Variations of Ambush
and other poems
We started building in mid-April
as the first bees were emerging
and the woodpigeons were laying claim to summer,
their somnolent coos
dropping from trees like ceremonial plums.
Crows provided sardonic contrast.
Harsh gravely caws
scraped the air like sandpaper-
and the housemartins were just arriving-
skaters on air, their fabulous swoops
could slice the morning like an apple
to spill the seeds of summer.
We didn't really watch them,
our minds being on cement and ceiling joists
and septic tanks.
We too had nests to build, young to be reared,
the gamblers throw to the next generation.
And the long day went pleasantly enough.
Nobody came along
with strange and inward-looking eyes
to make us raise our own.
Now we look up and find it is evening.
At the end of my life I would like to sit here
watching the low sun celebrate
this faulted planet.
And let the shadows stretch a mannered hand to me
with all the daffodils nodding approval
and the green hunters baying summer.
I would have liked you to be here
in this thin graded sunlight
in which September dies.
We could have shared these luscious meadows
where slouching, munching cows
perform their ceremonies of fulsome blowsiness,
and the rich land, hung with their breathing,
exudes triumphant thrusting buttercups
Had you been here we could have sniffed
the bouquet of each moment as the day matures,
holding it to the light,
and sat silent at dusk
watching the slow, symbolic plod of men
going home across fields, one white dog trailing.
It would have been pleasant with you beside me
savouring silence as the light dies
and bats assume the evening.
Pub laughter, cut off by a closing door,
it's echo going away across gardens
would have bought us a small, tidy pleasure.
Your absence strips these ordinary things
of piquancy, and unshared meals lack seasoning.
There is no cure for it.
AT VILLA RUCELLAI
Waking to a music-box of swallows.
Watching them weave cats-cradles in the air.
Listening to their sweet needles thread the sun
into a fine luxurious shift
fit to enhance the golden thighs of summer.
The busts of Rucellai and Medici
preside over the cool echoing hall,
its Lares and Penates. Stone mouths
spew water in the pool. The steps are broken.
Twelve huge urns squat in the sun
stuffed with orange trees. White doves
ghost in the courtyard branches.
Here casually marinate
all the ingredients of content
left over from some quatrocento recipe.
It is so quiet.
A girl in a white dress comes down the steps.
I have looked for such a place
here and there among hills,
where time is an irrelevance
and the land fulfills.
It happens here. Mountain and cloud
have bandaged up the drip of days
and staunched the wound with silence.
A place of no extravagance,
the gentlest cloaking of the bone,
where all complexities pare down
in the economy of stone.
The peace inherent in the hills
was generated long ago
and needs no further emphasis
than curlews cry at evening.
Man? Has begun to walk around
the edges of the hills; has left
some minimal untidiness
along the lower ground.
One or two roads with matchstick poles,
scatter of cottages; no more
of interest to the granite hills
than casual flotsam to the shore.
What is the show without an audience?
(A polaroid would leave more mark
than the Uffizi in the Dark ).
Somebody, then, to be aware;
to lift astonished eyes
and watch the sun's blind fingers feeling Beenoskee
from plum-black skies.
Under the moving spotlight's head
separate surprises spring to light
in momentary timelessness
like Christmas presents on a bed.
The groping fingernail of light
samples the texture of brown bog,
crunched heather. Suddenly
the black cloud spits out javelins
and greaves of light; the curtain rips,
immense cloud breakers crash on Brandon ridge
in dumb apocalypse.
There may be other places equally
inherent with content, where peace
seeps slowly into you like fine
spring rain. I don't know. This is mine.
Surely there must be such a place?
Otherwise how explain
the sense of having come again
to a known certainty, a holy ground
always available but never found?
All is informed and luminous
with limpid clarity.
There is no beast or bird or tree
that has not found it's full fruition here
where light lies gentle as a fallow deer.
Out of the Rubens landscape come
splendidly cantering knights
richly caparisoned in violin's
embroidery, riding for Avalon
in signal honour. After they have gone
the healing silences flow back;
a rinsed tranquillity
studded with birdsong; a tranquillity
made palpable in flutes, embodied in
the supple sweetness of the violin.
Joy builds up gradually towards evening.
Infusing all things it includes
whole harvests of beatitudes.
Nothing can hold it, all the banks are burst,
mansions of music fall on us, we are immersed
in gulfs of echoing sound,
rafted on golden horns to sail
unstoppered as a ripened nightingale
Afterwards the sheaves
are ripe. Fulfillment hangs on all the leaves..
MORNING WAS KIND TO HER
The nightly wrestling match with pain
ended decisively at last
at daybreak. Desperation passed
and all her flowers returned again
with the acceptance of defeat.
The slackening of the body's vice
left her surprised by freedom. Twice
she tried to move her hands and feet
but didn't own them. It was strange
to see her body on the bed
unoccupied, the carven head
serene as a madonna. Change
had scarcely been perceptible.
Death came, not flashing from the skies
but creeping civil-service-wise
across her heart. A gradual
profound acceptance filled her used
time-trodden soul with peace. The thrall
of time was lifted. Total recall
and total comprehension fused
an instant outside time – became
total fulfillment. A brisk fly
pedantically traversed an eye
insensate as a wardrobe. Blame
was scarcely his, but still, precise,
he washed his Pilate hands; just so
one crawled two thousand years ago
across the face of Jesus Christ.
Darkness diminished. Morning brought
the solving innocence of light
to show how carefully the white
stone fingers had been fashioned, wrought
and twisted with arthritis; pain
always concealed in beauty. So
returns the empty; let it go
back for recycling. Start again.
VARIATIONS OF AMBUSH
"The partner of the leopard is silence.
Death comes without the sound of drums."
1)THE MISSING DEATH
Walking carefully in the morning
I rounded the corner.
A man stood in the road facing East.
As the pieces of the jigsaw locked in place
I was seized with an immense significance.
Handfuls of brown bees
strummed in the fuchsia bushes
and the brass ragwort cried aloud in the silence.
I turned to consult my death, my companion,
always a pace behind my left shoulder,
knowing the answer. He was gone.
Then bee and fuchsia dropped their veils like brides,
exposing without shame
their naked singing atoms to my gaze.
He turned and looked at me.
I already knew his face.
2) THE VISITOR
But Miss Fitzgerald remains virginal.
Only gently budded, knowledgeable
on birds and grasses, hollow with promise.
Pray for her.
Secure behind the garden hedge
she waits for teatime,
comfortable in the blindfold of her ignorance.
Lacking foreknowledge of the brahmin bull,
the twisted golden Lucifer,
the braying noon at Heliopolis,
the oblique ending.
Her eyes raise slowly in appraisal.
A young boy, fair, smiling, carrying
four or five white flowers .......
3) THE STONE CIRCLE
Strange, though, that Griffin should turn out to be
the dark one. What am I doing
waiting for him in this remote and ancient place
as night comes on?
Twelve squat stones stand guard,
watchful as leashed hounds.
Their regular alignment stirs unease.
The leering moon slides nearer,
beckoning me out through the eyes.
Silence is absolute and growing
like a huge fungus. No dog barks.
The taut and tethered mind
shivers uneasily, a Judas goat
scenting the tiger, and the first soft sounds
are outriders of terror.
All I need to do now
is to sit in the sun with eyes closed
listening to the trickle of water over the rocks,
the mundane hum of bees
and trivial inexactitudes
from some young blackbirds.
I am a pared down willow-switch, a sponge
of no volition, having for company
only these other denizens of paradise,
spoonfuls of life in the hedge.
" So, see with even mind
each thing in it's kind
and so perfection find
and be content ".
How long I have lain exposed
is something for conjecture,
seeing that time has found no foothold here
and the sun travels slowly down a sky
peppered with evening larks.
MARIE CELESTE COMING OUT OF HARRODS
Pushing a bow-wave of pedestrians
she sails down Knightsbridge
clean as a trimaran off Mykonos.
Varnished by Dior, scrubbed so clean
that all external turbulence
slides off her shiny surface.
If she were boarded, what?
The polished empty deck, all brass shining.
A single creaking door hanging on silence.
You can be taught the meaning of a phrase
but not it's message.
Learning can only shine a torch
on things already known by touch.
You can be taught the mechanism of song
but not it's music.
Received parameters impose a bar.
Magic vaults from the interior.
You can be taught techniques of working stone
but not it's secret;
not to impose yourself, but to unveil
with ceremony, the Etruscan smile.
You can be taught the alphabet of sex
but not the love
whose tenderness has overflowed
the clockwork twitchings of the toad.
You can be taught construction of a poem
but not the shrug
that nudges it in orbit; the surprise
unique among all possibilities.
This is a full fruit. I am content now.
Desultory sunlight on a flagged terrace
and a dozen scattered satin rose petals.
There are such richnesses.
The sea-blue bird of Spring no longer haunts me
and Summer's cherries are full and gone.
Some rain-washed blackberries remain
but no ambition, no corrosive yearnings
in this serene sliding in which we find ourselves;
only an invitation to join the world for Autumn.
Some late bees fumbling among nasturtiums
and thinned-out cockcrow from a distant farm
suffice to underwrite the silence.
It would require
someone with the authority of death
to ease me from this place.
I shall remain here in my season.
Young, I stood golden into the days work
and corn fell ripe to my sickle.
Innocent, I stood possessed of beautiful valleys
and drank the lucent bottle of the day,
wiping my sweat at evening;
ignorant of the thunder
stumbling around the rim of the hills,
ignorant of the long sleeve of death.
The sea came up to me. I flung myself
whole into thundering breakers
( the great white breakers of Coumeenoole),
lunging down to green darkness.
Since I returned the world has wasted.
The huge cliffs are only net curtains
hanging on nothing. The sky
wavers and billows like a painted screen.
Passing O'Neills, Peg crossed herself
and closed the door. Everything is so thin.
My bones are sea mist......
The gold has all trickled away into the sand.
Raise the eyes. Widen them. Observe
the hulking ship of rock come hurtling
naked from cloud with bow waves streaming:
a fortress halfway up the sky
running with legend.
Curaoi mac Daire held this place long ago;
a strong citadel, eagle-high.
To look down was to confirm kingship.
From the micro sheep far on the ground
out over the Seven Hogs, the great
sickles of sand, the Black Mountain
his writ ran.
South over Corca Duibhne all the huge
savage peninsula was his
as far as you could throw an eye
to the land's western death.
A strong king, a magician
whose sortilege held Munster.
Yet a night came for him
whose darkened richness was instinct
with subtler magic
when the black stream ran white,
sliding secretly down
over smooth rocks to where her lover waited.
Many cups had been filled.
The hounds slept, drugged. The fire
burned low. A few small sounds were missed.
And when his eyes jerked open
it was to see Cuchullain at her side,
the huge bronze spear ........
The bare words are enough (the name. The date.)
to take me almost to the edge of tears.
Who would have thought words carried so much weight?
So few of them. After so many years.
It was a love made up of little things
and not designed for sorrow. It was keyed
in comfortable relationships, whose springs
bubbled in easy jokes. It didn't need
emotional pyrotechnics; there were things
deeper than that. And I stand here, alive,
exposed in loss, while on relentless wings
raptors of memory circle and dive.
CHURCH STREET - SUNDAY
A straw-pale morning stretching itself
round neat white windows.
A Mona Lisa morning but with outstretched hands
All is so still.
My small clean footfalls print the air
with a precise inscription, with a code
neatly tapped out upon the stretched drum of the morning.
But disciplined, civilised enough
for these Ming silences.
Diffused light, pared bone fine
irradiates the street's façade
until the backdrop waxes wafer thin,
so tenuous, so threadbare that the truth
can all but tremble through.
In crucial quiet the world waits,
most priestlike, most profoundly still,
that not the smallest folded drop
escapes the chalice.
Only sparrows embroider so fine a silence.
Time was always an illusion.
the clean stone drops,
bringing the world to death again.
the footsteps of another man.
LIMITATIONS OF A COMPUTER
Speaking in COBOL from a data base
of eighty million bits,
my CPU a number cruncher
I yield to few in terms of hardware.
Software is not a problem - it is the liveware
at interface that screw it up.
" Why is there anything " ? I ask you!
The prom is zapped.
Intellect is the tool and not the hand.
We have staggered through heather
gawping like new-hatched birds at sea and sky,
holding our arms like wings.
We have raised our heads on steel nights
allowing the decanted stars
to pour into our eyes.
We have sprawled in firelit chairs, exposed to music.
We have sat in small bare rooms,
hugging a void that equals everything.
Perhaps the nearest you can get
is to be conscious of fruition.
Turning the pages in the waiting room
albino-innocent, how could he have foreseen
the squat thing crouched for him
behind that bland door.
The obscene shadow on the photograph,
the blank chunk of his death,
the mandarin pronouncement.
They say it concentrates the mind
wonderfully. He found it so,
and every morning early
he walked out on the terrace of the world
with staring eyes.
The singing came to him through unsuspected windows
and rusted hinges of perception
swung open unaccustomed doors.
Using the eyes the specialist had given him
as instruments, he probed the surface of things
for points of entry.
Small ferns opened to him
with gestures more final than a dancer's.
His fingers stroked a flooring board
tracing the grain, the chill nails
hard-headed in the woolly wood.
He found that he could join in the applause
of water and attain
the effortless balance of pine trees.
All the long days
he visited nectaries
in throats of music, becoming towards evening
a citadel of cells, heavy with richness.
Forty years occupation of a body
hadn't prepared him for such tutelage,
nearly a hundred days of it
(each morning being the first, each night the last)
had ripened him beyond expectation
before the door closed.
A WOMAN LOOKING SOUTH
A woman looking South, a granite face
plundered by circumstance,
eroded by the rasping years, leaving only
the bone's obdurance.
A stretched cliff echoing vacantly
the gulls long cry.......
Black olives for eyes, unblinking, fixed
into the brittle distance.
Seeking the country before birth?
The radical innocence of the womb, before
the small initiations into greed
had left the dirt ingrained, before
she had been trapped and manacled
with iron consequences, smashed
with bitter hammers forged in private hells,
leaving her virtually untenanted
until death spares the time.
The eyes ignore
the trivial placebo of her death,
reaching for that unprinted hour
before the gates opened.
I look down and see my grandfather's hands
stranded across my knee. It startles me
as if old age had crept up stealthily
and stabbed me in the back. This parchment skin
and the spaghetti worms of veins are his
as I remember them - but he was old!
The doppelgänger that the mirror shows
misrepresents us to the world and takes
the sin of age upon him. We remain
Dorian within and unregenerate;
still eager for whatever morning
the blackbird cares to pipe abroad, still
greedy for honey in the afternoon
and slow to say goodnight.
The various masks time fits us with - the ones
we see in mirrors - change. We stay the same.
The last mask is of stone.
Stalking through libraries of learning leaves
the hunter largely ignorant.
Other men's minds cannot provide
food to appease his hunger. Only he
can isolate the quarry, only he
can recognise the fewmets,
turning over states of mind like stones.
From time to time the snapped branch of a phrase,
the mindprint showing through a word
shows him that other hunters passed this way -
but how is he to tell
whether their quarry was the same?
It is out there somewhere,
standing within the shadow of a brain,
waiting in silence.
Corseted in a pot, primly erect
with ten inch ramrod stems, starched white
as a nun's headdress, holding their marbled skirts
disdainfully aloof, they preen,
demanding our respect.
But I recall their ancestors on Paros,
Cyclamen from the Cyclades.
Small, scattered under olive trees,
unkempt and tousled, scrambling gleefully
through grass and thistles to the sea
like mitching schoolboys,
demanding just our shared delight in being there.
This second is our point of intersection.
No other time, no other piece of space
that we can lay our hands on.
Yesterday? Gone like Geronimo;
stuffed in a rusted biscuit tin.
Tomorrow? Out of focus - but today
is sharp and for the taking.
One second at a time is all we see,
one pointillistic dot. We can't stand back
and see the picture as a whole, unless
perhaps we move up a dimension
into the one colloquially known as death?
THE LARK IN THE CLEAR AIR
A June day.
A field efflugently awash with buttercups.
The small bird rising.
The song starting.
And mounting. Halting. Mounting. Shivering
in tiny decibels and rising clear
into the morning's eye,
the clean sky.
We watch, nailed down by gravity. Above
the little seed of song moves on the heavens,
far and transfigured, stitching the clouds
with thridding needles, letting fall
her sifted shiverings.
Suddenly there is silence. Gone
her great epithalamion.
The sky is void of her. No way to tell
how the flesh overtook her, how she fell,
the tiny lcarus, back into time again,
where she lies now, quiet among grasses.
The stupor of this sunken afternoon
engulfs us. Lost,
we wander in interminable corridors,
not knowing who we are.
Our gestures, huge and slow,
unload themselves onto the empty air
with monstrous lethargy.
A scream of no remembered origin
fades vaguely down the passages
and great triumphant shouts
die vacantly away in empty rooms.
A door bangs somewhere. Shuffling feet
potter around the corner. " Surely you
remember something "? Eyes as blank as mine
are two-way mirrors into nothing.
If there were any words
they would be strange to us. If there was a name
whose echo had not stumbled down these corridors
a hundred years, we would lay claim to it.
Surely there is a face somewhere
so charged with love that it can pierce
these barriers of cotton wool and stab us with a name?
It doesn't come.
The cord is cut that fused us to the pimp
or preacher. We float free
in these ambiguous echoing vestibules
naked without a name.
Reeded needles of rain
flittering the window, mouth worlds I thought buried.
Different people lived here once,
possessing a future instead of a past.
This is it I suppose.
It lacks the gilding of course
and the trumpeters never turned up.
Perhaps it's mandatory that hope
exceeds fulfilment, just as fear
exceeds reality. The beach
that we are stranded on is fine really,
perfectly safe for children. It's just that
out there on the horizon we can sense
the presence of the monumental ship
which we had hoped would carry us.
Barnyard geese who flap their wings in impotence
when the dark squadrons fly across the moon.
And now the leaves crumple and fall
with such perfunctory genuflections,
and we find ourselves
trapped in the indolent and greedy flesh,
hardening like concrete.
It is by not looking back
that we become pillars of salt,
safely and minerally numb. Turn
and you may find the aching thaw
gripes you, remembering how
the dying of the old cracked us like frost,
the running gusto which we had, and all
the monstrous vulnerability of love. Better
not to look back.
Perhaps we should have let the world
pretend to permanence. We always knew
the body's lease was finite, but the knowledge
was theoretical. Now it appears
the lease is running out.
The home has been a pleasant one. Admittedly
imperfect, but the view was beautiful
and much was celebrated here.
The property grows old, though we stay young.
Time has distressed it. Needed repairs
to various parts are overdue and now
unlikely to proceed. Time to be going.
The landlord grows impatient.
They sit and read their newspapers, each
stuffed in his separate box of flesh,
secure in his apartheid.
Cocooned in ignorance, how should they know
Godhead has come among them?
I am incognito but have for escort
certain strayed angels - not visible
to these poor chunks of meat.
The neon-lighted world screams by
in silent, stylised terror,
Mönchlike and open-ended. We are drawn down
the steely unrelenting tracks
to the known terminus. All change!
All suffer such an earthly change!
I laugh. They peer over their paper walls,
awkward and anxious. I have no anxiety,
supported as I am with seraphim.
Ha! My servitors have left their starry mansions
and come streaming out of the gates of horn.
This is my triumph! I stand and shout
the paean; angels clap their hands.
The escort come with hats to carry me
crowned into my kingdom.
The simple step is the hardest, denying
our roots, switching the track
of evolution, becoming
People withdraw a little, watching
out of the corners of their eyes
the smiling mutant
uneasy at the implied sacrilege
against the evolutionary process,
probing his ancestry for traces
of aberration, weaknesses,
puzzled by failure.
Not much use saying
" I have only taken a step sideways,
changed the wavelength ".
The children's faces are laid open, blank
as virgin paper. One can trace
no other look but wonder on her face.
On his, incomprehension. (They were so
handsome as children). On each flank
parents preen proudly. (How were they to know).
Yeats said " The innocent and the beautiful
have no enemy but time ",
and it was time that did for them. No rhyme
or reason in particular - just dull
drifting self-centred weakness. She became
a mindless socialite, married a rake,
aborted her one child, began to take
cocaine, killed herself with an overdose
and perished whispering. End of the game.
He didn't fare much better. With smart friends
he gambled wildly, got in deep,
ran over a small child in his new jeep,
took refuge in the bottle. Story ends
with jail for fraud, divorce and middle age
in seedy single rooms with booze
for consolation, using every ruse
to postpone eviction. Close the page.
Returning to the photograph again,
scanning their faces one can only sense
the monstrously flowering innocence
of the unprinted child. There is only pain
in looking forward to the savagery
being prepared for them. Better forget.
The world has no access to them yet.
Erase time's caricatures and let them be.
We stand useless.
hits her and hits her brutally
shaking her like a rat, savaging
like a ferocious beast
in slavering convulsions.
She is lost.
ripping away all vestige of control,
strikes in orgasmic fury, laying bare
with slashing sobs the very bone of love.
So she is possessed.
brays from her mouth. She is not there.
We have no means
of contact with her .... nothing to say.
Hesitantly we turn away.
THE PIPES OF HY BRASIL
Across a sky of pure unfingered celadon
birds go home.
A thin, unstable music, dry as corn,
fitful and wavering as a gnat, brittle as whispers,
as if the bones of legend had been brushed
dry and shining.
But very far away, before
the genesis of legend,
a peeled jade echo
before all sounds.
She came walking out of the morning,
a girl with candid eyes.
Maurice was talking Wittgenstein.
She stopped him in his tracks.
She looked about eight.
Some study night and day
lest worms should find
some piece of knowledge lacking in the mind
when they are in the clay.
Her wisdom supersedes
and goes direct
to what the spirit needs.
Our struggle to define
muddies the pool.
Acceptance leaves it clear and cool,
free of your will or mine.
She comes on quiet feet
straight from Parnassos. Peace
is her environment, and the release
from strife in which we find ourselves complete.
The gifts she brings
are wonderful, and platitudinous,
simple as apples in the grass
and yet the most profound of things.
I never knew her name. She just looked at us
with those clear, tranquil eyes and walked on.
" Well I'll be damned " said Maurice.
THE VIEW FROM FOREVER
There's a tomorrow that contains your death
as yesterday your birth, and both endure
perpetually - sculpted out in space
like some great Paestum. Because nothing moves
in the whole universe except the point
of NOW, passing relentlessly along
the time dimension, fingering
the frozen face of all created things
moment by moment. Thus, successively,
each stroboscopic moment becomes lit
with immanence, so that there seems to be
movement where nothing moves. Hiroshima,
tomorrow's lunch and Agamemnon's cry
are there forever. Nothing can be stuffed
into the dark interstices of time
and given burial. So it has passed
across your birth and moves inexorably
towards whatever furtive death may lie
in everlasting ambush from you, hid
within an hour within a certain day.
From out here I can see it. It's quite close
and getting closer. Should you not be warned
which night your soul will be required of you?
Better keep silence; let you work away
building your barns, and leave it unrevealed,
seeing that ignorance is your only shield.
THE THIRD LILAC
Why was I left unplanted in the shed
for days? Unceremoniously shoved
into starved earth, unsheltered and unloved.
And why were my smug siblings cosseted
with loam and compost?
The sentence is " Condemned to death by birth".
Perhaps the terror of that struggle
still heaves under the roots of your mind
like a jackdaw buried alive.
Being dragged helpless to the edge
where all safe footholds vanish
in the firstfalling cry.
The long slow cartwheel to your death begins
in helplessness, continues in inertia, ends
in an unchosen alley.
People fall in immense dignified arcs, like nebulae
aimed in slow motion at the grave.
Time is as irreversible as gravity; all deaths
are mandatory now.
Accept then ( and you may as well)
the one-way ticket with panache. Regale yourself
with fingered fruit of mountains and the lamps
of hanging yellow butterflies - acknowledging always
the nature and conditions of the loan,
the clause on repossession.
Then, after wine and harvest have been taken,
empty your skull of borrowed mountains and shake out
the curlew's cry.
WISHES FOR THE DAY
I would have liked to sluice
so clean a morning through your window
that you could rise like dolphins.
And afterwards to flash
volleys of kingfishers across your afternoon
like tiny jeweled fireworks.
My hope would be to make
a small incision in the evening
tailored to your perception.
There you could enter and assume your rest,
calmly encapsulated in
the amber mansions of your eyes,
so that the pinnaces of your desires
may safely lift in harbour
till the night come.
A stone word, crude and squat
as the hacked hulk of rock ten thousand years ago,
menacing in the desert,
and men kneeling sweaty and afraid.
Nowadays an intonation in cool vaults
and measured metronomic assonances
our dill and cumin.
Your God is too small!
Open your mind a little to the suns
uncounted and uncountable, the whole
gargantuan sprawl of matter,
expanding and exploding - pullulating
with shivering spawn of uncreated stars.
The crunch of suns in behemoth collisions;
the sprawling nebulae
in millions upon millions, reaching out
beyond the measuring stick of light
forever and forever.
Mind stammers. Who can absorb the enormity
as the night sky leans down on us, reeling,
rotten with stars.
Perhaps John Mespil in the small back room in Ealing,
moving in immense darknesses,
reaching along the shelves of silences
for pieces of reality.
Or Kim Dae Gering on the lotus stone near Agra,
leaving his neatly folded self outside
and entering peace. Has he been host
to the Simplicity?
Or Sister Clare in the religious house in Lima,
body forgotten on the floor,
shaken with seraphim.
Or Gunther Hochheimer in Zurich, sitting
marigold-quiet in his chair,
full of effulgence.
And life in other worlds
to which ours is amoebal?
Have they not seen in clearer focus,
finding tools to hand
hidden in the interstices of time,
the delicate equations.
Oh, to whose dream?
F.CHOPIN. ÉTUDE No.7 IN C SHARP MINOR( OP 25)
With such swift certainty the fingers fly
across the face of silence, they have left
singular stains of dignity along
the margins of the mind.
The surgeon's fingers on the keyboard
perform the transplant; delicate, precise;
another man's deep-frozen agony
into my clenched ribcage.
So long congealed as small black marks on paper
their excruciating thaw
leaves great black gouts of sorrow
stranded across my brain,
holding me helpless till they come,
the silver sleepwalkers - -
The single, small, cracked notes, step after stabbing step
of crucifying sweetness.
The hands clutch, the head
rolls helplessly from side to side
as the thin lyric notes are driven home,
relentless; piercing; bright;
nailing me on the night.
To lie at ease, abandoned, wallowing
in golden bullion. So to lie
that the waves hushed rustlings remain
the only stain on silence.
To soak the sun like blotting paper,
like a sponge drowned in the Caspian Sea,
drifting to darkness........ Down
through deepening layers of consciousness
where scarlet flash of fish, the fins of sins
gleam, and strange weeds wave slowly, sinuously
their tenuous tentacles.
Down to the foundered galleons of youth
null-deep in the subconscious,
with all their pitiful bright merchandise
spilled and encrusted in oblivion.
Open an eye
and you are back again beneath the sky,
spread-eagled on the world and pinned by gravity,
a butterfly upon a setting board.
Your open eye dives upwards, plummeting
through cloud-surf into such a blue
as swimmers could be drowned in, burrowing
in porpoise revelry to heights beyond
all plummet lines, sailing at last
into so huge a harbour, so serene a landfall
as to require no actions, no decisions,
a kingdom emptied of concern
in which desire is disinherited.
So fragile a receptacle,
a piece of Mandarin delicacy.
Surely too vulnerable a device to hold
its precious contents safely.
Drop it, and you could well snuff out
a hundred generations.
An organism opening to the light
with such small sounds;
vaguely absorbing strangenesses;
existing only in each self-sufficient second
with no before or after.
Difficult perhaps now to visualise
him breaking through this smothering cocoon
of love, and staggering
into the brawny uplands of his days.
And think what may lie couched for him
down the long lanes of hours,
the foothills of his years.
Rough territory for him to carry
the precious flask, ready to hand it on
so that life shoulders down the centuries
towards whatever is the end of us.
Wandering round familiar rooms
for the last time, the hurt returns.
The torn ligaments of love
wrenched brutally by memory
ache at the roots. These bedroom walls
witnessed the adolescent birth of love,
naive and vulnerable as a young bird wandering
into the claws of time.
The playroom door stands open on my boyhood.
Tables are gone now with those who played on them,
and marble-racing stables gather dust,
so close the door for the last time, and turn
to face my father's chair. Still strange
that I don't see him sitting there
with the Times crossword on his knee
and pipe alight. Go slowly past the room
in which my brother fought the losing bout
with death, and hurry out,
pulling the great brass knob.
Perhaps, though, it is always there,
only the point of "now" having passed
away from it, leaving it in the past,
familiar and secure.
The barb remains inside; the line
will always hold me.
FROM THE AEROPLANE
Having assumed the vantage point
of some fake god going towards the city,
over the coloured harpsichord of lights,
the jangled ganglions of this sprawled carnivore.
Each point of light a nerve end, detailing
the memorabilia of sensation,
the multiplicity of mind.
A stroked contentment in the firelight,
a cold politeness on the stairs,
a rutting passion or a game of chess.
Two million different experiences
within each tick of time.
And lights of little cars
wash like adrenaline along raw jugulars
into the roaring centre.
The occupant of this deposit box
was known to me. What is filed here
is not the ragged achievement,
the little scratch on the world,
but all the marvellous supple dolls
that never stumbled into life.
The leopard excitements castrated; the prodigious towers
faded on drawing boards; the thunderous songs
sedated in their echo;
the exquisitely crafted artifacts
that limped away.
The doors have closed
not just on living loves, but those
implied in the dry aches now faded.
"now of so many
once dreamed of crowns and fond imaginings
but Tartarus awaits me ".
All latencies unrealised remain so.
All fond imaginings are written off.
The line is neatly ruled.
(The Morning After, perhaps?)
Your life is nearly over, Friend.
Why not begin to live it?
Easier to close your mind, pretend
death is for others.
Why don't you ask the time?
We live our lives along a line
like mesmerised hens. The workplace; home;
the telly; bed. With only yawns
to hang along the day - and time,
the one thing irreplaceable
is " passed ", is " killed "!
What moribund vacuities we are,
what quilted vacancies!
Rat race? More like a slugs slow slide
Meticulous meters measure out
your quota, Friend. It dwindles. Day
ticks towards night, and the last night,
the night the mechanism will stop
and no coin will restart it. Then, Friend,
you will be dragged reluctantly from life
protesting " But I haven't finished yet "!
who never even made the ball.
THE LAST MORNING
Don't stir, my bird; the light comes soon enough.
There is a little piece of time to use.
Why clutter it with the irrelevance
of our last mouthings - with frenetic struggles
towards some illusory escape hatch,
flapping like fish.
She sits in such serenity. The fleece
she spins is all men's matrix, and she brings
the continuity of olive trees,
accustomed as they are to outlast kings.
The magnet towards which the filings fly.
Whether in love or in rebellion, all
is quietly absorbed, and certainty
is worn around her shoulders like a shawl.
Motionless, she remains the still
centre round which the action flourishes.
The base from which adventures fulfill
the little destiny their ego nourishes,
knowing that, while they walk their own high wire
her safety net is always there, and when
adventures pall and prodigal desire
is spent, her thread will pull them home again.
THE HIGH PLACE
This is a natural oratory.
The absolute integrity of rock and sky
surrounds you. You are sluiced
with silence. Far below
evasions fatten at the hearth,
greed in the marketplace.
only a thin and fine-wired wind
brushes the face of silence. Silence here
has body: not a mere
absence of sound
but a specific seamless element, an entity
complete as folded linen.
clean round your shoulders, holding you
reverent as a shroud,
so that you stand equated with the hills,
hawk-high, hawk-still at time's edges,
quiet as bone.