AN EXPLANATION OF THE SCENERY
After the drowning of the flightless angels
Who had panicked all over the land,Crying out
In a language now utterly lost;
As the dark shape of Noah’s boat slid overhead,
Silence spread out on the earth,That had already swallowed
The falsetto chatter of the dinosaurs
And transformed the roaring
Of the whales into delicate stretched strands of radio noise,And struck dumb the talkative flowers.
After all this had happened,
And the waters, yet again, receded,
The drowned angels
Stood scattered all over the earth,
Absolutely no sound coming out of them.
Then, after some months, no sound
But a multitude of elongating points pushed out of them,
Opening a canopy of fans
The precise colour of silence.
All over the earth silence deepened by some hundreds of fathoms.
And was suddenly broken
By a bluetit
THE BLACKBIRD REPLIES.
He cocks his head on one side,An old man listening to a child.
Or a terrier tensed for the rabbit
To leap into daylight
Just ahead of the ferret.
Silent as a cheese-taster
Listening to the taste of the cheese.
Or the off-duty seismologist
In the roar of Los Angeles,
Gauging his underground feeling.
A G.P. listening again to the bodyArticulating its complex pathology
In baby language.
Not an anthropologistInterrogating a shaman,But the shaman
Replacing his ears with the wind.
Mozart on a visit to Leipzig,
Listening to Bach for the first time.
Thin from the larynx
Of exhausted mines,
The seed of a sound,
‘Passchaendaele, Auschwitz, Soham,’
The earth sighs
“Peace! Peace! Peace! Peace! Peace! Peace!”
The blackbird replies.
Turkey oak in full jackdaw
Apple tree with ripe stockdoves
Sycamore shedding its greenfinches
Silver birch coming into bluetit
For a long time, buzzard,
You have been stretching my eyebeams,
Gyring and plaiting them
Like the ropes of a maypole,
Pulling me up but not to heaven.
You have usurped the station
Of the angels, but not their clothing,
Mad tramp gripping the pulpit, shrieking
Into the upturned faces of the fields and woods and pools
That now pull you down.
You are perching,
But still I carousel,
Trailing my long tether
Over the rough ground.
EATEN ALIVE BY SMALL BIRDS IN SOUTH DEVON
I am staked out for the birds to peck at,
My belly of lard,
My head of suet.
The wood-dove carries off my shyness
To her high nest.
Pecks all the bad words out of my mouth.
Steal my weak eyes.
Now my head floods with rain,
And I return with them
To their various roosts and their various songs.
The moon is a riot of footprints.
Mars is orange with streetlights.
Amazing flying machinesCompletely cover the ground.
This is too much for the crocuses.
But here come the kingfishers,Crossing it all out
With swift azure strokes.
DEATH OF THE RIVER.
Down by the river
I saw a kingfisher
Smack full tilt into a low bridge.
Two swans were swapping punchesAnd black eyes,
Sprawling around in the mud.
The ducks were just sat in a line
On the bridgerail, staring,
Sunk in a green gloom,
Nothing to do.
A drift of grubby seagulls was mocking and mobbingA single immaculate eider
Making for the sea;
With extreme difficulty
Maintaining her dignity
For the duration of that terrible river.
Now subtlety began to withdraw from the earth,
Rising from innumerable fires, a smoke-screen,
That had once been a dust of love, covering everything.
So the flocks of crested gods,
The feathered visions, Began the ascent, as gibbons
In jungles blazing,
To their ancient stations,
And the simplified earth
With a language of gaps
A sequence of final solutions.
POEM WITH EXCLAMATION MARKS
What early morning opera!
What amorous ballet!
What contests of troubadours!
What arial jousting!
What mobile sculpture!
What flock politics!
What outbursts of ostentation! What great escapes!What fragile beginnings!
What unconscious comedy!
What sea voyages!What high diving!
What a cacophony!
What precision!What tribalness!
What beautiful uniforms!What outdoor Parliaments!What regular observance!
What meteorology!What prophecies of repetition!
What straining migrations!
What feathery empires!
What piercing glances!
What frost-forgetfulness!What April renaissance!
What symphonies of instincts!
What perfect pitch!What natural balance!
What brainless beauty stately drifting!
What sweet eternities of idiot singing!
Now I will go up into the air,And twist my mind into the wind’s weave.
Much more is rising than falling -
Steeples reaching a certain height
Break open releasing
Seeds that gyrate in the vane-spinning
North to south stepping,
Bright blue eyed twelve league booted
That will turn, at the absolute limit of all things,And stream back to the beginning.
Listen to them, hatching on the wing,Bubbles of music bursting,
High up above the leads and the flagstones,
Instantaneous rainbows of sound.
As the congregation
Drop like sacks to their knees,
Blue flames are flickering
From their nostrils and mouths.
Much more is rising than falling,Even my own wings,
Shedding what is wrongly called down -
It curls away up very quickly.
The surface of the earth now
Is sweating rivers of steam.
Someone flicks a match into a rick
And the whole thing is leaping
Up like a demon,
Shuddering and rolling, pulling
Itself up by its own skin,
Shaking out in all directions,
Raping the pale clouds,
Rushing off into nothing.
Much more is rising than falling.Here come the thoughts of old men,
Wrapped in brown tissue paper,
Unwrapping, revealing - nothing.
Hearts like hot air baloons
Clutter the airlanes,
Flare-off of opinions,
Confused updrift from collegesAnd hospitals, turbulent fog over prisons,
Repetitive hours sloughed off
As gossamer skins,
Shop window reflections,
Abstractions, girl magazines,
Blueprints, cancelled plans, missed meetings
Of eyes, all insubstantial things,
Limp in the updraught
Of the inverse autumn,
Swift in the slipstreams,
Earth’s onion skins,
In endless perpendicular procession,
Kites without strings
And rice paper paintings.
And the pre-speech of infants,
Blown about husk-winged
With legs dangling.
Not one word falls to the ground.
All rise, a good haul
For the wind’s fishing,
Letters decoupling, tangling,
Paragraphs pulled apart by the crosswinds,
Where the swallows dive like dolphins
In the sardine run,
And schools of starlings flash turning
Through the radio waves,
Chat chopped by the chinook. I flinch through crowds of sighs,
The daily trade of small deaths,
Lives lighter than airFloating out of the flesh,Shrews, fleas, field mice, lacewings, soldiers,
Through the transparent webwork
Of shifting hexagons,
A beehive construction,
Turned inside out and
At the speed of breathing;
Seven mile high shafts of
Bending and twisting,
Plates of air
Like oceans on end,Tilting, colliding, smashing, with no debris,
Except the strings of gulls, dangling.
Emerald and topaz crystals
Crash straight through me.
Now the earth breathes in her sleep,Odour of seeds, odour of cities.
Entire seas rise
With a yawn, half asleep,
Climbing the stairs of the sky
In the furnace of dawn,To the bathroom.
Cobras of smoke uncoil
From the baskets of cities.
Much more is rising than falling,
All things desire to be cloud,And will have their turn
In the centrifugal machine,
All the heavy mourners by the grave,Will shoot up like rockets one day!
Now the whole earth is rising,
Lifting her head from the pillow
To me bending,
The far lines drawn together
As if by a string’s tugging,
The grand reach and scale of fences and woodlands
Collapsing and vastly expanding
To this one damp green field
In which I am standing.
In death row this morning
The silence is appalling.
Not silence -
Not even the silence of Cage,
Broken only by the swish of your breathing
And the thump of your bloodstream
And the faint crackling of your brain’s caffeine.
Not the silence
Of the mind’s mouth
Or the wild horses
On cavewalls escaping;
Only the amplification of small sounds,
The D flat sodium hum of depression, Bishops being picked upAnd with a click set down,
The slow munching of the inmate determined
To beat his sentence by eating.
And now in the orange pre-dawn
In a tree of bare hope
One solitary convict
Now the hills are being lifted
Out of the silence where they have been lying
In the indolence of chaos,
Lions in circus wagons,
Bewildered by the earth’s night-journeying.
A rush of green sound
Places them with the accuracy
Of space stations remotely manoeuvred
This could be the rallying
Of every voice on earth for the final
Attempt to wake up the dead God
In his porphyry tomb,But it is in fact the gracious invitation
To one dandelion to openAnd people the universe with a shake of its infinite head.
In this up-pour,
And you are water in water;
You are turning around and around
In a curve of a rock in a stream
Where golden sandgrains are dancing;
The falling of all the waters of the world
Condensed to one sound,
Of every tin cup on the planet
Accidentally clattering down granite steps,
The laughter of a prisoner
Into the eyes of his daughter
As she tosses the noose into the furnace.
And your ears are seacaves
In which the roar of the storm has risen
To a bat-note far above human hearing.
You are utterly sunk, sodden,Gone green.
The occasional explosion of foam
Is a pheasant suddenly getting
A joke he was told before he was born.
Now he has stepped on a landmine,
In the sweet grass.
The blackbird is keeping its head
In the general confusion,
Where two armies of sound have rushed screaming
And are now milling around,
Hacking, collapsing, crying
To their comrades, holding the gateways,The high trees.
The blackbird leaps about,
Shouting commands, as in a sea-fight;
In a blink,Up the rigging and along the yard-arm.
Who likened these singers to monks?They are conjuring
The green roar of the hills,
They summon what the rivers are running from.
Robin and thrush and chiff-chaff and linnet and wren,
Lost in one voice, where song meeting song
Sparked a great conflagration.
Now they are hopping here and there in separation,
Having survived themselves,
Fragments of their own passions.
But the work is done.
Someone on earth has givenEvery shred of their breath to do justice
To the beginning.
No more for me the vague wash of song,
And the blurred flurrying of the half-known
From oblivion into oblivion.I have magnified them,
I have given them names,
I know the places of their mating
And of their dying,
I know the likes and dislikes of their nestlings.
They have made a sky of my mind.
Their masks adorn the halls of my imagination.
Yet God is more present to the atheist
Than I am to them,
As they dance in the dawn air,Disbelieving.
A PARLIAMENT OF FOWLS
It was the morning of a day.
In a green field the wind was crawling
Backwards, old lady with her dogs
And bags, with many snags and struggles,
Through the spiked hedgerow gaps. The sky,
Absent-mindedly mouthing silently,
Unravelled its white suit, blue fingers
Teasing out strands the earth was spinning
Into a bright new piece of nothing.
Stiff stood the hollow squares of hedges,Blind, after such a long bombardment
Of airy light and all that tumbles
Heavily through the weather’s fingers,Hail, that can travel horizontal,
Struck by the wind’s straight bat. They pointed
Crookedly bayonetted muskets
In all directions, only certain
That these were not the fields of Eton.
Over the green a bird came whirring,
Like a flat stone that slaps the water
And makes a single leap grey-blurring
To the far bank. It sank between
Its lifted wings into the stirring
Of spears. The shining sky turned over
In its grey sleeping bag that foundered
Like a great sodden corpse of timber
Sucked by a circle of swift water.
And now another bird. It fluttered
With its legs dangling, swiftly closer
And low, a smear of rust-red feathers,
And quickly sank. It clearly reckoned
It could be wriggled any second
Out of its own skin, seemed to crave
Invisibility like whiskey.
And now a motley Lord, knock-kneed,Came flopping down along the sky,
Like a born clown auditioning
Against the odds to play the King;
Black-crested helmet, wobbly wings -
Shrugged once and suddenly was standing
With its sad face above the green.
Now came a tumbled scrap of bunting,
Like a blown frag of dust, an outfling
Of a disintegrating mountain,
High as a schoolboy’s hopes its piping,
Almost unheard, almost unseen,Almost but not quite not existing;
Swung hard into the hedge and clung
To a tall aerial of ash, slow-bending.
Then suddenly another bunting,
Greyer, beside it. Now a vision
With blackrimmed amber eyes came racing
Triangular, from wind to wind,
Cornering sharply, wings of sand
Black-streaked, and calling like a mother
To her son lost in foreign waters.
It seemed about to hit the ground
Like a kite, sideways, but was standing,
Suddenly, folded, by the other
Tall bird among the six now gathered
In the thick grass and in the upgrowth
Of the spare hedge. The sky leaned over
And cried a little on the clover.
Crex, crex, the Corncrake began.
Now silence descended again,
As if the birds reckoned their thoughts better put
By the rips in sky and hedge,
Absence of words so apt that their silence
Might have sailed on like the Marie Celeste,
Till it fixed in the iceAt the end of all speech.
But the wrongness of their flock, a Grey Partridge,A Lapwing, a Cirl Bunting, a Corn Bunting,A Stone Curlew and a Corncrake,
Flicked a sandgrain into the cogs of their silence.
I do not know why I am here, said the Grey Partridge.
There are not many of us left, said the Lapwing.
Crex, crex, said the Corncrake.
Where there was arable and grazing, Now there is only arable.
Where there was grazing and arable,There is only grazing, said the Lapwing,
The hedges are thin,
Ripped by the trimmer too often,
Scant shelter there for the buntings,Few perches for their display singing.
This Disney field
Of one colour will be cut soon,
All skylark eggs broken,
And they will lay again soon, but too soon
Comes another cutting;
Four times in one season!
Favouring what thrives on nitrogen
Persecutes the insects our chicks eat,
Sawflies and moth larvae!
Weevils, aphids, ground beetles!
It is the lateness of the sowing
And the earliness of the cutting,
Right in the middle of the breeding season,
And the scarceness of barley;
It is the miserliness of the field margins
Where the small birds feed
That will not stray far from cover,Even if starving.
And you can’t argue with a tractor,
Taking every inch, ploughing right up to the hedge,
Maybe carrying away a part of the hedge, why not?
It is the cutting from edge to centre,
Leaving no corridor
From the desperate diminishing island,
It is the speed of the tractors,
It is the tiredness of the drivers!
It is the tallness of the sward,
Too high for our nesting,Under the whip of the ubiquitous nitrogen;
It is the ever increasing
Density of stock, trampling
Our nests in the almost insectless improved pasture;
It is the tidiness, the vanishing
Of odd field corners, rich in weeds and therefore in insects;
Where are the brambles?
Where are the nettlebeds,
Perfect for partridges,
Where are the wetlands?
The stubborn scrub, the wandering magnificent gorse,
The mix, the patch, the rough grass
Round telegraph poles, unstrimmed,
Round ponds, the this and the that, the tangle and the maze and the mess,
The ragged track, the tatty thatch.
Fat hen, redshank, chickweed, All the unwanted weeds, these are what we want!
Knotgrass, bindweed, hemp-nettle,
The spilt grain, the undersowing
Of clover or turnips or mustard for fodder in winter,
Tussocky Cock’s Foot and Yorkshire Fog,
Large standard trees
For summering turtle doves!
And the dead wood left where it lies
For the tree sparrows,And in the wetlands,
Alders and Willows.
The farming year that turns with the stars
Has turned against us,
All our needs are denied.
It is the fault of the farmers! Cried the Stone Curlew.
Do not blame the farmers! Said the Corn Bunting;
It is us, it is us, with our late breeding,
Right in the middle of his cutting!
Let him change his ways if he likes,
Let him change his mind!
Farmers love birds! Sang the Cirl Bunting.If you only talk to them,
Once they have done one good thing, and seen the change,
They will come back and ask you what more they can do.
And they talk to other farmers, if to no one else!
And they get jealous -
Oh have you heard, Jones has lapwings?How did he get them?
Consider the farmer, cried the Stone Curlew.
Who is this man or woman?What has he done?
By what heavenly electionHas he grasped this position,
Where he holds us all in his hands, old or young?
The air we breathe, the ground we tread on,
The colour of our rivers,It is all down to him!
Do we love trees?
We must ask the farmer for them!
Delight in the foxcry?Pray to the farmer’s shotgun!
The barn owl’s face?
Pray to the farmer for provision!
Who is this fellow with powers wider
Than any archbishop or pope ever?
Do you wish to dance with God in the springtime?Ask the farmer!
That is precisely right, said the Grey Partridge,
Who is this man, how has he been chosen
To bend beneath the pressure of mountains
Of sugar and grain,
Wade through milk lakes,Climb butter dunes?
Consider the farmer, sang the Cirl Bunting.
The Green Man’s shadow, the secret dancer
With the moonmad hare when his vertebrae juddered
By ruts are a heap of snores by the fire.
Once a man, now he is a coin
In international hands, His fear is no longer the weather, his terror
Is the man in a blue suit reaching over the water!
I have heard that his heart has wings like ours,
Though his song is somewhat harsher and deeper.
My friends, will you not believe what I tell you?
Crex, crex, said the Corncrake.
No, said the Stone Curlew.
Then, said the Lapwing, who was their leader,
If it is not to be the farmer,
Who will restore these fields?
The courts? The Crown?
Soldiers? Airmen? Sailors? The Circus?
Schoolchildren? Nurses? Firemen? Film Cameras?
The Church of Rome? The Church of England?
Who will give back life to this land?
A consortium of museums?
No, it must be us, we must do it, said the Corn Bunting.
We must shake off the weather,We must drop to the ground,
Leave our stretching nests,
Leave off singing
Our invisible javelins,
Leave the life of the trees,The life of the air,
The brief life,
With speeded-up heartbeat,
The rush of the flock,
The picking through dust,
The quick step
From path to branch,
Cursing at cats;
Take on weight,
Reek of smoke,Moult flight,Walk, speak,
Sleep through the dawn, and on,
Changed into trudging men, and telling themWhat is lost,
What can be done.
Black silence.They had all been talkingAt once, but suddenly midwinter
Fell on the present like a tiger,
Out of its ambush in the future,
Ripped out spring’s throat, and left it there
Bleeding to ice. The mad full moon
Of the truth rose in all their minds:That they would have to take this on.
Each bird must change into a man.
Then they began to tremble, crying
Like cattle at a railway station,
And as they shook, their feathers fountained
Like an exploding coast. Their breasts
Balooned, their stick legs stretched and thickened,Their sharp heads drifted upwards, bloating,
And their pink wingbones flexed and lengthened,
Gripping binoculars and folders
As they walked down to the big town, talking.
A single obstreperous mood has spread through the whole race
Stamping every man woman and child with the merciless mutinous face
Of a rude girl in a rage against everything struggling in vain to escape from her own
POEM TO MY DAUGHTER IO
Sweetheart, while you were asleep I wheeled you
Through the red sea into JerusalemWhere frogs lamented
The conquest of the insect kingdom,
Past God on his gallows,Through the bogs of the Somme
Where red-haired angels,Work-numb, hung out their washing,
Trucks smashing the hopes of puddles,
Gamblers with stars in their hands,Dogs with their hearts in their mouths,
The sky on a brown hinge, turning;
Famous paintings left out in the rain,
Mona Lisa hopelessly weeping,
And many other things I did not try to explainTo you since you were sleeping
FIRE AND AIR
I have been given words beyond invention.
Promise of nature they are now my treasure.
Elements bow their heads to my intention;
Water, and air whose weight no scale can measure,And earth and fire - each word of mine contains
A universe. But it goes riding by
Like a horse racing free of broken reins,
Like the horse galloping demonically,Dragging Hippolytus, that kicks away
From the green beast that glittered in the sea,
Intolerable memory. Its neigh
Comes out a scream, and it is dragging me,
I am Hippolytus. Through eyes blood-blind
I see the forehead of the earth is lined
With death. I see the word flee endlessly
Across it like a horse along the sea.
From the Russian of Lev Gumiliev.
DESCRIPTION OF A PROSTITUTE SEEN THROUGH A WINDOW IN AMSTERDAM
There has been a murder.There is an investigation.
She admits everything.She holds back nothing.
She has submitted her own bodyAs evidence. It has been frozen.
She accepts the jurisdiction
She has been locked
In a glass prison.There is no limitation
To visiting times.
Neutrons turn in her nuclei,But she is not moving.
She has promised not to try to escape.Here she sits till death comes!
The poet who tried
To compose a sonnet to her,Sobs in a crab’s stomach
Weak jokes about the weather.
Of her three Magi,
One died a leper,One was killed by the other,Who lives in a skyscraper.
Who have pierced her interior,
Amazed, have discovered there
The ruins of their own civilisations.
She has established peace
Where there was war,She has achieved agreement
Among the philosophers.
No one has ever done
Anything against her.A crime is no longer a crime
When it has been paid for.
She has lent to the kind of friends
Who will not return them,
Everything she has ever done,Everything she has ever seen.
Only what is hidden is wrong,Only what is denied grows inhuman.
She has done so much good
You can see straight through her skin.
Hatred, forgiveness, rage,
Bitterness, have all bled out of her.All that remains is the pure
Clear certainty of murder.
Over the burned dunes,
Through the grey acid streams,
Under the green sky of Venus
She runs and she runs.
GOD TRIES TO SEE THINGS FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF AN ATHEIST.
I speak to the door
And the door does not answer me.
I try all the tables and chairs,
The entire fabric of the house.
Nothing will make any reply.
I go out, I listen to the wind,
Birds and animals
Run towards me and away from me.
Everything moves in circles of its own.
There is the sea,
Tearing at the rocks
With soft fingers.
I calm myself
But the sea carries on foaming.
I lie down to sleep.
In all the universes
I am the only substance
That can cease to exist.
Time slides away from me
Like shale down a mountain
When a goat slips over the skyline.
Went to Berlin with my friend
Danced with Swedish girls
Till Six in the morning.
Made friends with an American guy
And a G.I. lady;
No addresses exchanged;
Goodbye Berlin,Goodbye! B’bye!
Went outside with my love
Arm in arm lots of times
To see the comet Haill-Bop
High-tailing it over the sky.
Took six weeks to leave,Two hundred years to arrive.Hail to thee, Haill-Bop,
Hail and goobye!Goodbye! B’bye!
Left home aged seven.Left school lots of times.
Keep going back in my dreams,
Over and over again,
Tumbling around like washing,
Like the sun’s son flashing by
In his dad’s chariot yelling
Hello! Goodbye!Hi! B’bye!
Here comes the fish roving
Round in a glass eye,
Tasting the fading trail
Of his seven-second memory.
Sees God, sees heaven,
Sees all his past lives;
Can’t hold onto them!
Goodbye! Goodbye!Bye! B’bye!
Stood on a mountainWith my brother in the wind,
Ancient faces of stone
Gathered like friends all around.
Here come the clouds now,
Stop here and we die! Better be getting down.
Goodbye! Goodbye!Bye! B’bye!
THE DEATH OF THE YOUNG WOMAN.
All down the golden edge of everything
The people creep, in blue and green,
In country colours.Children dance, fling balls into the air,
Drop them, run laughing after them.Seeds float, miniature armadas,
All down the summer breeze,
Get hooked up in grass stems,
Crash full tilt into wing mirrors.
A terrier, smiling gangster,Squashes a pork pie in the angle of his jaws,
Just under the exhaust pipe,Ready if caught to look guilty.The snakejaw boots are wide open,
Bubbles are rising in cider and champagne,
The weather is warm, all is amphitheatred
In a circle of heaped-up clouds, electric, smothering,
Enormous soft drums, not yet beating.
People are recklessly betting, they are happy
On this upward floating day, dropping paper cupsSafe in the knowledge that they will rise eventually to heaven.
Now the dry djembe thuddering
Of the hooves comes round again,
They leap, and brush dust off the fences,
Each fence a gasp of mothers.
Here come the straining geldings,
Leaping - thuddering - leaping -
Young women are balancing
On the elastic animals
That reach for the groundAnd push it away from them.
Now one, clutching for the green, misses, and pitches,
Rolls right over,
Ton of thumping blood.
Something lies crooked. The beast heaves up again
And off, into the race, stiffly.
This was the death of the young woman.
And now an old man walks over, looks at her, falls down,And crawls off on all fours. Young men start shouting.
At last the ambulance comes,
Spills a circle of helpless people, dangling their hands.
Now they are bringing her mother, here she comes,
Over the turf. Now they are supporting her
Under her arms, her legs are empty.
Tannoys announce the end of the celebrations.
Thunder begins, heavy rain.The day has collapsed like a tent.
All the people go home,
Steering their many-coloured caravan
Along the golden edge of everything.
A SPIRIT WATCHES ITS BODY BEING DEVOURED BY LIONS.
I cling to the air,Peering for a better view.
I now have no weight,
Diver without leads
Forever leaking upwards
With my own bubbles,
I have to catch myself,
Holiday helium baloon,
Haul myself down hand over hand,
A ship rigged with sails lighter than air,
Impossible to handle in even the slightest breeze.
I am more metaphor than anything,
I can bring myself down to the ground
By thinking of rocks, disappointments,
Shipwrecks, jokes badly told, and betrayal.
I have to imagine the smell of them,
Even the most recent memories are now fables,
That is why I have to watch them,
Just to make sure.
Yes. I am utterly done. Do not send
For paramedics with hunting guns,
One of them is prancing off
With my head in its fangs.
The head of one of them
Is stuffed right into my stomach.
Now the air is loose with dark birds,
And the shadows of the jackals
Shoot out from between the thorn trees.
I am satisfied. I leave
The red fog of slaughter beneath me.
All night the full fed,
Fighting off sleep, will do battle
With the scuttling desperate,
Who dash to outflank them,
While the earth, from beneath, picks me apart
By means of minuteness.
Whilst, in new rooms, I am encountering,
Briefly, the saddest possible music.
And that is it - that is all my mourning
For myself and those stranded behind.
I have the capacity for grief of an infant,
As I descend into the guts of the Infinite -
Or invisible stalker of spirits
Through the grass of the commonplace.
Bales of scrap gold. There is no other word
In sunlight to describe them. So you leap
Off them, and fall, wing-steadied like a bird
Of prey feet forwards whoosh into a heap
Of feathers and a dust-burst. And you stare
At stars that bulge all afternoon up there,
Through pinholes in the corrugated rust
Roof. There are pits down which you can descend
As if down chimneys. There might be no end
To that profoundment but there is. You must
Stop, till your breath comes quiet in the strawed
Shaft. And they blink, but cannot see you thereWhere you sit thinking sunk deep in your chairAbout the barns in which these days are stored.
Poet, throw death out. If you do not throw him,
Since death is nothing, so will be this poem,
A catalogue of absences, a hymn
To a blocked lift-shaft or extinguished gymn
Where the ballbaskets droop unflipped and white
Lines are not strobing in and out of sight
Under the braking twist and squeak of soles,
And there is no whitewater roar for goals.
Do not attempt to make your subject death.
Whoever wrote a sonnet with no breath?
Let your tight lines fish life straight out of life,
Flash like the sunlight biting on a knife
That spins so swift the blade seems to be bending.
Death will be dealt with, anyway, by the ending.
In the garden the airgun
Pricks holes in the bright screen.
Darkness shines through them;
Too small for a boy,
But still you can peep through.
Doors made of sprawled wings
And the eyes disbrightening.
Patch as you can,
The rips are proliferating -
They meet, and it’s gone,
The whole silver thing.
And now all the strata of darkness can be seen,
Its deep destinations.
A fledgling, gaping, with ripped wing,
And now a rabbit lifted up
For its neck to be wrung,
TO A CAT DYING OF POISON
What learner driver
Jerks your gears?What stiff dancer
Has taken over?
You were free waterEscaped from the river,
Flowing up walls
And along them,
Leaping at bees
Like a fountain,Crossing the grass
Like a shower.
You were the prizework
Of apprentice angels,
They passed you round
From hand to hand like a flame;
But now what trapped spirit
Has taken your reins,
Who thinks these stiff gestures proper,What grotesque masquer
Or drunk conductor,
What snapped athlete
Or steel ballerina,
What part-time God,
IN THE GARDEN.
I am an orange fog
In the crabapple tree in the garden.
I go out to get myself in.
I am refusing
In a stream of languages
And bird talk and moonsong
And genetic codes
And the cipher of viruses,
And the semophore of accidents
And the dialect of Acts of God.
I am hissing and spitting,
I am hot iron in my head
Bending ash in my spine.
I am begging myself to come in,
To lie down out of the rain,
To leave the new moon alone
And the dreams of my neighbours under their rooves.
I change colour like the fog around traffic lights,
Rage red, deep drowned green,
I change shape, I am giant redwood,
I am snail in can.
I am occult, I am terrifying,
In the crabapple tree in the garden.
I am threatening myself,
I say I will bite out my stomach,
Crack my skull from within,Boil my bones soft with poisons.
I say I will crawl through worms,Join organisations.
I offer myself sweet prayers
Wrapped in coloured paper,
Rivers, woods, mountains,Possible changes of Government,
Try songs from various stations -
Can’t find the right band -
I see I am feeding on the static
Like an infant on sand.
I say I have jurisdiction,The power of the death cell,
Of solitary, of ritual humiliation,
Have ratified no conventions,
And anyway no one will believe me;
Have files and files of confessions,
Say I will expose myself on National Television;
Now I am climbing the tree like flame,
Into the terrible cell of a thimble.
So I take myself in.
I lift myself to my ear, I hear
The tiniest, tinniest sobbing.
After every single idea
Has stepped silently out of your head
And gone off, leaving its prospects,
After the corpses of all your thoughts, nametagged,
Have been cleared away,
And you are a tourist battlefield,
After every single one of your historical events
Has been re-enacted to deathAround its bronze monument,
After all your breaths, a bright shoal,
Suddenly vanish at the approach
Of the shark of your true self,
And the whole zoo of your radio headsongs breaks out
To go scratching and chittering away,Dying among the deaf,
In the damp earth
Under unnamed trees leaningAt no time
In no country
(To Charlie G-F.)
Wagons of laughter are heading out west,
The canvas is quivering,The oxen shaking,The lad with the rod to tap their rumps
As they plod; the guitars are softly laughing,
The banjos,Even the winchesters are giggling,
The greased wheels chuckle,
The dust lifts
Into a haze of jest stretching
For a long way behind the laughing pioneers.
And this is lucky because, (they are us,) they will have to face
The serious hilarity of whiskey and powders,Brilliance raging at madness,
And their own arrogance camped in the promised land,Having raced ahead in jet planes.
All this and worse things no matchFor you sitting
In a stream of laughter running down from strange mountains,
Holding in your hand some small piece of self-importance,
A pompousness perhaps, the springhead
Of such a child of a rainburst
As could erode the most granite
Effigies of yourself.
Like walkers passing one another soakingFrom the same downpour in the cloudy mountains,Their coats all shining eyes, their bright mouths joking
About a ramble through the Trafalgar Square fountains,From time to time we look at one another
And laugh. How did I get to be a father;
How did you, hushed girl, come to be a mother?
When both for certain at one time would rather
Have been tall trees divided by deep water?
Now our eyes meet across a kitchen table
Wrecked by the storm of two sons and a daughter,
And we exchange as much as we are able -An escalator glance - or else a shiver
As when the neck’s drips tickle the spine’s river.
Often I’ve tried to settle in this place,
And searching for a more-than-granite base
For my foundations, seized a line of music
Which by its loveliness - or else a face -
Might make perpetual repetition easy;
As if a man should snatch a dragonfly
Out of the air and on its back construct
A palace for his endless residence,
Or find a sea with breakers but no beach,Where he could surf forever and not reach
Anything, carried on an inheld breath,As on the awe of a vast audience,Balancing on their not wanting to cough,Without the need to rest by falling off.
Lust that will blast straight through the crack of doomIs what I feel for you, undying lust,
Infinite lust, proof to the worst boom boom
Of tv mortars pounding dust to dust.
Governments with their serpent obfuscations,Sloughing off skins of guilt, have, for the moment,Cancelled each other out, unbaited nationsParrying in the stratosphere - my serpent
Of lust grows vast on piss poor peace like this.
Churches have raised white arches of amazement
Over it, prelates with a holy kiss
Have blessed its fierce and fakir-fixed commitment
Not to lose faith, not to fade out or faint,But burn me perfect, passion’s patron saint.
Having escaped all education,Struggles to study
Among the prodigies of truancy
Fights for the rights to his teapot
Will not take part in the easter playUnless he can be Jesus Christ
Once woke up just in time in a morgue
Shaking his daughter to death
Once looked down at himself from the ceiling
Says that he eats children
Is cured of himself
Twenty years into his sentence
Is a policeman
Is diagnosed ‘a political prisoner’
By the pyschiatrist
This one Works out
Refuses to feel remorse
But holds the keys to the chapel
Here all the plots break down,
Entirely discredited stories are hawked round
Like boxes of wet matches.
Here all the failed disguises
Are hung up to rot on gibbets,
Beside a rubbish heap of alibis.
Here the stars won’t float
But must be propped up, every one,
The trees kept green by your grin,
The walls white by your smiling.
In the grey Ganges,
A tiny white hand.
Over the water the kites pass in bomber formation.
In a dream God said, “I am not a dream.”
I write this down quickBefore I too go down into the stream.
So die but do it gracefullyAnd spend a lifetime doing it,And fate that follows faithfullyWon’t notice you pursuing it.It knows you by a growing sign,
The slow decay of your disguise,And recognises by decline
What you decline to recognise:
The figure that it has in view,
Whose breaths its searching looks condemn,
That cannot possibly be you,Since you are watching both of them.
Until it climbs into your eyes
This thing can never get behind you:
Bring no disgrace on the disguise
That makes it take a life to find you.
One day a song will burst into my brain
Out of the murk of my own mystery,
So powerfully a moment’s tune, the strain
Of a precise time, pitch of historySpecific to an instant, that – it might be
The rocking of a car dark-driven warm,As if along the bottom of the sea,
With him and them and nothing of the stormOver us - or some other song-fixed scene
Out of the swirling breaking suddenly
Into my mind’s mind, rush of ocean green
So close it holds me, infinite High C,
Trapped in the circle of its harmony,Like the ongoing echo of the sea.
CHARM AGAINST DARTINGTON GARDENS.
Now the students have passed through
And the amateur Shakespearean actors have echoed their goodbyes in the courtyard
And the traffic relapsed
To an occasional cough
And the jackdaws shuffled into the holes in the churchtower
And the statue reclines, not alive, in its lichen,
And the graves play peekaboo as if just about to break open
And the two thousand year old yew tree still hesitates to speak its first word
And the orange of the streetlights falsifies the sky’s complexion
And through the whole deepening scene walks a young man
Intensly whispering incantations against everything
FINDING POEMS AROUND SNEEZER’S PRAIRIE AND SO ON
Heard crying in the night walked out,
Found it lying either half made or half destroyed,
Took it in hand, it gasped
Walk with me, walk with me.
Where? Everywhere. Into the green interiors
And deeper and deeper
Wider and still wider, to contain the distances of the stars.
And what would you like to eat?
The sea, the stars, all the prime numbers
And measurements of acceleration and pressure and all your hours.
But all this was too much,
All it really wanted could be contained within a matchbox
And so I gave it that,
But by means of tweezers, grain by grain into its minute mouth
And gradually it lost its matted and broken-legged look
And became a kind of smartly dressed monkey
Lighter than air, walking about conversing with experts,
A lively and likely lad,
And I left it, relieved, and just thenHeard a tiny crying
In the far corner of the kite-shaped field,
Went to investigate that
Rib ripped out of the world’s side,What a cold woman you have become,
No apple offered, garden abandoned -
No mouth. No Adam but the sun.
Over Australia upside down,Trying to die, to be a midden
Of songs and graves, to grow one field
Of bare poor barley, squeeze one tear
Out of your lightly powdered eyesockets.
If there had never been any sky, stars, clouds,Trees, never a single bird,
How sad would we be?
Not missing them obviously
But surely less glad even than these pent people here in the office,Where the clouds crawl over the vertical glass surfaces at snail speed, leaving no snailtrace
Except on the mind,
A bright glad track across the thoughts of the morning;
And birds drop their songs
Into the gaps between screenache and printerrythm,
As if the mind was a tree whose branches
Creaked complaints, aches in the damp joints, thinking I’ll never be green again,Never,
But then some overwintering bird stops briefly,
Perched on a pause in your thoughts,
Sings all through the lichen of your depression, lightening
The careful plans you have made
To see the days through, age, die,
Fall forward into the dead question;
But then again -
What do we not know we are missing,
What further skies,
Singers additional to birds,
Lights unrelated to stars
You think I know who murdered me?
What do I know? I am unknown!You think I drink a cup of tea
At five o’clock, hear the phones ringing?
Think I think words, think I go dancing,
Here where I whistle the same tune
Not even over and over again
But for the first time, world without end,Think I go walking, think I wander
Out of my pattern? I am treading
In my own footsteps to the shower,
After my trouble in the river,
I am your circular pursuer,Circle away from me forever!
In your imagination grown
Fabulous, like a tree with eyes,
I am shrunk nothing in my own,
Death makes me bigger than I am;
So now you see me where I stand
With the towel round me, in the corridor,This is my portrait, not in oils
But eels - it moves, it turns, it stares,
But it is art, not life, imagined
By me and then shocked into you.
See how I pick my words like coins
Out of your mind, my own all stolen,
But I can only speak in breeze,
And I have nothing much to tell you,
So I make everything in your room
Lift and go spinning, waltz the curtains,
Rush like a lover through all your borders,
So you will know me as I am,Seventy years of marriage no closer,
Feel the full blast and roar of me,Although we never could be happy,
Or stroll through Paris in the springtime,
Or creep along the streets of nowhere,
My broken lock, my open way,
Who by half dying has seen me,
You chosen second mouth of mine,
Shivering coughing borrowed body.
I will be wasps, I will be flowers,
And the slow dying of a bee.
And I will never set you free.
I think you know who murdered me.
WOMAN SILENTLY WEEPING
How many times now have I watched the glass wall rising
Between me and all sound,
And on the other side, cacophony,
Rocks like cloths being wrung so the rivers run down,
But I’m standing
In increasing silence,
As if a great crack should spring
Across the face of the moon
And then another and another one,
And I’m out in the garden imagining
The booms and the groans space is not carrying,
As the two halves of the moon
Collapse into the chasm between them
With the roar of the red sea’s corridor collapsing,
And me not hearing a whisper
Of what I am seeing.
Strong citadel,Museum of exploded poems
And unravelled novels
Into your catacombs,
Will be called writing,
How they howl
In their isolation cells,
The separated elements
Of future psalms
With what unconnected monotones
They sit gloomy as caged kings,And around their feet in piles
The shackles of their meanings
Such a slaveship of them,
The sea’s unresolved rhythms
Or stamping away in all directions,
Imitating animal sounds;
And nonsensical drum;
But bring them near to each other,
Outside your borders,
Drag the lion’s cage
Over by the geographer!
To raise the dead and keep him hanging
High above the fireplace
And the illiterate flames.
Where in your many strata
Are the discomposite songs of heaven?
Based on an event reported in the Guardian, July 9, 2005
London, my love, I heard you’ve been
Battered by jealousy again,
Given a new wound underground,
Where the deaf clay drank up the sound,
Not like before when you were burned
By the wild woman you had spurned
For a rich marriage with the Romans,
Not like the passion of the Germans,
Kissing you to obliteration,But a black spasm of frustration
By those who hold it as a virtue
Since they can’t have your love, to hurt you.
I didn’t know I loved you. Having
Fled from your dogbreath and your raving
Ways, for six years asphyxiated
And poisoned, I presumed I hated
Every square inch of your stained pavements,
Every chain link of your enslavements,
And it was odd to feel my eyes
Filling for you. I have heaved sighs
For other murders, but to hear
Names like King’s Cross and Russel Square
Bloodied forever and forever,That was a wetter kind of weather.
Which is hypocrisy, I know.Others have suffered worse than you.I never wept for them, which proves
That it’s for nothing but small lovesAnd trivial incidents of mine,Dotted around the circle line,
I’m being wrung out now, regretting
The degradation of the setting
Of my slight life, the London structure
Of parts of my poor mind, whose ructure
Hollows me out, as if my childhood
Home was developed into Wormwood
Scrubs. But I think my own sweet London
Was dying anyway, a woman
Joined to a beast whose transformation
Seems endlessly postponed. Imagine
If London really was a woman –What would she look like? Foul half human
Half chromium crone, with tiny rooms
To cram her dreams in, her own fumes
Greying her blood, a stinking river
Draining the poisons from her liver,
And her hair dangling with the phantoms
Of her old sacrificial victims.
I don’t love that! It must be somethingDifferent invisibly imprinting
Its image on the mind’s eye, lifted
Out of the husks of buildings, sifted
Through windows, out of eyes and mouths,
Rising and spreading out like vows,
Wider and brighter though unseen,
Than the Eye, Tower Bridge, Big Ben –
Something more like a constellation –
Like the slow march of the two million
From street to street, waves on the shore
Trying to wash away the war.
Like this new image that has come
Out of a whole new kind of tomb.
A man goes down into the black,
Hoping to bring some bright thing back.
A long way under Piccadilly,
His torchlight drifting like a lily
On a black stream. It is his duty
To view the far remove from beauty.
And it is there, in outright silence,
And the suppression of intelligence.
He rises to the air, unhuman,And someone asks the way to Clapham.
THE INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF EVIL.
Evil goes down the aisle with evil;
Circles of International Devils
Discuss the necessary evils.
Evil gets tough with evil, evil
Finally triumphs, deals with evilOnce and for all. On the tired walls
The damned words hang, rotting in irons.
Evil begs evil to be evil
No more. Now, in an evil hour,
Fallen on evil times, pure evil
Praises the necessary Devil,
Under a fist of evil weather,Saying we’re all in it together.
GOD WITH A SMALL g
Who is the god of this aeon?None of the old pantheon.Where are his shrines?
Do not sayThe telephone Exchange
The petrol Station
The Beauty Spot,
Accident Spot with flowers,Sculpture Park,
Dry Ski Slope,Airport –
Only point to the empty placesWhere his shrines should be, all over the place;
Not even a blasted hole in the ground,
This god is worshipped by not being worshipped,
His obeisance neglect,
His observance procrastinate;
This god asks no other service
His Church is vast,All the peoples of the earth are in it,
His prayers are sleeptalk,His sacrifice the human race.
People are pausing, lips parted,
Not quite yet saying what they are thinking,
At the sky for inspiration,As if it was a dictionary attentive
To their thoughts, a butler hurrying
To supply the words they need,As at the particular hour, the punctual cigar.
But the sky, that longer pauser, is looking
Through completely unfocused eyes
Like a baby’s,
All blue air and bright water,At the world for inspiration,As if it was a dictionary, disintegrating,
Its letters black ants maddened
By hot water, searching in all directions
For a way to cohere into words
To replace the prespeech of the stars,
Ego-scream of the moon
And the blue babblings of the air
With some kind of contentionSo they can mean something.
O LET ME LIVE BESIDE THE SEA
O let me live beside the sea,A landscape that is temporary,
Whose hills are pliant to the heel,
Whose tractors cleave transparencyAnd sink, immense, imaginary,
As their wide sprayers cut the spray;
Whose fragile cattle range white-winged
And grazing on the vertical.
O let me live beside the sea,A subject of uncertaintyAs to its own extent, that blindly
Puts out weak feelers every day
To the braille Bible of the pebbles,
And shudders at the prophecies
And swoons, white-eyed, into a stupor,And rocks and rages in its wheelchair.
O let me live beside the sea,
And search for treasure on the shore,And be frustrated utterly,
And try to count the grains of sand,
To classify the rockpools and
To psychoanalyse the foam,
And then creep back defeated home,As wide and wasted as the ocean.
TO AN ACTRESS
Your eyes began this dialogue
By reminding me of it;It ends by proving me a rogue,
You dodge the consequences with your feet.You speak as though you dreamed these sad affairs,And yet your steps slow to a stopAnd you succumb to change with tears,Fall silent and, in darkness, drop.
Each night I feel the waters rise
Over my face, wondering howI drown and live in such quick seas,Which is surprising when so often now
I’ve looked at you defending your designs
And your desires for two hours under lights,Then gone to laugh with you behind the screens,And out to watch the people on the streets.
The rooks gather in court
To defend themselves.
They are not, they declare, omens
Either of grace or of doom;
They are not weather forecasters,
Accurate or innaccurate,
They are not singers of raucous songs;
They cannot, in fact, speak.
The rooks croak,Emptying their emptiness.But there is no end to it,
Tiny zero bubbles of nothingness
Rising out of a nought,
Not the least bit diminishing it.
How bright are the eyesLit by interior darkness,
What piercing glances dart
Out of the fog of unconsciousness.
How hard it is to stand on any kind of eminence
And not take on some kind of significance.
Among the sticks
The wren has evolved briefness.
Were you once otiose,
Sweeping the air like seagulls in long alexandrines?
Now you are a pinprick
Among the bramblehooks.
In the treetops chiffchaffs recite the dead epics;
You are shrinking a sonnet.
All the great paragraphs have gone down into the earth,But you persist,Micro-tyrannosaurus,
Critic of the thicket;
To be an instant.
Cows graze, stomach-baloons,Tethered by teeth to the green of the ground,
Not glancing up at the deer
Like school dreams that stray
Straight through the geometry of the hedges,Leaping the grammatical lanes
Of this landscape copied from a map of itself,Surveyed with the sole intention
Of pinning the deer down;
Here and there, investigators,Camouflaged, with chainsaws,
Interrogate the stationary villages
Of foliage - out of a line of trees
Rip every tenth, in front of the rest,But still nothing is said,
Though winter, traitor,Hides less, lays more bare,Almost ready to spill
Her all as the year wears.
Look – where the morse of the hedgerow
Almost communicates between two woods,
A branched head
Leaps the gap of sense.
On the bare moors the herds
Scatter and gather,
Their shepherd invisible,His crook a rifle, but here,
A coven of hollies conspires
Against the not-quite-absolute empire,
Into whose untuned ear
The deer disappear.
Dear Gloria the days go by,
The pale nurse's rosy fingers
Change the bandages on my eyes;
No change, the light still wounds,
Wintery stormclouds rush the hills,
Causing landslides of shadows.
But today I discharged myself,
And seeing darkness one day away
From the trees around the bend in the river,
That wore your air,
I went in there -
How eagerly the water goes over!
THE MAN WHO RUSHED WITH NOTHING IN HIS HEAD.
The man who rushed with nothing in his head,
Out of his house, into the woods and in,
Over and over the mountains, up and up,
Left every valley like a golden cup,
And every wood a crowd of seraphim,And every mountain top a marriage bed.
The emptiness of the future made him run,
He floods its channel as the present thaws,
And over his horizon farmlands rise.The people see him with the same surprise
With which they see the autumn when it pours,
And with the awe in which they hold the sun.
He and this land, being each others' womb,
Love one another truly from afar,Trees of one size across an equal stream,
Whose leaves are eyes but closed and in a dream,
In which they stroll and talk on a cold star,Whilst the world smoulders in an orange gloom.
Following gravity through the tilted plough,
Stained by the faces of the self-seeing souls
Only as long as they can meet his stare,
He hurries on and leaves them standing there,
As water leaves a bucket full of holes,As rapidly as time is passing now.
Faster than darkness when the eyelids close,
Pressed by the thought of that which drives him on,
Nothing, until he runs against the mound
That makes the circle that he must run round,In blinded rage, defending something gone,
Perhaps in penance but till when who knows.
IN NIGHTS AS LONELY AS THE SUN'S.
In nights as lonely as the sun's,I live my second innocence,Dreaming about the moon's white thighs,
In dark ashphyxiated skies.
The pricelessness of dawn demands
The heart and soul and resonance
Of little birds with worlds to sell,
But I possess the still hour's owl.
When butterflies, like pairs of hands,
Flit by me in a strobelit dance,Gesturing in their extasy
That heaven is a shrubbery,
And breezes stagger drunkenly
Into the slowdance of the sea,I cannot feel the kiss of the wind,Because the moon is in my mind.
My love comes down from difficult mountains,
Strained through all the minerals contained in the blood and the bone,From tricksy ravines,
Far above the last dwarf pine
And the star-gazing edelweiss,
Where one mountaineer jammed
Between rocks hangs head down,And through the grate of his jaw
My love runs
Reflecting the sky's indecision,
Blueprints constantly sponged clean,
The remit to design
An indeterminate building,
Impossibility the staring point, the deadline
Eternity, resources infinite,
And so far nothing but ideas for meeting places
Where loneliness could reach its absolute
My love runs on, collapsing
From pool to pool, like a man shot in the guts,
Staggering, bleeding, falling,
And everywhere his blood touches the ground,A new civilisation
Falls through space for awhile,
As if there was nothing else,
Then crashes full tilt into itself again, further on,
Pounding itself to bubbles and foam, flinging up
Its equivalent of fragments.
Entrapping the light,
It hangs draws and quarters it,
Ripping out glistening rainbows
From the gape of its stomach
My love runs on, stoneblind,
Carrying light like a rat the plaguepit
Or a mosquito delirium
Or an icecube your face
Now smoothes out between flowers, the gap betweenDante and Beatrice, a moment, wink, slip, turnaround;
And on the one side, griffins,
And on the other side, men in suits not noticing them
All the beauties of the world come down to the edge to peer in
And their faces are swept away like leaves on the
Increasingly impure and poisonous stream;
Musical notes pour in out of punctured trombones
And leaky clarinets,
Mayfly harpnotes fluttering, flattening, damped, drowned;
Symphonies of unsealed cities, fanfare of traffic jams,
Words out of unzipped mouths tumbling, mingling
With the rest of the refuse, the scum of the stream
Now lifted into the arms of the trees
By all this water fallingStraight out of the hysterical heavens
Oaks are exploding like fountains
Like a young slip of a fern,
Are making fools of themselves
People are drinking it from glasses
Purified of murder,
As it runs shaking its head,That bone of contention,
Howling down to the sea
On this ordinary morning
We vastly outnumber the humans in this valley.
We scatter from one to another hilltop crown.
This is the life of rooks, the high life,
The talkative life,
Complex as entrails.
The framework of the air is trees,
A living work that grows up,
Lifts up under the feet
With bending strength,
A sprung floor;
All through its webs the wind goes
Like ants rushing through tunnels
With eyes shut, guided
By bright invisible threads of scent.
Further down, under the dark,
The same webwork is reflected in the depths of the earth,
A fixing reflection,
That holds the tree as your form in water
Holds you to yourself.
All this rises through us in shrieks
At sunrise and sunset;
We might speak about lightning in shocked terms,With burnt words,
Or about the sky like a furious cheated bride
Trying to tear itself loose from the earth,
Always waking up with the same dirty old man.
About the breakers of air
Whose charred spray we are,
The gulf, the gulp of downfall,Caught always like a sob turned croak.
The tall ghosts go in through the churchdoor.
Then rhythmical singing escapes
Out of the stained glass arches,
Songs about roofs, about stone walls, about regular baths.
But through us rises
Gossip of the veinwork of leaves,
And the twists of timber springing apart
And leaping together,
Hoarse and nonsense songs
About everything smashing itself to bits
And then flinging itself back together.
Now the sky shudders
Like a kite tied to your fingers,
The classroom leans,
Thoughts bump like baloons.
Overflows the bath of itself
And drips through the ceiling,
Not so much invisible as too bright for the eyes,
Soaking into everything, making the paintwork
As sensitive as terrified skin, thatching the roof with nervendings.
The next second, surely, uprising!Surely the wind is a friend rougher than anyone,
Surely if a chair feels life in its legs then a person
Can borrow the sky for wings, go star-lifting
Along the highstreets of infinite blackness!
There's a whisper that out on the drillsquares
Regiments are leaning to attentionAt the angle of howitzers,Buckingham Palace has blown right over, an engineer
Blinks as his cables whipcrack, cryingLike a child of four
As his bridge bucks like a kite tied to his fingers
At a digestive pace her graceSets forth her setting forth,
A lesson in decorous progression
To the cows her cardinals
Bent in adoration.
Moorhens fuss at her buttons
And she calms them,
Narrow boats iron her train
And she cools their bottoms,
Swans massage her back in white silence
And she excites them
To fly along the pilons
In her the sky turns backwards
And there through a gap in its folds a seagull
Plummets to the very heights
Of her silt and a trace of your face
She acknowledges with regal wavelets
The flagflapping bramble crowds,
Slow Queen of Cows;
The filth of the ditches
Adds to her riches
At all times preceded by finches
Like spray flung forwards
Who of her benevolence bestows on cornflowers
Title to work in perpetuity
Her lands, feed well and wear her livery
Great grey wheel that by her slow turning
Sets a billion little ones spinning
(Making the daisy dizzy)
Though she casts her glance neither to right nor to left
Though wheels in her deeps
Have come to rest and to rust
In the stopped clock of her mud
Fleets of rooks go over in the dawn
And back in the dusk, for no other reason
That to see for themselves the fine cut of their costumes,
And the magpie glancing sideways,
And the kingfisher,Eager for a flash of itself
Now as in the day she lay with the sky,
So in the night she plays with your days,Bends your straight hours into spheres
And blows them,
Stretches your moments to riverlength,
And with an underwater ear you can hear
Even the far sea bang on its anvil
And the steel silence.
And now you are she and her tall shipsGraze in the clouds of your shallows.
How long heart will you keep on tapping your baton,
Making me write down this amongst other things,
Headless juggler of the sun and the moon,Two blind fools on a bench entwined,
How long, heart, will you keep up your beseeching
To me for directions,
While I look to you for the same,
Since yours are the vaster demands
Drain where the world drowns,
Falling in through the eyes like returning tears,
Tapping your foot with such authority, idiot Emperor,
What could possibly break you, you are the breaker,
What could satisfy you, flooding and flushing,Windscreen wipers
Sealed but not contained, leaping
From each spent thought to the next, like flames,
Eternity's tin bucket,
Slipping and slopping
To the hips' rhythm,
Spilled in kisses and glances, famously wasted,
Then wandering again, wondering
When polar bears in worlds of snow
See the horizon start to glow,Ending the night so long and slow,They always let their feelings show.
When tall and weighty icebergs rise
Like frozen clouds in walrus skies,
The wales, despite their own great size,Always express complete surprise.
For when the crowded ark was rocked,
And rose from where it had been docked,
When heaven's floodgates were unlocked,
Even Noah, who knew, was deeply shocked.
And when the seas began to sink,
And when the keel stopped with a clink
Upon a steaming mountain brink,
He celebrated with a drink.
As I was walking to the sea,
Through the tall bracken, still bright green,And filling me above the eyes
With memories of glens, I blinked,
As from the corner of my eye
A moth got up, or so it seemed,
And flew away in front of me,
Like a child ducking through a cloud,
Or a cork bobbing on the sea,
Wings like two white hands powdering
The face of air in a great hurry.But when I looked more carefully
And felt my face, I saw for certain
That it was not a moth but my
Right eyelids fluttering away.And then – it was astonishing -
The other pair unclipped, disengaged,
Peeled off and took flight (I felt no pain)
To join the first ones flickering
In freedom to the sun. I saw them
Black in the bright disk. Now the sea
Was sniffing at my feet, far down,
And I was standing at the end,
Where no plank, no path, no rope, no pier
Crosses the air. And then my skin
Slipped off and floated to the sand,
And the waves washed it out and in,
And it turned over in the foam
And spread out, white, to the horizon.
Breathe – I breathed out, and in the air
My lungs stood tendrilled like a cloud.And then a v of geese, my bones,
And they crashed straight into the sea,
And my eyes followed – no more need
To dream what happens in the sea.
Lastly my heart sank down the sky
And slid, bright red, into the sea.
Light work in winter,
Few roots, grass low and self-absorbed,
Flowers few and small, little starved stars,
Just about everybody elsewhere,
Stuck at their studies in stable and byre,
Neighbours indoors, their grumbles a chimney-trickle,
Tree orchestras away in Jamaica.
Only rooks to argue with
Only grey to reflect
Even sometimes it all stops
And she can step clean out of herself,
Leaving herself gobsmacked,
And swerve upstream over her own stiff back
But now! She's up to her eyes in calves
Knee-deep in her,And the grass like crowds in India
And the absurd self-love of the mallows
And a thousand genius children
Shrilling their brilliance on different instruments,
And in the evening
The tut tutting of the neighbours
To be played over on her stones
With her bone fingers.
Think how the skylark
builds himself a tree of air
from which to ring
his smallholding with razor wire
and shards of glass that change in the eyes
of the one he loves, into roses and oranges.
Much more is invisible than visible.
People are coming out of theatres and cinemas
and walking through streets that are pouring
through their eyes and their ears
into the invisible
DELAYS FOR THE EXECUTIONER
In the twinkling of a cathedral.
Just one more Cup of Sorrows.
In the turn of a (stone) swallow.
After six herons on one roadsign.
In the next instant
Identical to this one.
Outrage in the villageAnd in the dark farms.
Is it a fox,
Or the trees shuffling closer,
Putting on layer by layer
Of darkness,Bodying the wind
Until it almost believes it's alive
That makes the dogs bark?
Buttercups not yet open (small sun);
Tawdry material, crimped and crammed;
Buried among them, cowslips gone green -
Curtains in an abandoned caravan.
Deep in the rusty grasses,
Litter of Latin names,
Some grey moths beyond taxonomy and
Stacked upstairs like old silver
In stiff drawers, the tarnished stars.
Someone is still feasting in Eden
Nose down among the Hebrew flowers
In a haze of Arabian perfumes,
Searching for one particular delicious thing among millions,And lifts to me a face all triangles.
ON KRISTIANSAND TOWN BEACH.
Desire falls, an invisible rain
of flames that has magicked the sand
into spheres and symmetrical tubes,
that throw and catch footballs,
fused in this day made round
by the distant wish of the sun
and of eternity
that slops, salt, onto the flat heat here,
not with a classical fall,
but with water fingers
on a sand keyboard
each of these beauties
holds nine months of ice carried
as happily as if stretching the belly
and even the statue fallen
flat on its face, lies here
So sick of wearying the earth, it seems
Eight hours of death is what I need (no dreams.)
Over Australia upside down.Trying to die, to be a midden
Of daisied graves, to grow one finger
Of waving barley, squeeze one tear
Out of your lightly powdered eyesockets.
Wastebin of paper thoughts that fall
Out of earth's mouth and up the stairs.
Turning your nose up from your mother,Her smoking paps and steaming oxters.
Empty speech bubble of no speaker.
Mirror mirror in the black,What have you got behind your back?Blotched and bleached-out Mona Lisa,If looks were letters you'd be littered.
This roe's not you I kill and skinAnd roast on a small riot of flames,And raven till it's completely gone,
Not even bones left, just a few twigends,
And the shocked afterthought of woodsmoke, then
I'm pounding on the paths again,After the one I have devoured,Who, in the dawn, feeds on my green hands.
You're not the Queen of the Iron Mountain,
Or the girl crying in the kitchen,
Or this South Uist sand, unendingIn that it goes right round the island,
Nor the faint cairn to which I'm heading,Looking for you, in my hand, your hand.
The tree-limbed deer as it flees, leaves
A permanent after-image of trees.
IN AN OLD CHURCH
Under a whale's ribs,
Among stone soldiers,
On the skin of a unicornStretched out before the altar,
How death's light
(Through green panes)And death's air
(Cold from the ground)
Dare our prayers
To make light of God's murder
You are the kind of place I like.
An island. Silver birch stand round
Nonchalant rocks that might have been
A burial chamber. Here I have lain down
After shipwreck, the sea's headache
Limitlessly glittering,And then the ground blurs, fire blankets it,
The earth's black, but still I,
(Who dropped the careless fagend,)Cling on like Ben Gunn.Then branchy creaturesSpidering out of the foam,
Take root where the trees burned,
And everything's changed, but stillI feel no inclination for raft-building.
I lived awhile on the moon, and died, And Mercury's ironic air could not sustain me,
And I have tried the life of plants
And of sharks, but none suited meAs much as this island.
Out of the secret fissures of the grain,Cracks that do not exist yet, only theyImagine, and by their imagining
Create, the flames uncurl, emerging worms
That blindly writhe, as if disliking light
And air and cringing from the touch of eyes
And cold and the expected beaks of birds.
But no one snaps them up and now more bold
They start to dance, as I have once seen rats,
Under a trailer strewn with bits of rabbits,
Leap to the skirl of the omniscient smell
Of putrefaction, that might be their god,
Piping them into wildness on the mountain.
Now they denounce the wood, with fascist rage,
Also describing it with sculpting gestures,Arabic letters swept with silk-sleeved brush-hand,
And now they fling their arms into the air,As if at basslines punched out of big speakers,And now they start to drown in their own beauty,
Sobbing rejected blue-veined ladies, and
Sink back into the ash they prophesied.
Summer leaks out of leaves
With baloon-air hissing.
Still enough left though to float
One more moon.
My lover is like Berkshire in the night.She stretches out like Slough beneath the stars.Her veins are lamplit sidestreets where warm cars
Pass on a wave of light from light to light.Between her towns dark woods bow to the moon,
But total darkness you will never find.Always some vestige of the afternoonKeeps shining like the daydreams of the blind.She has some heaths where people never go,
Or if they do, at certain moonless times,Think themselves ghosts revisiting their crimes,And feel eternity's dead heart beat slow.But just when she's convinced them that she's dead,Morning gets up again in Maidenhead.
A WOMAN DREAMS SHE IS A WHALE.
You shatter through the rooftop into moonlight,
Shoulder through water rafters into midnight;
Out of the darkness where the hours don't pass,
Into the lightyears trapped in showering glass,
The self-consuming instants of the ocean.You are a destination set in motion.
And though you're heavier than a thousand cows,
In this vast wood that never rests its boughs,
You are a bird. And in the streaming ages
Drained from the land as if from rain-blurred pages,You are a moment. So you sing and fly,Weightless in the reflection of the sky.
Your head is buried in your foliage.You have no interest in the present age.
Your arms are many and their gestures unclear,
Your leaves a school that swims together for fear.Your leadership is firm though, and you stand.To take your banner they must take your land.
Drenched in booze whilst you are steeped in sky,
I see you in the window passing by.
Fears cluster round my skin as round your bark
The leaves all tremble in the unresting dark.My years are passing like an afternoonWhilst yours go slowly and brightly like the moon.
When my death orbits closer to earth's air,
(This is my amateur astrology,)
And sheds its influence – as heavenly
Bodies are said to in that science - rare
Things, that were hidden, suddenly appear
Brighter, as if a brush of badger's hair
Exposed them, eyes of Saxon kings that stare
On copper coinage as the reign comes clear.
But I am thinking more specifically
Of the full flash of turquoise eyeliner,
Flying and diving like a kingfisher
On the thin woman who sold fish to me.
If the whole world was turquoise I'd have seen
Nothing – but as it was, my death being near,Pushing the contrasts up against the screen
Of my two eyes, (if I am right,) made sheer,
By shortage of remaining breaths, the scene.
SONNET (extended) Crucifixion.
The working week is crumbling to its end.
The weary soldiers leaning on their spearsAche to be off. The starving hours distend.
The seconds circle-dance in masks of years.
Slow as the abdication of the sun,
Loath to surrender its bright golden chair
To a successor (though it's its own heir,)
The work of killing God is almost done.
The empire pauses, its extended powers
All pressing on this point, as if a tome
As thick as time was used for pressing flowers
To decorate the temple and the home.
The blind in widening circles tread their dooms,
The planets, having packed their crumpled stars,
Unscrew the light bulbs in their hotel rooms,
And disappear. In groves of German Mars
The leaves turn brown, the sacrifices green.
The end's in sight, but still no end is seen.
SONGS FROM PLAYS
Moon's Song from Fair Ladies at a Game of Poem Cards
If you ask me why
Does my narrow eye
Grow so wide and round,Silvering the ground,
What can I reply?If your eyes could see
How it looks to me
Staring through the sky
At the whole of life,Like a well-dressed groom,
Stepping from the tomb,To delight his wife,
You would stare like me,
You would move the sea,You would shine all night,Crying tears of light.
FROM Augustine's Oak.
Love my heaven in a cloud,
Stepping heavy on the ground,
Tell me will you come to me
When the night is old and angry?
Love my heaven in the sun,Sleeping bloodless underground,
Tell me will you come to me
When the day is young and sorry?
Love my heaven in the rain,
Stooping, touching, making well,
Tell me will you come to me
When the morning steps up sharply?
Love my heaven in the end,
When the sun is up completely,
Tell me you will come to me,Tell me how I will be happy.
From Augustine's Oak (after Bede)
The place once known as Albion,Now known as Britain, is an island
Not far from Belgium in the ocean,
Not far from France, and quite near Holland.
Which on the other side recieves
The sea that has no other side,
And oak and ash and other leaves
Gather and scatter on the tide.
Oh there are vines and there is corn,
And horses walking on the land,
Dry timber ready to be sawn,And salmon heavy in the hand.
Various types of birds abound
On sea and land, and on the shore;
And there are dolphins to be found
Close in, and I can tell you more:
Shellfish and oysters hard and light
Are sometimes found containing pearls,
Violet, green, but mainly white,God's promise in the ears of girls.
Whelks are abundant, and a dye
Is got from them that lasts forever,
Deep scarlet like the evening sky
That prophesies angelic weather -
It actually improves with age.This country is alive with flowers,
Like clematis and saxifrage,
Glorying in the frequent showers.
There are at present in these islands,Four nations: English, British, Irish
And Picts. The Picts are in the Highlands.And with God's help we all shall flourish.
SONG FROM 'THE GOLDEN ASS.'
My daddy was a fisherman,
He threw me in the sea,With a hook through my abdomen,
Oh misery, oh misery.
My mummy was a flowergirl,She stuffed me in the ground,And cut me at the roots to sell,Where could a sadder tale be found?
My brother was a bankrobber,He shoved me in his gun,And shot me at an officer,
Still down the wall my blood does run.
My sister used to scream and shout,
We argued in the womb.
To keep her quiet I moved out
Into a slightly smaller room.
Tell me who will be to me,Brother, sister, father, mother?Empty of my family,I am hungry for another.
Maid's Song from The Roman Virgin
Mary in the morning time,Mary in the evening,Mary-love will you be mine,To keep my heart from grieving?
So she took him by the hand,Sweetly in the evening,And led him to a foreign land,To keep his heart from grieving.
But they fell into a pit,
On a gloomy evening,And could not get out of it,For which we all are grieving.
But we see them shining high,Brightly in the evening,Close together in the sky,Which keeps our hearts from grieving.
Poisoner's Song from The Roman Virgin
The sun will rise and give the earth its due,
Saying, My dear, here's what I owe to you,For all the shapely pools I have enjoyed,And all the leaping streams with which I've toyed.The sun will rise and give the earth its due,
But I will never give a - for you.
Love, to creatures bright and small,
Like us, offers no trials at all.We flitted to it like two fleas
On a match and wire trapeze.A castle in a goldfish bowlTested the mettle of my soul,And your hair could pull me up the tower
When trimmed to just below the ear.But sighs in empty concert halls,And passion whispered in cathedrals,Where echoes seem to grow forever
Through chambers of unchanging weather,Made me vainer than the thrush,Who knows that when his lovesongs hush,The sun he raised will sink again.
Morning came and you were gone,
Fleeing in a bayleaf boat,As dawn broke mighty from my throat.
Dazed dairy farmer, racing round,Stepping and bowing, cow to cow,
In your hosed parlour, shit-sluiced now,
Unlocking suckers, two by two,
On without looking to the next one -
Hemmed in by quotas, sleep-starved, working
All weekend long despite believing,Sweeping your fields above the sea
In arcs of light like scythes laid down,To keep so many slow mouths moving
To the dull pulse of the machine's
Multiple sucking – in your dreams
Slow hands in Africa pull down
The endless vine with tugs that send
The warm jet into the small bucket
That quickly brims – you walk at dawn -
A cow is lying on the sun,And won't get up for all your banging
With a light stick on a long spine,
But now your dung-caked cow-dog's barking
Uplifts the obstacle, and streams
Of diamonds dive into your brain -
Sweet daylight! From their parlour beams,Others, strung up by numbers, hang,
But you move on – and here's my question -
Father of all your calves, begun
By your sheathed arm's inseminations,
Selling for leather and for hounds
All your old brides when they run dry,What's this bright outcome of a nightmare,
These rocks that breathe where rainbows bend
In the black hands of the east wind?
Seventy nine ships of the line
Drifting in here and there formation
On a sea far from wars and storms?
Dog of three masters, in the armchair,Lord of your Laws, ignoring ours,
Running upstairs, too old to care,
Thistledown blowing here and there,
Lion in your imagination,Which we deny but which you claimWith terrifying absences,
Over the arm I meet your stare,
Hard under soft brows raised and lowered
According to the atmosphere.
You would do better to be kinder,
There is no need for cunning here,Though you are honour-bound to copy
Jackal, your famous ancestor.
All your conclusions are misguided.
We are defeated by the stars,But you can't even cope with cars -
And off you slope into the forest
Of fumes and hoots, but soon return,Proud of that stolen rag of time.
Dog of the heart, where will you lie,
Dog of three masters, if you wander
Out of the world? Then you and I
Will be as flummoxed as each other.Come when I call then, keep within
The orbit of a stick well-thrown,That spins awhile into the sky,Then kicks back down to the green ground.
How would it be, one morning like this morning,
Recovering from the drug of words, head spinningWith emptiness, and larks in their high-flying,
Stretching the threads that tied them to your heartstrings,Till the links break; how would it be, one morning,
The echo-cavern like an egg cracked open,Widening to the point where it was nothing,
And even shouted thoughts, great mind-explosions,
Not bouncing back to wound like boomerangs,But bursting through the dust that was the casing;
How would it be, thin clouds unravelling
From left to right, and then the blue behind them,
In the same way, by the wind's hands dragged open,
And then the curtain of the constellations,
As if their brilliance was obscuring something,
And then yourself, in the insistent wind,
Crumbling to dust, and where your head had been,Only the world, the universe and so on?
Thin song like scissors in the morningCut my anger into ribbons
Owlshriek: scrape of a sword withdrawnFrom stone flesh on the field of the frozen.
Dogbark answer: the echo (distorted)
Of spring laden with laden drones.
Sycamore: seethe of the sea stripped down
To a bone hand sticking out of the ground.
Rain in the beech hedge: sleet on shingle;
The stunned wave breaks straight through the closed room.
Ice in the earth's core dripping, hissing;
Winter brings the antidote to spring.
Drain it at a gasp, feel the misery drain
First from your feet, then from your heart, then,
Join the dead in their teeth-set prone
Deep celebration of the dead season.
An almost infinite endeavourWeighed on me once – a gravestone sky.Then by the sleeptalk of a stream
A wagtail flicked its yellow feathers
From rock to rock – a tick, a sign
Of courtesy and grace. Another time,
My eyes were dragged into the sea
As if I was a fish on land
Caught by an angler who had drowned.Then I saw stepping on the sand,A tiny bird, but bigger than the sea.With its strict manner it reproved the sea.Now I can walk through thorns and fire
And they are always there – I see
The winter branches green with finches.
LINES FROM A PLAY.
How similar the state of sleep, soft dove,Head under wing, is to the state of love!Both pliant, knocked out, unresisting, good,
Exiled from qualities of must and should:
Sleep is no duty, love is not a duty,Sleep drops the watching dog into a beauty
Of helplessness. And sleep is full of dreams,
And so is love, into whose heart light streams
Unreasonably. But similarity
Begins to founder and lose parityWhen I consider that love hurts, sleep not;
Sleep not the slightest bit, and love a lot,
Unless we count bad dreams. If she loved meAgain, what a siesta that would be.
AS I WENT LOOKING FOR MY LOVE
As I went looking for my love,
On a wet bank I slipped – a stripe
Of damp on my left cheek, a swipe
From a low branch sagged in the wet
Of its dead freight, not dropped yet
Into the litterings that spread
Colourful circles, pools of shed
Prototype souls, or skins of thoughtNot wrong but just used up. Hooks caught
Then, in the flapping of my jacket,Sharp rose-memories, and my right boot
Sank, and I, reeling, dragged at it,And sinking flailed and flailing sink
As through the wet wood weave my loose footprints.
The river returns.
A reply to the light!
Who else will tell about this mother
Running like mad along the Ganga,Because her child has disappeared
Into the moving plain of water;
And how she came to question dolphins
Till she could clearly see him drifting
Upstream, above the point of drowning,Turning the way that things will turn,Back through the valleys of abstraction,Against the stream of loss, through madness,Into the spring of the beginning?
Ladywell has gone up into the sky,As if she never had been more than thinArchitect's lines, that with a Friday sigh
Are scrunched and chucked into the paperbin.She has been entered in the book of air,Where queens are kneeling on a towered green,And the Sioux dance; whose pages cannot tear,Printed in lines of light by what has been.
Her demolition has completed her,Now she cannot be smashed by any hammer;
Steel picks and scoops have not defeated her,Abstracted by the drill's pneumatic stammer.But when will I be bold enough to roamHer floating gardens, enter my old room?
Daffodils, here you are again.What have you brought us from the ground?Make a loud noise, a bright brass sound,That we can clearly understand.
Among the open mouths I stand,
A deaf man staring at a band
Of trumpets heralding a king,
Making all eardrums ring but mine.These are the only sounds they bring
Out of the numbness of the ground:The absent music of the moonAnd the bright silence of the sun.
I saw a picture of a King
Enter the echoes of a building,And stovepipes fluted by the wind
Sang praises, high and low, to him!
We struck the hollows of our hands,
And made great zeros with our mouths,And our brains floated out like clouds,
Dripping a pattering refrain.
And the prayers wandered through our minds,
Like the last bison on the plains,
Seeking a place to lie down, not
Already taken up by bones.
Long boxes wrapped in flags, more emptyThan if they had been filled with nothing,
Floated towards the altar then,And my head burst like a baloon.
That was the day the sun just went on rising
Into the night; the thrush, in its dawn singing,
Out-topped its highest note until unheard ones
Shattered the windows of the chapel andOf the skyscrapers flashing tangerine,
And the glass flew straight up into the stars;
Mercury burst from the barometers
In bullet streaks; tall-stretching sycamores
Were pumas sharpening their branchy claws
On the sky's ice; hawks shrank into the stratosphere,
Mountains grew mountains as if bodybuilding -
And the most near pressed close to the most far.
Then the whole thing snapped shut with a string's twang
Into this silver locket – here you are.
After a week of rain: at last the starsThat were behind it.
Into townTo walk around
On the unconsecrated ground.
Some rush straight off to speak to Socrates.
Some huddle, like a shape of smoke or steam
Struggling to keep its shape, with arms of steam
Or smoke. Some find a corner to sweep clean,
And here the dust is truly infinite,
And the day not cut short by television.
Their whistling drips into unbottomed cisterns
That echo empty. You lose everything;
Lead snaps, dog long-tongues off into the distance
And disappears, skirts trail long threads, unhemmed,
Edges are rumoured, borders merely hummed -
People soon leave, in dribs and drabs, like water
From the cold windows of its condensation
To the warm floor of its ascension falling.
All I remember is the water
in columns collapsing
into beds and each other
sighing out clouds
and the rain's chatter
and the black gape of the drains after
in ditches mixing
with all the fallen jammed into damsin the blind stream
till their shapes flowed out of them
THE IDEA OF COMPASSION AT ELEVEN IN THE MORNING.
Just about now I must be sitting
In a glass room above glass rooms
On a firm cushion of opinions,
Gulping strong coffee I can't stand,
Hitlering into a machine
Trapped in the hollow of my hand,
I must be standing by the lanes
With my thumb out, I must be snoozing
Over the roaring blur of pistons,
I must be walking on the moon,
Collecting dust, I must be humming
Into my goldfish bowl, theme tunes
From earth Friday afternoons,
I must be setting out, bow crushing
The paparazzi of the ocean,
I must be falling fast, head down
For the last time, the postcards on
The mantelpiece no longer holding,
I must be tense like a bird listening
To its own listening, in my coffin,
I must be gradually collapsing
Like Bouncy Castles at the day's end,
I must be mad, I must be shouting
Into a statue's ear, unhinged
Suddenly in the Luxembourg gardens,
I must be dreaming in a train,Travelling home in both directions.
After reading all nightAbout war, debt and drought, step out
Into the blurred world.
PARABOLA OF THE LARK
(Lark beseeching the earth to rise.)
Get up dead thing get up,
Leap off the bedrock,
Spit out your gizzard's flints and get up!Wake up honey wake up, be more beelike,
Float up into my wings, take a tip
From your hurtling beetles,
And your weathermap swifts,Fling up like shellbursts arms of blasted sod!
Get your head off the void,
Heave like your seas and smoke,
Space is waiting to waltz!
Shake loose, freak out, wake up, step out
Of the tomb of your time - Get up, dead thing, get up!
THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS
In the wake of the parade
I lingered among heaps of dung;
Listening to the chaos fade,
I hummed the song the animals had sung.
As the steam that left the piles
Drained itself and lost its heat,So the song, with growing miles,Lost volume, soon, to my ears, incomplete.But I, among its residue,Echoed my memory's cartoon
Of them and the lament they blew,A mesmerising, supernatural tune.Where they had eased themselves and bled,Cut by the monotonous blade,
Animals singing as they fled,So that their panic seemed like a parade.
THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE ILEX TREE
The wind that shakes the ilex tree shakes me,The glare that blanks the stars wills me awake.
Across a paving stone across the sea,The leaf that shuffles crablike for my sake,
Opens my eyes and wipes mist from the lake.
But still it shakes as though stung to be free,And now the later light caught by my eye,That tries to read the number of a psalm,Over a dead man's shoulder, makes it calm,In obedience to the solemnity of the sky.
This is a jewel I take out sometimes,When all but one have made their sad retreat.
Its facets reflect just as chimes echo chimes,And in the way a street opens on a street.
Like fingers three pale towers rise
Towards the morning moon;But steps that sputter like a fuse
Down paths however white,Return, and come to no explosion.
A VIEW OF TOTNES FROM THE FIELDS ABOVE ASHPRINGTON
Around the town where all the liberals live,Ten thousand cows who vote Conservative.
River goes on like pain
winding up the spine,
slowed by morphine;
from the blunt limb's front line.
And the stars - photographs
of rocks hitting plate glass
SONNET ON WESTMINSTER BRIDGE
Trickles of thinking mingle with the flow
From pipes invisible. On my left hand
Westminster bickers as the waters goCarrying off the loose parts of the land.This town will stain my ghost when I am goneIf I do not scour off into the brownFlowers beneath my feet, all I have done,Shake it off doglike, let it all go down,
Into the city's squeezed-out boil of poisons,
Stirred to one colour by the rush to ocean,
Seepage released from cinemas and prisons,Rainwater rainbowed from the roads' commotion;
Drain my whole mind, that the returning tide
Will bring me back, I hope, sea-bright, sea-wide.
The graves are gloomy in the rain today,But I have seen them have a holiday,When they have slowly danced from dawn to night
With their own shadows turning in the light,
When the guide blackbirds, standing on the stones,Explained the vague emotions of the bones.And butterflies have brushed them with their wings,And children's fingers – many passing things
Have hoped a touch might teach their ignorance,And though unfathomable, the response
Still stirs the touchers, as a lovely face
Unmoved by flowers, still gives the bringer grace.
This is the image in the eyes
Of the child upon the throne
Of his mother: he who crucifies
Both of them in himself alone.
But there can be no reprieve,
The child is safe in heaven today,And feels no horror to relieve,Sees no reason to delay
In the lap of what he made,Where mutual fate gives cause and grace,
Alone of all things unafraid,Smiling on his own tortured face
That struggles to remember now,
And then, remembering, grows still,Childhood returning to the brow
That thorns will age upon the hill.
Now summer in her loveliness is here,I ask her will she join me for a beerAt the Stag's Head? She gets up very early,
Her eyes are blue, her hair is green and curly.
She tells me not to treat her like a lady,She says my dealings would be far more shadyUnder her trees. We try to make a timeTo meet. She speaks non-sequiturs in rhyme.She tells me in an accent of DecemberNot to be always trying to rememberThe present. Now the talk is all of her
On the high hills, how in her lightest fur
She walks among the gorse. She has three names.I call them out and she bursts into flames.
ENTERTAINING THE HANGED MAN
Sunburst of trumpets.
Now, from the hills all around,In a rush of colour,
Here come the clowns.
For one this highly strung,
Swarms of distractions:
Each croaked blasphemy drowned by a legionShrill in pink. And now, as the blood curtains,
In a fresh sluice, at a heave
Of the cave-stomach, panther,
Jaguar and ostrich come prancing
With excellent imitation of intelligence.
Fights its way out through the teeth:
And the trees twisting hand in hand.
For one hanging in the wind
Out of Iceland:
A strong story
And passionate acting.
But now the executioners,
To entertain themselves,Start to execute the entertainers.Blackness, breakdown. (Larksong.)
Flesh splits flesh like mountains breaking out of mountains,Scatterings of spirit seeds grope with slow oak limbs.But smile at the tired smile putting down a phone as another
Wakes up and cries.
Swish-swish the monitor, telling of pressure
In a tight place, tracked at depth
Like the last crewmemberBanging on the inside of the sub's hull with a spanner.
Someone is crying up here, she is peering
From the edge of herself, bad news has surfaced
From down where her love circlesIn shoals, in blind glittering schools.
But you my little one, there you are, there you are,
In black and white, bird-boned.Still breathing at ease in the deep through your stomach and
Planning on being an old woman.
A CAPTIVE WOOD.
Yesterday's country, that was clear and bright,Has been all but smudged out, a loss of sightBeginning near the ground. The fields cling small,As beads of water sag a spidersweb,
That once rayed proud. The wind, a seabird fresh
From beaches where the dark sea lay smashed white,That lifted brightness through the trees, now pipes
In a small place. The buzzard, that was just
An iris-speck, now hunches in its mac,
The sheep have changed their language, that goes soaked
With grumbling steps like those whose walk is work.But it was not bright here. A ten-foot fenceTo keep the deer in keeps the clear days out.
I TRIED TO KEEP HOLD OF FIVE SECONDS
Blood type rejection, skin ungrafting, library smoke in suction blast, card index
hurricane, lung exhaled with the breath, wolf escaping by eating itself.
Shall never again attempt even to keep
Even smaller bursts of collapse, not even
One millionth of a millionth of a second, That split atom.
Bird crying in the tree all day,
Young buzzard grizzling a week of rain,
Complaining – after that curve so tight
Straining the blue lights through the yellow light,
And the twigboat tossed and the fight
For the dangled scraps of death,
And then the valley crossed in a breath,
Swelling in and shrinking out its riverlight,
How can I peck this wet light,
Me, hunched wet-feathered lump,
Till the stars and the tinier stars
And the tiniest stars, are cracks -
Day starts, a blast of air.
In the green smoke of the wood,
The low Dog's Mercury burning,
Keep on, keep walking.
Flickers of song entwine
With your brain's flickering.
Open the door, sit down
With the saints who are sitting
In the white of the fire
As if it was their living room.
A REPLY TO THE LIGHT
WOMAN ON A TRAIN SEEN FIRST SITTING THEN STANDING.
God in his workshop, whistling all the while,
Shaping your face from sudden shifts of cloud
And glances of the light, with a sly smileScooping out just enough to make you proud,
From the deep pot that stands dark at his side,
As with his fingertips he works light well
Into the dark, which in good time will glide,
Sudden as dreamsongs into a death cell,
Out of those snowcaves in through someone's eyes.
He pauses, snorting at the race of men,
Thinking of the faint pipistrelles of sighs
He has created indirectly – then,
Becoming female, changes her great mind,
And gives you short legs and a big behind.
We are four cormorants flying
Away to the east.
Not in the least geese,
Not pigeons. Primitive birds.
You would not have to take away
Much from us to make us nothing.Strip us to a flying spine,
Put an end to everything.
Still we come round again,
In a different world, the same
Four cormorants flying.
AFTER SOME MONTHS.
They say they saw you in the cafe
We once adorned, still looking clever,A girl with many things to say,That she will not, to anyone, ever,
As if one life was not enough.
They say I missed you by a day;
I wandered round the empty city;
They say you will be back on Teusday,And so, it seems to me, will I,
As if one life was not enough.
I'll make myself invisible,Or like the steam that leaves your tea;
You won't have to smile or not to smile,But you will see the street through me,As if one life was not enough.
And if they'd say I'll never die,
I'd find a warm and not damp wood,And there forget you if I could,
But as it is I dare not try,As if one life was not enough.
Although you'll say you don't know why,
I'll strike a line across your night,
Like a nostalgic meteorite,That struggles back into the sky,As if one life was not enough.
From 'White Crane to Litang'
songs of the Six Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyamtso, 1695-1720
As I was looking to the southI saw the bright moon rise,Smiling with my true love's mouth
And shining with her eyes.
Mister take your eyes off me,Look up high in the old peach tree,Put tobacco in your pipeAnd suck – these peaches are not ripe.
Night after night all night I go
Over love's mountain through the snow,To wake more weary than the dead,
In the sad valley of my bed.
Swan by the water's face
That you kiss and you kiss;
When the water turns to ice,You will forget this.
ADVICE IN HIGH WIND
Cling to the bottom of the skywhere it’s ribbed, roofed, raftered,clotted thick in lumps, cross-thatched,
sheltering from itself in the lee of walls,
or of woods, strained thin.
Keep close, keep tucked in.
Give in to your wings
and it will bowl you straight-armed
straight up the air
at invisible wickets,
shattered through wall after wall
of nothing till
you reach its topmost height,
where it is not
Through the flat air
a square kingfisher.
Cuboid lilies rise
from octagonal pads and
by the parallel banks a nymph sitting
with both her arms cut off,
but still smiling.
DEAD RAT IN THE LANE
the emperor of alleyways
swift king of vanishing
and impossible gaps
is escaping again
now with his frenzied attendants undressing him
he gets away again
in two days
Dead, dead and dead. Now heavy in its webbing,
The carrier bag of guts. Self-lifting system
Now all downpooled; shut down, the purifiers. Sleep disappearing from comparison
Like a man swimming in a fishsuit, nothinged
When the big fish goes by, in the black ocean.
Boneframe irrelevant to flesh now cleaving
Only from habit, following traditions’
Forgotten meaning. Insomnia’s bluegreen,
Depression’s eyeshadow of dawnless mornings,
Utterly outdone. Irises unwidened
By changes in the day, spine free of gravity’s
Increase at evening. Plankwood and iron pins
Now brotherly and full of fellow-feeling.
Yet what’s this flicker at the deep of reason,
Like a sea-monster on the sonar, circling,
As your eye slides along the chin-spar, noting
Cuneiform at the mouth’s edge, that is pushing
Into your childed mind, its deathless impression?
A slight slug has dragged
A redbrown stain halfway across
A sheet of paper and there lies dead,
Stuck to the paper. The paper
Has completely dried it out.
At this point stop.
cargoed in vesicles
flung with Columbus,
under the heartbroken stars
searching for virgins.
land moans staked out naked
warm she calls on heat always in season
spreads her estuaries
breathless mountains pressed against heaven.
by frantic navigation.
sperm battalions discharging
armoured and hoofed
sharp lance opening vulvas.
many big deaths
die in the breach make space
for everlasting advance
into abwhored vacuum.
sperm on the parapet dashing about
in the sharp air on the edge of the trench
over the top flowing
into the ragged void
ripped by the big guns.
scales the balcony rhyming
under the heartbroken stars.
now eyes and stars meet
space always on heat void calling
come to me come quick quick my darling my darling.
globes of love.
peppered space calling.
into the virgin stars
the void’s need
ten night eight seven six five four three two one
Rat you are too fat
rat you are trapped
in the trap of a rat.
Hiding in fewness, shopped
by your womb’s abacus,
from invisible slimness pushed out
by your intricate foot.
to your tail’s last 0.00
Rat you are trapped
in the brilliance of rat.
Rat rat rat rat
how will you get out of that?
the owl has looked at me.
Black sky behind,head inclined slightly.
One moment, two moments, three.
Now all the black I have looked at
is looking at me.
Hard work to turn the world. At the first whistle
they are up, the encouragers, all bustle and throstle,
the stars, fully charged, sink back into their sockets,
dogs do their job of barking,
the undead cars cough their first breath,
drift into position,
till all the veins of the land are lava-flowing;
heat oranges the horizon’s engine,
pavements are stilleto’d awake, morse to Hades,
cigarettes wave their miniature banners
trains butt through the red rag of hurt darkness
till everyone is at their stations.
tight sprung clock-concentration.
a scurrying under hedges and
one or two squirrels on thin boughs malingering but
slowly now it is turning, it is turning,
the vast grindstone, thick oxcart wheel, steel roller
crackling over the stars’ gravel
LATER THE SAME DAY
in their glass towers the navigators
have stared all day with new-moon eyes,
with laptop-tapping of fingers,
have all but snapped the axle of reason
now it comes, at last, confirmation:
the correct stars rising in confederation
pierced by relief, they collapse,
stare out through steel frames
into the predicted evening
TREES IN WIND
Rip-your-head-off drunk, the Bacchantes,
who have washed down pills with packs of special witch’s brew,
twist their fists into the grass and shake their heads and
thrash them round
as if to fatigue the skull from the neckbone,
or shake the rooted thoughts out
or shake the snakes, if they were gorgons,
and still they shriek and shake and
will shake and shriek everlasting hell until,
blind to their own splintered limbs scattered all around,
rainbow-comforted weeping asleep they croon.
Beyond Nig, and scottermost edges,
where the north sea whets its blades on the legs of the rigs
on to where the Kursk is a husk,
across the nuclear wastes,
the empty villages,
a billion identical trees,
the slavestreets, carcases of factories,
flayed and crucified and garrotted machinery,
the army towns, whatever,
abandoning maps, and even geography,
on, on, past iciest vagueness,
where never fact travelled,
to the very pinnacle
or the edge, if there is an edge,
and you are there, then,
only a gap, a jump, a drop of space between
your burnt-black self and
her majesty of the morning and evening
Massively the village
once heaved itself into its grave:
mill, bakery, school, post office, pub,
sinking-extinguished arctic convoy,
till only the vicar has work,
and the gravedigger,
who will just lie down in the ground
when he has buried his master.
All worksongs boxed
except those of worshippers,
that butterfly out of the tower for one Sunday hour;
invisible dead sky-whale of silence then filled
by the strimmer
forever and ever and ever.
But look – down there
in the punk architecture
of the grass –
a creature made of green straw.
Bull-masked miniature Cretan bull-leaper,
tense with our entire attention.
in the flailed lane,
his arrhythmic string looped commentary
on the slow grand prix of the stars
We are very near the end.
No flesh, no bones, no brain.No charm.
No auguries in this jagged flight.
Thief at the mouth, carrying off
the last light remarks.
Noticeable only when it settles
on dead conversations.
We are very near the end of thought
just looking at it.
wingtip-writing on the sky invisibly,
cup of a y maybe one mile wide,
tail a deep dive, or downglide,
and recover. Then rub it all out,
then self also erased: gone,
then there again between houses,
writer without ambition,
and gone again
and reappears plural,
but still nothing –
over and over again writing and rubbing out nothing,
gone again leaving nothing
but blots and traceless drifting unrealised notions
Hastily flung together out of found materials –
scraps of feather and bone mudstained,
and the light off the river,
I must now nevertheless,
in obedience to my ordained
but still slapdash creation,
with all my gathered powers
(a small fanatical force)
put back together this place
that has been ingeniously ripped apart
by an insanely complex intellect.
(So I suppose.)
These are my gifts:
a dash of rush,
simultaneous presence at all points of the compass.
With these alone, I, alone, must
simplify, for heaven’s sake,
this collapsing slag heap,
pick out the one clean grain
from among filthy billions.
Thanks for my bee-busy wings!
Tidy mind!The tide of forgetting!
I’m walking through the rooms of my dead body.
Light is escaping through the windows, rising
like coloured steam; by long accumulation
compressed into thick boards, but now by seconds
returning to the sun, untwisting from
the fibres of itself, accelerating
as it ascends, like leafsmoke when it climbs
into the wind, suddenly young again.
Patches of brickwork spreading show the pace
of the unbuilding – now whole summers flaking
from the high ceilings fall but falling, lighten,
and fly out of the windows. On a landing
two old officials sit, among the scuttling
of the disintegrating decorations,
and the oil paintings whose green leaves are falling;
they stare at chess, and have not heard, it seems,
and I can’t make them hear. The statue room
is almost empty. The last figures redden
and step down. Documents will be supplied,
and maps, and they will slip away disguised
over the border. Look – that sleepy-spry
cat curled up in the corner of your eye.
And in the east, the moon
blasts off, a slow explosion,
rises, on budget, unmanned,
half-helmet stuffed with light,
into position, docking
by Babylonian arithmetic
with its dark side, waiting.
Now the descent,
watched by hushed trees in the screens
of every pond and puddle and stream,
re-entry through the blaze of dawn
and splashdown in daylight’s
Lover without hands
or lips or visible skin,
or soft feet to press together
in the first cold under the covers
lover whose lizard claws
clutch at the tree’s bones,
no words of deferring
or any defence,
in the day or the night,
phonecalls or photos or rings
Fixed by a spear
through the heart to your theme
of the one, of the one
out on a limb
that is out on a limb
that is out on a limb
of the afternoon stars,
sharp mask held up, up
in the cold and the crippling wind
of your own lovesong
SAVED BY BIRDS AGAIN.
Dust in the head’s abandoned library,
abstract mice in the weak spines feasting,
words turned to nothing droppings.
Reach in a magic hand, scoop them out and scatter them:
rabble of real sparrows in the dust-puddles scrambling
to the empty hedge now chattering kindergarten.
Increase of cries in the ears all night, curled skeleton
a leaking refugee boat
and the chorus of the waters merciless.
Reach in a magic hand, scatter all the scratching sounds:
stick in the morning trees,
Razors racing in the heart’s soft corridors,
cutting in their rush, the castle walls of sodden cotton.
Reach in a magic hand, scoop them out and scatter them:
fishingfleet of seagulls,
silver-blade calls here and there-ing
random slashes in the clouds, scarred golden.
Heaviest stone in the head, world-headstone,
swan has evolved wings wide for carrying
right round the riverbend
and dropping, bouncing-baby-bomb!
Absolute verdict of the night now imminent,
tick-tock axeblades forward marching.
Endlessly riposted by starlings filibustering,
unravelling with their irrelevance tight arguments,
splicing scillia, quite happy all day long
to quibble on an aerial
till night with a magic hand
scoops them up and scatters them
Quick gull starving for river
over the identical mountains;
shrugging and shrugging through
the grey wool above London.
What superior beings
are they who sustain
lives above roof height
with their empty baked bean tins?
I walk through the rooms of my dead body,
fibres comprised of thousands of hours
compacted into boards and plaster,
much faster than they were formed, returning to
the sun or the stars, with increasing speed
like leafsmoke rising in a clump till it meets the wind
and then races away in a thin stream;
plaster, interior skin, now flaking:
each flake a day, inner side stained
with stored dreams; and now whole summers
peel off and glide out of the window
that is itself vanishing out through itself,
becoming its view;
on the rags of a landing two old officials sit staring
at a chessboard whose pieces are starving,
everything around them scuttling and rattling -
an oil painting’s green leaves smashing
like glass on the burning ground;
a room full of statues, most gone;
one flushes and steps down;
in the doorway is handed
documents and a disguise,
to slip over the border –
there, that cat curled up in your eye’s corner –
THE COCK IS SCREECHING IN THE HENHOUSE
The cock is screeching in the henhouse.
Light like the scent of sex
leaks through the cracks in the wood.
Again he shrieks.
Delicate birds with their beaks touch the air’s invisible strings.
The visible nerves of the trees, this winter dawn,
wait to be shocked into squawks or stroked into soft songs.
Again in the wounded gloom he is shrieking,
all round him his wives like small rainclouds,
shifting a millimetre and then
shifting back again,
opening an eye of water.
The weight of night is draining away
like the weight of a cancer patient;
the weight of light is impossible,
increasing like the grief of the relatives;
again and again he screeches, and beats his wings,
as the light bites him like lice.
All the outside birds are now ranged in the trees
like thoughts in a brain, calling their connections;
he screams like Christ and strains his wings,
and the wives shift and shift back again,
and now the traffic is flowing to a stop and flowing again,
people are walking, even dogs are set loose,
freighters appear out of the mist, with boasting of foghorns;
his screeches increase and increase again,
but look now, look, it is lifting,
the black roof of the henhouse like a hat
is lifting right off, it has blown right off
and the cock is exploding
azure and scarlet and tangerine
out of the henhouse
and all of the hens, like damp flames,
are fluffing their feathers and shaking their heads and
turning back into chickens
Who will pick up the pigeon
that rings and rings
under the eaves this morning?
Gives up, tries again,
urgent enough to try a third time.
Love or death alone enough
to make it try again now a fourth time;
who will pick up the pigeon?
OUT OF POLITENESS
Out of politeness
the rooves sit still on the houses,
and the chimneys stick up two fingers
because that is expected.
Because they were brought up like that
the gulls float right over,
dropping at most one wingbeat.
Compliant to disaster,
the rain will drive us all indoors,
where we will sit shivering
and dying out of politeness.
How many trainloads of weariness
have passed slowly through,
trucks full of waste heading west,
Here comes another one,
off to the slag place,
where it will turn round
and head back east empty
FOR DAVID AND JULIET
I saw your love this afternoon –
ignorant crowflight out of evergreens,
(firs huddled in a thick of memory)
and then the river hurrying
slowly, the wrong way,
its message completely,
lost among the listening reeds. And then
a yellow-lichened churchtower asking,
confused by sermons,
Am I a daffodil? And then
the sky slow-licking the world:
are you my calf? And you were
stopping my speeches with anemones.
LOVE ALL AT ONCE.
Love all at once – heart bursting into head,
Every not yet and now and vanished instant - :
Would crack the brain, like as if all the dead,
Those who will be and those who are at present,
Sucked, great star-cloud, into a garden shed,
Or every rose-seed crammed into one case,
Growing one rose, with the whole world, its bed,
Squeezed in the talon roots. The human race,
Its final number, has to be outspread,
Like refugees on a long road, flung dots
Of difference, fields not murdered into bread,
And roses have to grow in separate spots;
And I have got to love you bit by bit: -
Flashes of scraps, like windows headlight-lit.