising
skin, and each smear of wiped azure is clean
and whole as remembered grain.
It must pass,
that exultant leap that dwarfs the fact
of metal and fused cuboids that are
a century defying rains’ infinitesmal kisses
like a boxer hunched beyond his time;
altars prayed at hereabouts have been gold
or waiting an empty mud
for an act of mind. But blue,
as though covering a suddenly-remembered toy,
draws a prayer from a stubborn breath, dawns
in this singular hour - when only the rebellious
eye fights the urge of heavy lid and limb -
and is in itself the end
of a pilgrimage where the foot still hovers
on the second step; a destination unremarked
until caught by a sudden sidelong glimpse.
(from the painting 'Carroll Street Bridge is Blue' by Elizabeth O' Reilly)
AT THE CHURCH OF MARIA THEOTOKIS
I visited the building named for you.
It glowed with anger; light crackled
with the ungovernable static of a prayer.
The stairs creaked like centuries,
their groaning a knowledge that violates
the innocence of trees.
What light there was, buckled through branches
grating against a cross-grained window,
their roots truer than pounded stone
or air that rang with plainchant
and the silence of stifled disappointment.
No end, no beginning.
Chained forever to a body none
has known but dreamed as pliant,
how do you watch us move
about the varied spaces we have reserved
for your nothingness? What left
to see in an age of lead?
Only the tired come here now
to share the weary taste of rearing God
or lay at your feet the many baits
that have drawn them to litanies and valium.
Hope is a memory of a distant wedding,
peace the dead calm
of a guestless hall. If you had known
the need to pray for a casting off,
perhaps the long Greek light
would have found beyond time
a hard grit in need
of nourishment; and those whispered
exclamations that are their own
pattern would be a sibilant opening
into brightness. And a story
maybe lived, could be a life and more,
a truth breathing over fumes and concrete
like a desert air.
The dog in the courtyard moves
in his sleep, following the palm’s
halfpenny of shade.
His day is a perfect zodiac.
Beyond the wall like sun’s rays,
the noon scattering
of shoppers and lunch-goers.
Like Chekhov’s peasants, their voices
are clear as a bell; they have
the authority of their private failures
and know that every moment
is a prelude to some kind
of greatness. Their redemption
is an unreflecting pleasure -
the smell of croissants, the palate’s
bridging the remembered and anticipated.
They know the earth is kind, in spite of all.
After such generous light
the hotel room is an unlifting shade,
a truth of distant mornings: and we
must winter-will into wrought truth
our own square and basking fountain.
THE SHOALS’ RETURNING
Off a thronged street, mean alleys
duck to the sea and its petrified
detritus. In the pet shop, fish
cannibalise among the coloured mica.
The crowd is a jostle of lazy
endearments, a river with two currents.
Their one silence concerns what brought
them here. More than the sun’s
draw, or the unending novelty
of the first smell of seaweed,
it is the shoal-pull none cares
to mention; where past the bay’s
calm, paining lid, only the mute
diver stirs, or the odd soul
for whom a thankless, swirling
dark is comfort.
with net and jam jar breaks the plain
rim of the sea wall. He holds up
a crab to the west; the filament
shakes molten drops as his pace quickens.
I saw you from my customary distance
your fingers in the car conducting life
as if the tree of Adam called on lightning
to blast it to a Bible-burning purity
where fruit and truth are vaporised and drawn
into the lungs and consciences of dull
and coward eyes which thrive on passing by.
ACROSS TWO FIELDS
Across two fields – a blur between bushes,
a haunting of lost sounds –
gabled white has given up its fight for shape
and is its own unlit leaching out of sight.
Under a weak kaleidoscopic light
I studied once, warm ash of a dead sunset
ceding to the charcoal of print
until each page was a door closing
on a story, and I looked instead
at covers as the last details drained.
We live in a folder of skin; like files,
are accessible to the proper sort
of inquisitor; who has no need or desire
to make sense, who retrieves
at random and reassembles in his own mind
in a way we can never quite fathom.
our lives read like scattered papers
or the colours of confetti running
into earth: astonishing and brief.
THE HOLY HOUR
The house has settled and the lights are down.
The holy hour, this; sofa, tumbler, book
and the memory of a figure dawn-outlined
seeing his life in yards, in rusted nooks.
The shutter creaks in an upper room, thrown open
where pennant light bites like ice in the mouth,
the first pure breath of morning lanced and broken,
sun already molten on the paths.
And always the ambiguous ease of wonder,
the guessed-at peeling of a silhouette –
has that life an existence beyond rumour,
this, frayed endearment or a bitter joke?
The stomach and the throat are masters yet,
the last hour swallowed with a hint of smoke.
WORDS FOR ELECTRONIC MUSIC
The clock is slightly askew,
its numbers not quite plumb
with the wall, and the boxed glasses’
inscriptions have faded. They lie
among frills that recall
the inside of a coffin, its lining
stapled with the indifference
of a filing clerk.
Across the night, into the gap
of tiredness, comes electronic music
wordless and crying out
for the kiss of syllables, glottal
discipline, the promise of sibilants.
But each phrase is a snake
that defies the scales of sentence
or paraphrase. Its purity
is a deflecting glass;
each pulse, entire as a raindrop,
warm but inviting no warmth.
And along such a clear and resisting skin
something of our pain dashes itself
and is lost, becoming one
with the scattering of the universe,
a flame without heat,
tongue without body.
Someone has cut a tree, and the prospect
is altered for our time. Garden walls
are strips of old bandages, the smallness of plots
a check on the smooth slotting of years.
And the low light is calling for bonfire
smoke to rise like a sapling; to divide
the evening and give the distance behind it
a hidden sheen of hope or the kind
of promise we make ourselves when a day
has fled and left a silt of disappointment.
The year is always turning. Cracks and crashes
disturb no hearing; the immediacy of their happening
is an unending alteration, is a stillness
that pierces or will pierce in a thousand years.
I imagine you with the taste
of forty years of exile on your lips
and we in a frenzy of forgetting.
And as you look across the river
- its cranes, its squatting geometric glass –
the phrase golden years runs through you
as if in a maze.
And your hands, their skin welded
to their story like those coloured plates
you left festooned across myriad cities,
are mute swooping through morning
like swallows caught by an early frost.
Something is unstitched; when you sit at cards
your eyes will betray a double truth
neither banter nor tall tale will assault.
There will be no smoke, no old men,
secrets and secret guesses will circle warily, unspoken,
someone will hold a trump and not know it,
or knowing, surrender advantage to the hour’s strangeness;
our knowledge of you, hearsay, will be stilled,
the pass of coins be an exchange of lamps.
Which brings, crazily, to mind, the word
wallpaper. I came across a roll
you must have known; dust-coated, pristine,
it bloomed in its unfurling, like a blazing
Kodachrome decade, sheer and astonishing
as light in the well we cleaned
because you drank from it: our pilgrimage.
And though I grudge the memory of insect-bites,
the disappointment of dead creatures
on a surface they reclaimed by thrust of instinct,
I think of you not as the loser but the lost,
of what we could have had, and how
it was impossible because the image
must be perfect. We were baptized to this.
So it seems – ghost, do your worst – that every
plate you fired was a station in the church
of struggle, and every light you scattered
was a seeding of subversive hope. Confined to a room,
wherever, I hope you twist with a rebellious pain,
your mind coiled like a fern-tip on dank soil
as you turn from light’s surprise into the truth of years.
ONE OF MANY
So still the evening. An hour
when a memory, like the sudden
taste of cider on the tongue,
is bitter in its sweetness
and surprise: I see again that lorry’s
pyramid of apples; beyond
reason, its cornering sway.
And what rings true now is its
disappearing, down the narrowest
of alleyways, threading barge-
like to where no horizon
hemmed; where love was the key to countless
words, and not the diamond it is
now, gleaming, pure and mute.
Turning from the epigram, I see
you with your weighted arms outstretched,
the kitchen and parlour doors right-angled, lit
by afternoon and twenty vanished years
twenty-five, in fact, but what does time
matter to the deaf, the uncounting dead?
That you knew love, and fiercely, was a kind
of compensation, as it has been since;
last conscious word, or thought, of the beloved.
The cool tile on your cheek, unfelt: domestic
trifles cooling round you - custard, cards
already sent, heartscalding irony.
Now you appear again, angel of plenty,
younger than I am now, sweet optimism
a given then. The house expands around you,
becoming what it was, a storied place
soul-centred; and all the inner spaces'
tearful emptying, the time-thinned snowdrop beds
are cancelled blindly, briefly, by your gaze,
the unhearing, waving melody of your hands.
Long days die as wheels of ribboned lights,
placidly-fat as summer-storing creatures,
bank above the twilit town horizon,
all the lonely heat
of sullen months, that self-deception,
banished now by tight
grip of chill on hand or chrome.
Among the thrum and grind of cogs, the bland
relentless tannoy rhythm, scattered shrills,
a stillness where all ends
for a breath before the dodgems wail.
A mother hints at home,
and the gigs and mobiles suddenly look sad
as a case thrown open, waiting. In a night
grown fuller now, tiredness is a breath
foggily laboured; bought
hearts linger along the path,
the last light red.
The apple slows into brackish water;
its skin swells like wide skirts.
Slowly it splits. The ferment of dissolution
is silent: fish wheel
to the surprise of sweetness,
microbes fall from pulp into an alien drift
through mud and gill.
There is no rest;
journey and path at quiet war,
the lick of perfume
on the innards of a branch,
wildflowers cut in pungent prime,
wanderers, drowning in air
that struggles from opal to lead.
There is a rush to have everything done in time
for a gap of regret.
Think of Cowper in his soft solitude
waiting for January to level him,
and when it passed, affected
with the unease of relief.
It seems the well is purest
and the merest touch of grey in it. We better slake
our thirst with a taste of iron
roaming like a flood’s leftover
and breathe best knowing air as a caprice.
Birthdays are hanging
in a wind we can’t explain but for the way
it chills from the inside out while it promises
sometime hours of ease in meadows,
or similar great abstracts
on which ambition faded
as paint in sunlight.
The great howl
of need has dulled; or is as painfully new
elsewhere. And there is an inescapable
envy at a sensibility
tough and tender by turns, not bloated and tired;
that reaches for a limit it doesn’t know
and sees the universe as rimmed with uncracked steel.
IS WHAT IS
A sense of being followed has never
left; nor being dogged by some catastrophe
to come. But it has its own fantastic sweetness,
this being marked by one’s own morbidity.
Every moment is to be snatched at, already gone,
the head swims at each faintest scent of oil,
and a handclasp is a delight against that
expectation of air fleeing from the narrowed palm.
And shot through every thought, the fear of being both sides
of simplicity; the way a near bell
startles, then unsettles in its dark reverberation
so that it has no centre, or is all centre, where peace is
unpinnable; we walk through the dagger-point
of ourselves, would be our own prayer, if we could.
With light comes re-burying
and the lassitude of having made good.
Stubble is cut to the root.
Warmth is all;
it trickles down to the soles.
Night is a conceit of time stretched
either side of a momentary startling,
day a restless quest, a preparation
for the purity of insomnia.
Weak light, weak character,
our lives stretched on the frame
that was there before us: old bones
round which our tale is spun
to blanket the cooling space
we must leave behind.
behind the sun, our dreams
in daylight carry their massive gravity,
sink into the bed of the immediate
that will seed like firework fingers
in deepest dark, skeletal and full.
If we could forget –
our every striving become a step away
from a prelapsarian perfection,
that apotheosis of passivity
each nerve-end rejects with a cry
piercing and silent as a banshee;
preferring a truth random
as the spattering of freckles,
the roguery of genes; untwining
the helix of myth to find it patternless
but for the necklace
of light through gaps.
So the next moment is a plunge
into the purity of its own being,
is no step to a neighbouring state
or an abutment of existence
but an act true as the air loosed
from a songbird’s throat,
a movement in the eternal traffic
of gravity and motion, an abandon
in which no time is stilled.
You are going out now. Tried
in the knot of ashen days
you open the drapes onto the dazzling, unscreened
prospect of a whole life.
And the blurring of your palmprint
on glass is a farewell to weakness
as the little left rushes like the wake
of a train against the shelter
of an old embankment.
Even the sheen on those pearls
you treasure is weary with the patina of history.
There is a flare and gathering. Enough now
to be a pillar
and the air it crumbles
into, one with its own loss.
Worse than beauty dying
is our letting go of it,
resigned to its not being enough
but tortured by someone
else's enjoying it
as if in begrudgery
we fashioned for ourselves
a world without music
or wished for rain
to cover the mountains.
In age, the sting of hail
is a welcome, cleansing thing,
it whips blood back to the skin,
it promises cold, indescribable blue.
IN THE BALANCE
The year is bleeding itself out, gently, arhythmically,
soundless as that arrowhead of glinting jets
that cut a thousand miles into a stillness of stripes.
This is love: a graceful, fulfilled flight
to a haven which is always just beyond
the point where land and air meet in perfection.
Sometimes the year dies peacefully, sometimes
with an eye on the light to come.
And the purity of darkness is the centre of a fulcrum.
Love. In our darkness we walk through each other,
we leave a sheerness purer than vapour.
FROM A BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS
A turned page arches over and beneath
the dark rainbow of the Book of Lamentations.
There is no casting off like accumulation,
we lose ourselves in fear of a tarnished sheen.
And I am surrounded by fence-posts of sadness
older than Easter stone; I am in the cleft
that admits no sheer of cliff, no dizzied sea.
Out of the prospect of sight, a thousand birdcries haunt the air.
Every step is a balancing; every swaying
a falsehood to the abstract purity of lines in air.
Over the night comes the mourning of the singled,
and revelation charred to a looped verse.
There is no city we see but that we walk through
while we crumble round our will to stay upright.
We illuminate the Gospel of our lives with our weakness,
we wish to dazzle the world with our whitened bones.
MUSIC FOR A SHORT FILM
How in the mind those streets
were strewn with white leaves separating into roadlets.
How a river was simply a mass
of legend, atlas-blue, italicised. That reeds
issued song was a matter of course; that a man
might step between them and die, incomprehensible.
This before the music of parting, the cold wind across the body.
I stepped from the lake that would be made whole
when I was gone beyond looking back. Water slapped
as I lurched into the shallow; its sound, I know now,
was a kind of resentment, the same I see
when its surface plays with a fishing float,
having uppermost in mind a foundering.
How spring swallows the certain outline
of a buzzard’s nest; how summer is a swallowing of certainty.
A garden is the sum of something
never finished. There is in its greening
a despising of limits; and in its cold vacancy
a weariness hotter than enmity.
Come, gather like a weaponry of flowers the speartips
of every disparate thought. Watch the darnel as it snakes
beautiful among grains of cleaned gravel
into the great betrayal of light as it rears
its head toward the axe of measurement.
2. Between Three and Four
In such a space you make your own sound,
in such quiet is the hollowness of every music
given up when the mind is still and the bones rest, finally.
Here and now the chanting of blood in the head
is a dying hymn, as it must have been
for Zachary in the emptiness before the world turned
and the traffic in yard or corridor resumed
but with a knowledge that was neither foresight nor fear.
How can the mind fit so much music
if nothing is forgotten?
There must be a labyrinthine ridding; where motifs
are walled entire, a pained journey through visions
and what passed for promises, into the state
between three and four: the hour of veils and drapes
when day is a taut end of beginning, and a deed
is the oblique between start and finish
and a figure crossing an inner room is less than shadow
and silence is a burden that must be lugged
like a dead weight from vacancy to vacancy.
Listen. The throb of happiness from another room.
In a glass of fused ash is a warped equator
where the image is perfect, all distortion cancelled.
We should pray to come upon earth after such heat.
There is no surface, no hint of movement behind
this obsidian eye. Round
and ambiguous as a bead, it gives nothing away
but the awful density at its core.
So deep a fusion frightens us,
it draws then holds us to a static
contemplation that has no reward.
Better a pool where the body is always
safe in a leaning caution.
Age of mirrors, age of innocence. Now blows
a new wind that pierces and leaves no sign
but the hunger of young girls and abandoned towns
whose streets are a knowledge that no one cares:
that life plays itself out in the upper
layer; that the dance on painted glass is the only
redemption; that the image cannot ransom its way back.
As if our world in its every detail
were painted on a worn-to-a-grain pebble
sea-reprieved; and that it lived in the interval
when shore creatures shelter and maraud; so too,
the cold raid of eyes and thoughts on its poor reflection.
Something in us is pining for the waste,
the sheer strike of brine or arid purity
of dust; where light is stopped or whipped, but stripped of its sheen.
4. Two Nocturnes
The steps disappear as though into cloud.
There is a smell of fresh paint and cold underfoot,
and somewhere near at hand, the sea threatening dark.
Everything is filtered blue; the inner lens,
too; and those vivid encumbrances we called souvenirs
when they were fresh enough to be simply
true. Now the eye has no stomach for torchlight
and moonlight through branches is glass to a fractured view.
And yet night has a charm that is irresistible,
to do with being lost or at the heart
of an explosion that doesn’t concern you; with walking
away and into a stillness that marks you as an alien.
Unseen, every shape is possible; the air
holds every music and the rustle of flight.
Moonlight on still water. Music suggests
a razor-glint of heat in the warm ash of dusk.
So the mind plays itself out after a long day,
rises above the grids and ridges that bind
and cement the first moments of early surrender.
There is an opening out, as of bare
garden squares to dimmed country, or the warm flow
that goes with the slow loosening of tired breath.
And with none to hear, the sigh can take a quality
rich as the mind that loosed it: like a seam
never to be stumbled into, it has its own claim
to a secrecy greater than the openness of sharing,
like music in a soundproofed room, wedded to walls
and the dying of the air it lately stirred.
The hand at rest is under too great a strain,
the world swirls round it like an angry swarm.
It sends a message of death back to the brain.
The hushed, frightened nerve would welcome a tremor,
to be loosed in the air like a messenger of the gods
and back through the tenuous pain of helplessness,
the stain of unregarded slights.
In a time when the lullaby has become impossible
and days are replete with the gospel of strained laughter
we should pledge each other a quiet seriousness
and a life that is measured in easy whispers.
Knowledge is a face glimpsed in a passing car,
reflection, a glance in a rear view mirror.
What can we say? That coming this road before,
an insect cloud turned to an amber dust
across an impossible sunset? Or that a thing unnamed
glowed with the frailty of a shot spark?
And let us be happy within our walls,
those walls that bring us such strange repose.
A field of cut hay
has no existence
but to the bare foot
for which every blade
is an angled self of pain
on the sole.
AT THE BOTTOM OF TAYLOR’S HILL
Accents drift on coffee scents:
across the road, the pinched, sallow face
of the bookshop assistant will be smiling tiredly.
I have walked by a surfeit of green
over and down affluent hills
past trees that were a dead end.
It is as if they have had
too long a prospect of the sad stone
masts wearing down in the bay;
summers have become too great
a sameness of change. Growth nestles round
their roots like a coiled hearthside cat,
unending saline twilights
have sapped the space between blue
iris and the nascent spark of awe.
What matter if life is stabbed
conception or the planned thrust
of fable? The trees like any drunk
are seeking their own oblivion,
their roots are a putting down
in nothing more than shifting
faith. What if nothing will part?
Or nothing grip? There is but the sway
of nullity. Hold fast, hold fast:
we are our own hanging on.
But since there is only one sky
and the view (so we tell ourselves)
will be different,
where is truth? In that surprise
and the stab of wonder we know
will pierce a child a hundred years hence,
or in the certainty
of our aligning two miles and a horizon?
Maybe age and dark
are the true gods, and the lights
they scatter across nothing are the spatters
of a child’s painting.
Asked what it is I’ll miss most, it is the days of early
rising, mist barely cleared, greyhounds
pacing in terraced garden pens,
counting morning in each nervy turn;
my walking mind shaking vestiges
of late-night British jazz like dewdrops into
the perfect void of silence disturbed –
my steps the drumbeat of moribund desire.
And when I felt the moment complete, its air
a static void waiting to be earthed
by a voice like Norma Winstone’s, wordless
and with a shocking power in the truth
of what it had left behind. All our dreams
now are but a pain on waking
and if we have bequeathed the best part of ourselves
there is always the itch of music on the underskin.
I had forgotten the wind,
what wind could be, its knife-essence
cutting a truth across the surprised trachea,
and then to see those
who had settled into the outline
of who they are, not were,
and to hear an accent
alien and not foreign, to know it
as the expulsion from one’s own
lungs that will one day
be final; it greeted
with familiarity by strangers.
I looked across the miles to the other rim
of the funnel; the wind, mine
this time, was a prayer for strength
where cold was a commodity
dealt in the silver of small talk.
Across how many horizons is the sea?
And where our point of departure? ‘It goes,’
says one, ‘It comes,’ the other.
Where everything waits but the wind.
HAVING TO GO
“We talked so often of your dying, and you were determined
not to go, not just yet.” Sarah Ferguson: ‘A Guard Within’.
We speak of having to go, as if death
were a journey planned, or at the least
an unexpected train
at which departing two faces
watch the other silently recede.
But what is dead is the point
not of departure, but of the countless
left inanimate, whole but lacking:
a cushion plumped by itself
back into shop-shape,
that shape of hope and newness;
tongs locked on a lack of coal;
a season opening on an eternal
sameness, no less beautiful for one gap
in a million. Death is the list
and the charge either side of joy –
a child somewhere christened,
a knit of grass. Death is the station,
life the station. Away, grass
and the derelict fight to an unknown end.
A float bobs, the skimmed surface of the lake
is a calming falsehood under a noon promised
when rain pounded roofs like a million fingernails.
The colour of the water could once be read,
it knew the storm miles from the cold rubbing of ions;
now it refuses like an exhausted
beast. There has been too much arid prophecy
and nothing of the turning of hours, earth-splitting days.
Nothing happens. After the kill, the bottom-rest,
where fish like a myriad sliver of thoughts
identical and at each others’ throats, are still for now,
stilled like Job’s children, their return denied, syllables devoid
of stars or the dust of clover; where they see
only the taut dark of the moment’s silver.
(for Mary Beth Craddock)
You see a pattern in the knots,
a sense to the many rivers,
each mainstream a tributary, its angle
on the world a central truth.
Like tightly-woven clouds
the stories pass: we unpick random showers
and have no sense of their falling. Corners
of scattered lives green wilfully.
And we are left with the shared
impulse to scatter and loose; the wonder
at the point of each heart’s contract.
Beyond the earliest marriage,
a whirling universe of truths
impelled into unrecorded orbits
where the fissure and shift of desire
and sense were template on weak template.
By the great river, with a great map spread,
do you ever see the stars as myriad
peasants laughing at the bodies we pen
them into, the stories they adorn?
Or us as dust, making our own sky
from dead paper and the instant of ink?
Are we the current spaces between stars,
pinned by waves like hearts to siren voices?
And after this there would be nothing,
as if our souls did not exist,
as if our faults had caught up with us.
But who can catch an accent on the air
and pin it to its bone?
There is always the miracle of floating.
The hawthorn white as pain,
Communion-white, the stones
hiss in a midday shower.
I count each vacant hour
like John on Patmos waiting
not for revelation
but the end; of Hebrew, Greek,
of all envied by the meek,
knowing nothing matters
but the final hour; life clotted
round its fading remnants.
John, to cool the dimness
of his eyes at midday,
believing in the glory
of a seen annihilation ,
had learned the craft of patience
at gentle kitchen corners.
And we have moved no further.
I look through hope, through trouble,
at cows that could be Virgil’s
and know timelessness exists
in our knowing nothing lasts,
and that in John’s exile
we pass our little while.
Ariane, the sky is gathering in on itself
and light like mildew crawls
along the uneven walls.
The sun is low over hulks
round which the harbour is immobile.
There is a language to be discovered
where every noun is tight,
each verb reflexive,
and there is no continuous past.
And adjectives are definite as sand.
Time to pull the rug of self tight
round hurt eyes; to face Naxos
and what truth it holds, out there
where day shimmers, the sea deceives
and the voyage quarrels with the dream.