In the Waiting Room with Leonard Cohen
In the hospital waiting room, seated in my plastic chair,
I think about Leonard Cohen and start quietly to cry.
I’m glad no one is watching, because I can see
the childish indulgence of it all—the displacement of my personal self-pity
onto the cadaverous Canadian singer
whom one critic called “the world’s leading producer
of songs advocating suicide.”
Yet it comes from somewhere deep, this sobbing
sympathy for Leonard Cohen,
and I don’t care if it’s dishonest, there is nourishment
in these wet tears. I sense
I’m irrigating my own dirty life
with something clean and fresh, like rain, from far away.
Still, crying is violent and weird and hard.
It is like pulling something free from something else
that doesn’t want to give it up,
and keeps on pulling back with a wheezing, ripping sound.
Outside the window,
it’s not quite sleeting in the gray morning
and I see umbrellas popping open far below;
the sidewalks slowly growing dark and stained with wet,
as cabs speed through the gloom with headlights on.
I’m not doing that well in this waiting room today,
but I’m glad that Leonard Cohen is here,
because I feel like I’m stuck half inside and half out
of one of his songs—
a place where angels have not been seen in years;
where ugliness presents itself with a kind of roguish charm.
In the reflection of the window,
I see his face—his furrowed mouth, the wet black eyes
and that great curved hatchet of a nose:
an expert witness on the death of God;
a master at the art of being broken
in order to be made.
Who would have imagined?
Me in the hospital, with Leonard Cohen,
and still too ignorant to die;
still trying to learn a few of these fundamental things
before the pallbearers arrive:
What Grief Is Good For;
What Imagination Can and Cannot Do.
How to work with this suspicion
that I am the one responsible
for letting the dove out of the coffin.
The Copper Beech
Marie Howe, from ‘What the Living Do’
Immense, entirely itself,
it wore that yard like a dress,
with limbs low enough for me to enter it
and climb the crooked ladder to where
I could lean against the trunk and practice being alone.
One day, I heard the sound before I saw it,
rain fell darkening the sidewalk.
Sitting close to the centre, not very high in the branches,
I heard it hitting the high leaves, and I was happy,
Watching it happen without it happening to me.
How to Be Perfect
Everything is perfect, dear friend.
Get some sleep.
Don’t give advice.
Take care of your teeth and gums.
Don’t be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don’t be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.
Eat an orange every morning.
Be friendly. It will help make you happy.
Raise your pulse rate to 120 beats per minute for 20 straight minutes
four or five times a week doing anything you enjoy.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Know that the desire to be perfect is probably the veiled expression
of another desire—to be loved, perhaps, or not to die.
Make eye contact with a tree.
Be skeptical about all opinions, but try to see some value in each of them.
Dress in a way that pleases both you and those around you.
Do not speak quickly.
Learn something every day. (Dzien dobre!)
Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.
Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball
Wear comfortable shoes.
Design your activities so that they show a pleasing balance
Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious. When you
become old, be kind to young people. Do not throw your cane at
them when they call you Grandpa. They are your grandchildren!
Live with an animal.
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
If you need help, ask for it.
Cultivate good posture until it becomes natural.
If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.
Plan your day so you never have to rush.
Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you
have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.
Do not waste money you could be giving to those who need it.
Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.
When you borrow something, return it in an even better condition.
As much as possible, use wooden objects instead of plastic or metal
Look at that bird over there.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have
expressed a desire to kill you.
Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?
Sing, every once in a while.
Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy
Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.
Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.
Do not practice cannibalism.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do
anything to make it impossible.
Take your phone off the hook at least twice a week.
Keep your windows clean.
Extirpate all traces of personal ambitiousness.
Don’t use the word extirpate too often.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Do not wander through train stations muttering, “We’re all going to
Count among your true friends people of various stations of life.
Appreciate simple pleasures, such as the pleasure of chewing, the
pleasure of warm water running down your back, the pleasure of a
cool breeze, the pleasure of falling asleep.
Do not exclaim, “Isn’t technology wonderful!”
Learn how to stretch your muscles. Stretch them every day.
Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
If you burn your finger, put it in cold water immediately. If you bang
your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for twenty
minutes. You will be surprised by the curative powers of coldness and
Learn how to whistle at earsplitting volume.
Be calm in a crisis. The more critical the situation, the calmer you
Enjoy sex, but don’t become obsessed with it. Except for brief periods
in your adolescence, youth, middle age, and old age.
Contemplate everything’s opposite.
If you’re struck with the fear that you’ve swum out too far in the
ocean, turn around and go back to the lifeboat.
Keep your childish self alive.
Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.
Cry every once in a while, but only when alone. Then appreciate
how much better you feel. Don’t be embarrassed about feeling better.
Do not inhale smoke.
Take a deep breath.
Do not smart off to a policeman.
Do not step off the curb until you can walk all the way across the
street. From the curb you can study the pedestrians who are trapped
in the middle of the crazed and roaring traffic.
Walk down different streets.
Remember beauty, which exists, and truth, which does not. Notice
that the idea of truth is just as powerful as the idea of beauty.
Stay out of jail.
In later life, become a mystic.
Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.
Visit friends and acquaintances in the hospital. When you feel it is
time to leave, do so.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.
Read and reread great books.
Dig a hole with a shovel.
In winter, before you go to bed, humidify your bedroom.
Know that the only perfect things are a 300 game in bowling and a
27-batter, 27-out game in baseball.
Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink,
say, “Water, please.”
Ask “Where is the loo?” but not “Where can I urinate?”
Be kind to physical objects.
Beginning at age forty, get a complete “physical” every few years
from a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with.
Don’t read the newspaper more than once a year.
Learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “chopsticks”
Belch and fart, but quietly.
Be especially cordial to foreigners.
See shadow puppet plays and imagine that you are one of the
characters. Or all of them.
Take out the trash.
Use exact change.
When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.
A Hundred Bolts of Satin By Kay Ryan
have to lose
and the mind
all the way back.
to have been
to have been
life: a crate of
a dozen dozen
bolts of satin—
Kay Ryan, “A Hundred Bolts of Satin” from Say Uncle (2000)
If Bach had been a beekeeper
If Bach had been a beekeeper
he would have heard
all those notes
suspended above one another
in the air of his ear
as the differentiated swarm returning
to the exact hive
and place in the hive,
topping up the cells
with the honey of C major,
food for the listening generations,
key to their comfort
and solace of their distress
as they return and return
to those counterpointed levels
of hovering wings where
movement is dance
and the air itself
a scented garden
By Charles Tomlinson
From Skywriting , Carcanet (2003)
Lacklight by John Clegg
we saw it as a kind of ersatz light,
a soupy substitute which shucked the hems
and wrinkles from our objects. That was nice.
And later on we came to love the dark
for what it really was –admired how
(unlike a candle) it could fill a room,
(unlike a torch) it focused everywhere,
(unlike a streetlamp) it undid the moths,
(unlike a porchlight) anywhere was home,
(unlike a star) it couldn’t be our scale.
In utter darkness, we were halfway down.
Then came the age of lacklight, loss of measure,
darkness turned inside to cast a darkness
on itself. Though ‘age’ would make it finite.
Perhaps we’re stuck there, straining in the lacklight.
Still, across the last however long,
I’ve noticed something budding, vaguely sensed
a nerve untie and reconnect itself.
I think my lacklight eye is almost open.
From ‘Holy Toledo!’ 2016, Carcanet
High Speed Trap Space
By Les Murray
Speeding home from town
in rainy dark. For the narrowness
of main roads then, we were hurtling.
A lorry on our tail, bouncing, lit our mirrors,
twinned strawberries kept our lights down
and our highway lane was walled
in froth-barked trees. Nowhere to swerve –
but out between trunks stepped an animal,
big neck, muzzle and horns, calmly gazing
at the play of speed on counter-speed.
Its front hooves up, planted on the asphalt
and our little room raced on to a beheading
or else to be swallowed by the truck’s high bow.
No dive down off my seat would get me low
enough to escape the crane- swing of that head
and its imminence of butchery and glass.
But it was gone.
The monster jaw must have recoiled
in one gulp to give me my survival.
My brain was still full of the blubber lip,
the dribbling cud. In all but reality
the bomb stroke had still happened.
Ghost glass and blurts of rain still showered
out of my face at the man
whose straining grip had had
to refuse all swerving.
From Waiting for the Past
( Carcanet, 2015)
Try to Praise the Mutilated World
By Adam Zagajewski
From Without End: New and Selected Poems, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)
From Sentimental and Naive poetry,
Dan Sociu, translated from Romanian
by Oana Sanziana Marian
We climbed out of the car, me to smoke,
you to collect ladybirds. We both
stopped near a tree-stump, made
two children, and in a year the storm took
our roof off. Another year burned
our little summer kitchen
to the ground. We endured hard winters,
snows that stuck and couldn’t be
unstuck from our skin. The clouds whizzed by
electrifying my beard. The children grew,
but our gazes remained young.
I threw out the cigarette butt, you put the bugs
in your pockets. We left the stump
behind, turned back to the road, to the car.
Published in Modern Poetry in Translation.
Prosedy 101, by Linda Pastan
When they taught me that what mattered most
was not the strict iambic line goose-stepping
over the page but the variations
in that line and the tension produced
on the ear by the surprise of difference,
I understood yet didn’t understand
exactly, until just now, years later
in spring, with the trees already lacy
and camellias blowsy with middle age,
I looked out and saw what a cold front had done
to the garden, sweeping in like common language,
unexpected in the sensuous
extravagance of a Maryland spring.
There was a dark edge around each flower
as if it had been outlined in ink
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
between the expected and actual
was like that time I came to you, ready
to say goodbye for good, for you had been
a cold front yourself lately, and as I walked in
you laughed and lifted me up in your arms
as if I too were lacy with spring
instead of middle aged like the camellias,
and I thought: so this is Poetry!
From ‘A Fraction of Darkness’ (Norton,1985)
Those Winter Sundays, by Robert Hayden, 1913 – 1980
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Visitation, Mark Doty
When I heard he had entered the harbour,
and circled the wharf for days,
I expected the worst: shallow water,
confusion, some accident to bring
the young humpback to grief.
Don’t they depend on a compass
lodged in the salt-flooded folds
of the brain, some delicate
musical mechanism to navigate
their true course? How many ways,
in our century’s late iron hours,
might we have led him to disaster?
That, in those days, was how
I’d come to see the world:
dark upon dark, any sense
of spirit an embattled flame
sparked against wind-driven rain
till pain snuffed it out. I thought,
This is what experience gives us ,
and I moved carefully through my life
while I waited. . . Enough,
it wasn’t that way at all. The whale
—exuberant, proud maybe, playful,
like the early music of Beethoven—
cruised the footings for smelts
clustered near the pylons
in mercury flocks. He
(do I have the gender right?)
would negotiate the rusty hulls
of the Portuguese fishing boats
—Holy Infant, Little Marie—
with what could only be read
as pleasure, coming close
then diving, trailing on the surface
big spreading circles
until he’d breach, thrilling us
with the release of pressured breath,
and the bulk of his sleek young head
—a wet black leather sofa
already barnacled with ghostly lice—
and his elegant and unlikely mouth,
and the marvelous afterthought of the flukes,
and the way his broad flippers
resembled a pair of clownish gloves
or puppet hands, looming greenish white
beneath the bay’s clouded sheen.
When he had consumed his pleasure
of the shimmering swarm, his pleasure, perhaps,
in his own admired performance,
he swam out the harbor mouth,
into the Atlantic. And though grief
has seemed to me itself a dim,
salt suspension in which I’ve moved,
blind thing, day by day,
through the wreckage, barely aware
of what I stumbled toward, even I
couldn’t help but look
at the way this immense figure
graces the dark medium,
and shines so: heaviness
which is no burden to itself.
What did you think, that joy
was some slight thing?
Nativity, by Sheri Benning
After it all, November sky
over our razed fields,
a boiled bone, a bloodless lung.
Flax stubble, ash and spent wicks.
Thin smoke in the middle distance,
as though harvest was a war –
at thaw the armor will roll out, dig in,
begin again. But then the bluing eastern horizon,
sheen on worn iron, and suddenly snow fell.
Hip-high drifts blown against the garden fence.
You wanted to walk outside so I found our winter coats
in the basement closet. Still holding our shape.
I thought of matted pasture grass
where a deer has lain. Sleeping
spoor of the body woven into wool –
dust, old hair, sweat, cologne. In the snow
we were made new. Snow, a cool chrism
on last season’s wounds. You laughed
as a child can, unburdened,
mouth open, face to sky,
snow melting on your tongue.
Head shorn from surgery,
in your brown coat you looked like a happy monk,
so I joined you. Dizzy with praise and falling
snow, we sank to our knees, rose
again into the frosted clouds of our breath,
and breathed in those small ghosts
of who we were just moments before.
St Brendan Explains to the Angel,
by Maura Dooley
You cannot understand this bog
how it seeps under the rock and broods,
how this hillside’s green
forces me from here, silent, fearful.
Nor how this hand of stone simmers
in a cool sea, great slabs of it tear
a leather boat or barb an angel,
slapping at the waves, beaching the frail fish,
and the sun a crack in a stormy sky
where Lucifer always falls, is falling now.
From ‘Explaining Magnetism’, Bloodaxe, 1991
From The Lark. The Thrush. The Starling
(Poems from Issa)
That the world
to end someday
does not concern
it’s time to
build your nest,
From Bloodaxe New and Selected, 1995
On Not Being George W. Bush,
by Peter Sansom
The ice-cream carpet, that was one of mine.
And powdered water, wine-gum wine,
jelly windows, see-through cats;
and yo-yo cornflakes, interstellar bobble-hats-
all mine. And mud television and underwater sky,
not to mention the Who What Why
Book of Bread. But the river of the recent dead,
that was some other guy.
From Selected poems, Carcanet, 2010
Noir, by Nick Drake
He walked by night, the disillusioned gangster
Depending on darkness for his shadow power,
Fearing no evil, demanding truth,
Evading the reveal of dawn’s weak light-
Or so I’ve got him down in my dark book;
An image made of paper and black ink;
Oppose this with a summer memory;
Driving through country lanes, all windows down,
A bag of plums between us; spitting stones
From his cool smile- how they shot away
Like bullets at his adversary, the wind
Which couldn’t catch us; I fed him blue plums
As he drove into the harvest smoke’s dead end –
Then out the other side, into the sun.
From ‘From the Word Go’ , Bloodaxe, 2007
High Notes, by Vona Groarke
On a train threading the eye of north
it is nothing to begin to collapse
the various silence the city required of me:
to find in the high notes of the brakes
the scarlet lining of a dark coat
or the single lit office on a top floor;
to listen for the shape of a name
through glass at a station stop;
to observe the fields of an afternoon,
the way they chase each other down
in the kind of blue that learned abstraction
moons ago, how they resolve themselves
into a love poem for no one in particular,
written to be open, for the sake of openness,
this night and every budding night inside.
Published in The Boston Review, September 2014
SWALLOWS, by Kathleen Jamie
I wish my whole battened
heart were a property
like this, with swallows
in every room — so at ease
they twitter and preen
from the picture frames
like an audience in the gods
before an opera
and in the mornings
wheel above my bed
in a mockery of pity
before winging it
up the stairwell
to stream out into light.
From ‘The Tree House’ , Picador 2004
by Brendan Kennelly
It came slowly.
Afraid of insufficient self-content
Or some inherent weakness in itself
Small and hesitant
Like children at the tops of stairs
It came through shops, rooms, temples,
Streets, places that were badly-lit.
It was a gift and took me unawares
And I accepted it.
From Familiar Strangers, New and Selected Poems 1960-2004
Bloodaxe books 2004.
by Maurice Riordan
It happened on the cinder path between the playing field
and the graveyard one afternoon in October
when all the leaves of the aspen flipped over
and stayed, the way a skirt might blow up and hold
in a gust of wind – except there was no wind,
one of those days when the thud of a football
hangs in the deadened air. But there was no thud,
no sound from man or bird. So I’d swear if I’d looked
at my watch just then the digits would have stuck
if I could have looked, for it must’ve been a time
when time was snagged in its fluid escapement
and in that lull no one can enter the world,
or leave it, the cars stand on the motorway,
the greyhound’s legs are knotted above the track,
a missile is framed in mid-flight, no sound
comes from the child’s mouth, the open beak,
and the shoal of herrings is a sculpted cloud
shimmering under the glass of rolling downs.
At this moment, when the joker palms the room-key,
the punching fist can be opened, the egg slipped back
under the nesting bird, and each of us could scurry
to forestall one mischance, or undo one wrong choice
whose thorn of consequence has lodged till now,
before whatever it is keeps the world scary
and true breaks loose. A squirrel turns tail
overhead, a chestnut rolls to the ground, and with it
a drawn-out scream arrives from childhood.
From ‘The Water Stealer’, Faber and Faber 2013
by Taha Muhammad Ali
At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!
But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.
Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbours he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.
But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbours or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.
April 15, 2006
Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin.
There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you
let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills
let the storm wash the plates
Carcanet Press Limited, 1968
Pathology of Colours
I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
but not when it ripens in a tumour;
and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
in limbs that fester are not springlike.
I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
I have seen white, china white almost, stare
from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.
And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
than an autopsy when the belly’s opened –
to show cathedral windows never opened.
So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact
like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.
Comparisons by R.S Thomas
To all light things
I compared her, to
a snowflake, a feather.
I remember she rested
at the dance on my
arm, as a bird
on its nest lest
the eggs break, lest
she lean too heavily
on our love. Snow
are blown away;
I have let
her ashes down
in me like an anchor.
From ‘Residues,’ Bloodaxe Books 2002.
Brutalist by Paul Farley
Try living in one. Hang washing out to dry
and break its clean lines with your duds and smalls.
Spray tribal names across its subway walls
and crack its flagstobes so the weeds can try
their damnesdest. That’s the way. Fly-tip the lives
you led, out past its edge, on the back field;
sideboards and mangles made sense in the peeled
spud light of the old house but the knives
are out for them now. This cellarless, unatticked
place will shake the rentman off, will throw
open its arms and welcome the White Arrow
delivery fleet which brings the things on tick
from the slush piles of the seasonal catalogues.
The quilt boxes will take up residence
on the tops of white wardrobes, an ambulance
raise blinds, a whole geography of dogs
will make their presence felt. And once a year
on Le Corbusier’s birthday, the sun will set
bang on the pre-ordained exact spot
and that is why we put that slab just there.
One by one shopkeepers will shut
their doors for good. A newsagent will draw
the line at buttered steps. The final straw
will fill the fields beyond. Now live in it.
From ‘Tramp in Flames,’ Picador 2006
Midstream by Matt Merritt
From here both banks look equally unlikely.
Behind, the blue haze of years trails away
to a vanishing point that gains ground by the day.
Still sun-splashed, inviting enough, but you know
what crowds on either side of the path.
Ahead, the first footslopes of middle age
announce themselves with glacial erratics,
an occasional stand of pines, first skirmishers
of serried regiments that will stop at nothing.
And the water swirls higher, your feet getting
colder and wetter by the minute, your mind
wandering to where the milk and honey is,
wondering where they got to with the fresh horses.
From ‘Making the Most of the Light’ Happenstance,2005.
Children’s Song by R.S Thomas
We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.
The Solace Of Cupboards
by David Mark Williams
What it was that brought it about that first time,
he cannot now quite account for.
That day there was nothing untoward,
no crisis of any kind, only the usual pressures,
as telephones shredded the air,
the photocopier churning out more sets of minutes
rife with action points.
Then the moment came
when he rose abruptly from his desk
without a word to anyone, as if prompted
by something he had remembered,
slipped the stationery cupboard key off its hook,
and strode purposefully away.
He sensed the bewilderment
that followed him along the corridor
but that did not deflect him. He went inside
to immerse himself in the darkness there,
locking the door to ensure he would not be interrupted.
The benefit was immediate.
The stacked paper gave off no note,
the packs of pens were voiceless.
All that was visible around the door,
a thin beading of light.
Someone went by whose clotted breathing he recognised
but otherwise nothing to prevent him
expanding into an infinite dissolve
that was the solace he had been after.
Now this aberration has hardened into a habit,
one he is not prepared to forgo.
He believes he is the only one
to have fumbled upon this kind of escape
but there are legions like him everywhere,
standing alone for respite in dark places
until they are ready to be seen again.
The Sea Bird
Walking along beside the beach
where the Mediterranean turns in sleep
under the cliffs’ demiarch
through a curtain of thought I see
a dead bird and a live bird
the dead eyeless, but with a bright eye
the live bird discovered me
and stepped from a black roch into the air-
I turn from the dead bird to watch him fly,
electric, brilliant blue,
beneath he is orange, like flame,
colours I can’t belive are so,
as legendary flowers bloom
incendiary in tint, so swift he
searches about the sky for room,
towering like the cliffs of this coast
with his stilleto wing
and orange on his breast:
he has consumed and drained
the colours of the sea
and the yellow of this tidal ground
till he escapes the eye, or is a ghost
and in a moment has come down
crept into the dead bird, ceased to exist.
Published January 1943.
From Keith Douglas, Complete Poems.
Faber and Faber.
New Kid on the Tower Block
Balletic you tested each stair
with toe, pad and heel.
Your hand glided the banister
as you stopped to shake sunshine
into the dark staircase.
Your shirt held clouds
you’d clung onto on the rooftop.
I could see the skyline
in your legs poised like cranes.
That evening you brought in
the dank brook on your trousers.
You told me how the water
drank you as you waded her length
to find the unfamiliar way home.
Sonia Jarema was born in Luton to Ukrainian parents. This poem appeared on Ink Sweat and Tears and Sonia has kindly given permission to reprint it here. Other poems have appeared Every Day Poets and in several anthologies . In 2010 she was shortlisted for The Enfield Poetry Competition.
Sonia is currently working on a novel.
Advice to a Four Year Old on Her First Day of School
By Arundhathi Subramamiam.
is the sacred litany.
Right hand margins,
(without ruptures in the joineries),
sharpened HB pencils,
double finger spaces
fingers on lips.
who can play faries in end-of-term plays.
who don’t stick out at odd angles in the march past.
always equipped with compass boxes.
with dictions manicured by militant horticulturists.
who chorus good mornings in orchestrated D minor.
with tones so hushed it’s pardonable they don’t curtsey.
who don’t run into awkward lengths in 4 line report cards.
who prefer wrens and martins to day-dreaming.
who prefer daffodils to Venus fly traps.
Down to earth girls
who know that boys are extra terrestrial.
who belive that Pavlov’s dog will have his day.
From Kavya Bharti magazine, 2000.
Not an Owl, by John Fowles
Not an owl on the bough, after all;
but a patch of grey light forcing
through fir. A light-bird,
a bird-light. Retinal phantom.
Or poem to my shortening sight.
Adam Thorpe, editor of this selected, reviewed rather unfavorably here
says in an interview ‘I love his animal poems. Very brief and delicate and without a trace of the sentimental – and gentler than, say, Ted Hughes’s. ‘Not an Owl’. Fowles wife says of the poem
“JF wrote this early one morning, sitting at a small table in our bedroom in Belmont, it was so real because owls did sit in the big old pines outside the window, and at night we could hear them.”
Thorpe again- ‘The poem is also about ageing, of course. And disappointment. And seeing things imaginatively, which is what a writer is all about, in the end.’
By William Stafford, 1914-1993.
With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach
We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.
Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.
Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.
‘How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?’
‘As far as was needed,’
I said, and as I talked, I swam.
ABOUT TIME by Robin Robertson
In the time it took to hold my breath
and slip under the bathwater
-to hear the blood-thud in the veins,
for me to rise to the surface-
my parents had died,
the house had been sold and now
was being demolished around me,
wall by wall, with a ball and chain.
I swim one length underwater,
pulling myself up on the other side, gasping,
to find my marriage over,
my daughters grown and settled down,
the skin loosening
from my legs and arms
and this heart going
like there’s no tomorrow.
From The Wrecking Light, Picador 2010.
23rd July 2012
I subscribe to the wonderful Happenstance, producer of fine poetry pamphlets
run by poet Helena Nelson who lives in Scotland. The poem below arrived in the a few days ago and I had to post it here. Skillful, achingly tender, accurate and sincere, it is by the recently deceased Tom Duddy.
Sometimes, when she and I find ourselves
seated just inside the door of the hotel bar,
two or three young women will come prancing in,
all innocence, high-booted glamour, and
dark-eyed casting about, and she must wonder
out of the corner of her eye if I may not be
taking in too much. If she only knew
what a heavenly and carnal peace I feel
as my thoughts withdraw from the bare,
emblazoned backs and sweep down towards
her dear pale hands at rest in her lap, one
cupped inside the other, palm resting open.
21st July 2012
I can’t post this poem as it is laid out in The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1953-1965 selected, edited and translated by George Reavey. This blog will not allow me to format the poem with it’s original line lengths . I wanted to share the poem, and so I hope that anyone who whishes to see the original will look up the poem in it’s original form. I have also changed a line from ‘we have to go on’ to ‘we have to leave’. Maybe this is better, perhaps not. Either way, I think the meaning of this wonderful poem remains unchanged.
I Hung a Poem on a Branch
I hung a poem
on a branch.
it resists the wind.
” Take it down, don’t joke’
Stare in surprise.
Here’s a tree
waving a poem.
Don’t argue now. We have to leave.
“You don’t know it by heart!”
“That’s true, but I’ll write a fresh poem for you tomorrow.”
It’s not worth being upset by such trifles!
A poem’s not too heavy for a branch.
I’ll write as many as you ask for,
as many poems
as there are trees!
How shall we get on in the future together?
Perhaps, we shall soon forget this?
if we have trouble on the way,
bathed in light,
is waving a poem,
and smiling we’ll say:
“We have to leave…”
From The Poetry Of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1953-1965, Calder and Boyars, first published 1966.
Once again, magically
and without official notification,
it was the time of the year
for the pale-blue butterflies to arrive.
They came in their millions-
an army composed entirely of stragglers
filling the sky,
the gust-driven trash of migration.
Working in the garden,
bent on our solicitous pillage
of the strawberry beds,
out of the corners of our eyes
we saw the first of them descend.
What were we to these multitudinous creatures?
A point of reference
on the transcontinental journey
from A to B?
Hardly even that.
For a week they came
lighting on our favoured blooms,
as detachable as earrings,
but so common
that nobody, except the wobbliest of toddlers,
bothered to try to catch them.
Yet it was not exactly
a mutual indifference.
I’m sure that I was not alone
in feeling, as I do each year,
that this would be the perfect time
to mend the whole of one’s life.
Later, when the butterflies had gone,
we loaded our van with the last of the strawberries
and drove to town
to be given the official market price.
There followed an unscheduled
season of summer thunders:
somewhere at the back of the mind.
From Katerina Brac by Christopher Reid, Faber 1985.
Noon by John Clare
The mid day hour of twelve the clock counts oer
A sultry stillness lulls the air asleep
The very buzz of flye is heard no more
Nor one faint wrinkle oer the waters creep
Like one large sheet of glass the pool does shine
Reflecting in its face the burnt sun beam
The very fish their sturting play decline
Seeking the willow shadows side the stream
And where the awtorn branches oer the pool
The little bird forsaking song and nest
Flutters on dripping twigs his limbs to cool
And splashes in the stream his burning breast
O free from thunder for a sudden shower
To cherish nature in this noon day hour
From 101 Sonnets edited by Don Patterson, Faber 2002
By Adrienne Rich 1929–2012
From Poetry, 2012June 12th.
I’ll tell you, if you really want to know:
remember that day you lost two years ago
at the rockpool where you sat and played the jeweller
with all those stones you’d stolen from the shore?
Most of them went dark and nothing more,
but sometimes one would blink the secret colour
it had locked up somewhere in its stony sleep.
This is how you knew the ones to keep.
So I collect the dull things of the day
in which I see some possibility
but which are dead and which have surprise
I don’t know, and I’ve no pool to help me tell-
so I look at them and look at them until
one thing makes a mirror in my eyes
them I paint it with the tear to make it bright.
This is why I sit up through the night.
From ‘Rain’ ,Faber and Faber, 2009.
By London Bridge by Joanna Clark
June 21st 2010
By London Bridge, I saw three men.
The morning, the midsummer sun
beat on their bright white caps and gloves
and on their navy uniform.
Paltoon of preachers? Civic guard?
Schoolboy cadets?- Or servicemen.
They looked quite young but, of the three,
one wore a scarlet shoulder-sash
and all had medals, two of them, four.
They did not amble, march or strut
but, talking together, walked along,
the smallest walking in the middle.
And, as they came up to the crossing,
it seemed that one lost his footing,
said something quiet-maybe he swore-
and laughed, which made the others smile.
Then they walked on. Now, I’m not sure
what really happened, whether the middle
one really staggered as if the ground
moved under him, or simply tripped.
I know that, when he did, the others-
instantly, slightly- turned to him.
First published in THE RIALTO 71. winter 2010/11.
Teaching the Trumpet by Kim Moore
I say: imagine you are drinking a glass of air.
Let the coldness hit the back of your throat.
Raise your shoulders to your ears, now let
them be. Get your cheeks to grip your teeth.
Imagine you are spitting tea leaves
from your tongue to start each note
so each one becomes the beginning of a word.
Sing the note inside your head then match it.
At home lie on the floor and pile books
on your stomach to check your breathing.
Or try ad pin paper to the wall just by blowing.
I say: remember the man who played so loud
he burst a blood vessel in his eye? This was
because he was drunk, although I don’t tell
them that. I say it was because he was young,
and full of himself, and far away from home.
From If We Could Speak Like Wolves, smith/doorstop 2012.
Swans Mating by Michael Longley
Even now I wish that you had been there
Sitting beside me on the riverbank:
The cob and his pen sailing in rhythm
Until their small heads met and the final
Heraldic moment dissolved in ripples.
This was a marriage and a baptism,
A holding of breath, nearly a drowning,
Wings spread wide for balance where he trod,
Her feathers full of water and her neck
Under the water like a bar of light.
From Michael Longley Selected Poems 1998
The Life of Robert Frost by Tom Duddy
The place at which I keep the bookmark
in my condensed edition of the life
is the last page of the early years
in which the forty-year old poet
not long before the voyage back
to New England, grows dejected
and wonders if he’s lost the gift,
if gift indeed he ever had.
He can’t foresee the summer’s night
in Vermont, seven years on
in 1922, when he’ll work
through the small hours till dawn
stop for awhile to marvel at
himself and the first light, return
to the table and begin to write
the first words of a perfect poem.
As I switch from the page of doubt
to the page of triumph, back and forth,
like some child with a holographic toy,
I seem compelled to hold the poet
in England, full of doubt, and tilt him
forward to that summer’s night
just long enough for me to glimpse
the way a future shimmers there.
From The Small Hours by Tom Duddy,
And Yet The Books by Czeslaw Milosz
And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.
This poem taken from Scanning The Century, Penguin, Edited by Peter Forbes
I loved this poem from Matt’s last collection long before I understood it ( if indeed I do understand it, or need to). Matt is a wildlife journalist as well as a poet, and the poem conveys the obsessional intensity of a bird watcher. I’m still not sure as to what is bird and what is man in the poem, and I think this is what I find so mysterious and fascinating about the poem, along with its movement and technical skill. I looked up J.A Baker, himself a mysterious figure, and found some information which you can access via the link below the poem. A link to Matt Meritt’s blog, Polyolbion is on
the list on the right of this page.
Variations On A Theme By J.A Baker
walk from east to west
by hidden ways
sun at your back
looking for the places
they might be
pause at the corner
of time and space
two possibles mid-morning
then fuck all
cling to contours
afraid to let go of the earth
but test yourself
against the wind
density of air
of attack and hang
then notice how every
incline smoothes away
and all foreshortening
so many times
he has described this indistinct
knowing all the gaps
the rough margins
and secret places
the points at which
it is as well to go on
as turn back
he has mapped the shape
and compass of lives
the heavy progress of days
beaten the bounds
wearing his divinity
prey to your imaginings
in the owl-song hours
a long low murmur
slow beneath the skin
thrills the thicket of sleep
sends you out
beyond sound and sight
bare tops of trees
knotted with life
by first fingers of light
a tether pulled tight
as some wild hope
puts up another
heart in hiding
races it home
Nine Arches Press, 2010, reproduced with kind permision of Matt Merritt.
Link to J.A Baker article from The Independent here
The Power by Paul Farley
Forget all of that end-of-the-pier
palm-reading stuff. Picture a seaside town
in your head. Start from its salt-wrack-rotten smells
and raise the lid of the world to change the light,
then go as far as you want: the ornament
of a promenade, the brilliant greys of gulls,
the weak grip of a crane in the arcades
you’ve built, ballrooms to come alive at night,
then a million-starling roost, an opulent
crumbling like cake icing …
Now, bring it down
in the kind of fire that flows along ceilings,
that knows the spectral blues; that always starts
in donut fryers or boardwalk kindling
in the dead hour before dawn, that leaves pilings
marooned by mindless tides, that sends a plume
of black smoke high enough to stain the halls
of clouds. Now look around your tiny room
and tell me that you haven’t got the power.
From ‘The Dark Film’ by Paul Farley,
Enemy Encounter, by Padraic Fiacc
Dumping (left over from the autumn)
Dead leaves, near a culvert
I come on
a British Army Soldier
With a rifle and a radio
Perched hiding. He has red hair.
He is young enough to be my weenie
-bopper daughter’s boy-friend.
He is like a lonely little winter robin.
We are that close to each other, I
Can nearly hear his heart beating.
I say something bland to make him grin,
But his glass eyes look past my side-
the Shore Road Street.
I am an Irish man
and he is afraid
That I have come to kill him.
From Ruined Pages: Selected Poems by Padraic Fiacc, Blackstaff Press 1994.
Lines Written on the Norfolk Broads by Clare Pollard
We drifted through warm currents. Our hull chugged
past windmills-sails as useless as fishbones –
as Mallards raped, as Egyptian Geese shrugged,
and flocks of plastic bottles caught in reeds.
And then a glimpse of Kingfisher, it zagged –
sky-backed, sun-bellied, rainbowed – out of green.
Illumination in the margin inked
with lapis lazuli. Tiny machine!
And in that blurred half-second how I missed
the bird already – already the pang!
My mouth hadn’t the speed to shape the word
‘Kingfisher’, before it squeaked like the hinge
of a door shutting; pierced the water’s chest.
We churn on, through a world too slow, too fast.
From Changeling by Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe 2011
I’m Explaining a Few Things by Pablo Neruda
You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I’ll tell you all the news.
I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.
From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.
And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings —
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.
Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!
Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.
And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?
Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!
Easter, 1944 by John Lucas
A cold one. My father, home
briefly on leave, took me a promised walk.
My sister came too, holding hard to my hand.
There was a wind thrashed bare branches, made wires howl,
the flat, grey sky held no hope of sun. He was
strange to us and we did not talk.
In Lane End spinney he pointed to an old
tin bath half-hidden among weeds. I didn’t tell
him a tramp would sleep there, scaring little girls.
Trudging back, he spoke of walks we’d take
“When I am home for good.” But
I swerved from him, would not see his face.
There are dreams now in which I am kept to a road
under a lowering sky and I can’t tell
which way the children took or when they left.
Father, forgive my dry, incurious eyes.
From ‘Next Year Will Be Better’ , Five Leaves Publications 2010
The Night Out by David Cooke
Going upstairs, I can think of him still
in the bathroom, crooning. It’s Danny Boy,
or some doomed melody dredged up
from a past we’re unable to share.
Nearly all of the words are missing
as he tries half-heartedly to reinvent them;
while the tune gets sprightly,
pepped up for a night on the tiles.
When I played my records he told me
that music always needed a lilt,
a syrupy air you could hum
like a song of John McCormack’s.
I was into the blues, the sax, significance-
No way my blacks or Dylan could sing!
His judgments were mostly like that:
definitive, unbending, like his sense of style
marooned in the nineteen fifties,
when the rest of us came along-
his wild locks restrained,
sleeked down with a blob of Brylcreem.
From In The Distance, Night publishing 2011,
with kind permission of David Cooke.
Constellations by Ian Parks
Because the night was hot
and hotter than the night before
I took my bedding out onto the ledge
and slept under the stars.
There was nothing in the purple sky
that I could recognise
except, perhaps, Orion’s belt
slung sideways, obvious,
its outline easy to identify.
Our ancestors had lived
by them, crossed oceans
with them as their guide,
worshipped them and gave them names.
How small they look-
the promises we made
and failed to keep.
Light pollution made it hard to see
those pin-pricks in the sky-
a sharpness harder to define,
the city a red glow beyond the rim.
Stars are the worn-out ghosts of us
escaping into sleep.
First published in Dream Catcher 24,
printed here with the kind permission of Ian Parks
The Underground by Seamus Heaney
There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed
Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall
Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons
To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.
From ‘Station Island’ 1984, Faber and Faber.
Woman, Outside by Paul Durcan
after Veronica Bolay
Catching sight of the woman, people cried:
Who does she think she is?
Walking along a country road in June
In a miniskirt in her bare legs.
In a miniskirt, I tell you, in her bare legs!
No stockings, no tights, all airy-fairy!
She – fifty at least, more likely sixty!
Who does she think she is? Herself?
Not merely a mini but a white mini with petals.
A violet vest, not a proper top, as if she was a young girl
Or a sisterly gazelle in the women’s marathon.
She was always a purple woman!
Sauntering along a country road in June.
Not walking – oh no!
Walking would never be pure enough for her.
She was always a saunterer –
Sauntering as if, having spent the modern age
Hanging out the washing on the clothes line
Strung up between two birch trees on the mountain
She is free to saunter now and forever more – at her age!
Who is that outside my window?
From Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have my Being,
this poem found in Guardian review by Kate Kellaway, 18th March 2012.
Stable by Claudia Emerson
One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail
above the door, still losing its luck,
and a work-collar swings, an empty
old noose. The silence waits, wild to be
broken by hoofbeat and heavy
harness slap, will founder but remain;
while, outside, above the stable,
eight, nine, now ten buzzards swing low
in lazy loops, a loose black warp
of patience, bearing the blank sky
like a pall of wind on mourning
wings. But the bones of this place are
long picked clean. Only the hayrake’s
ribs still rise from the rampant grasses.
From Pharoah, Pharoah 1997 by Claudia Emerson,LSU Press
Parapet By Stewart Sanderson
The floor yawns up, the roof an absent presence
implied in the rafters, reconsidered, written out
of the narrative. Their endings look askance
from solid walls, the remaining buttresses
sat true against lichen. A close acidic pout
as it eats the stone, flushes orange, purple, red
and shades of lichen, usually known
in lavender. Now the wind cracks down its knout
on the minimal roof, the precarious parapet
which supports your weight. You acknowledge worried shouts
and win your bet.
Posted with kind permission of Stewart Sanderson.
by Jess Mayhew.
Long after the siesta,
deflated under the slow creep of ants.
All day we have cut and hauled,
dismantling our orchard
from the uncountry of desert.
Here, your gaze will wither.
Prickly with lemon bark,
we lie in bull-black shadow.
Cerrado. Even the sign is bleached quiet,
red to pink, like our eyelids in the morning.
From Someone Else’s Photograph
reproduced with the kind permission of Jess,
Crystal Pamphlets 2012.
A Butterfly in the British Museum
by Kelly Grovier
Smuggled in on a schoolgirl’s cuff
its brushed wings dusting
the cabinet edges- agate seals
and scarabs, a charlatan’s scrying
crystal and turquoise teeth
of an Aztec skull. Spinning
to kneel, she shrugs loose
her knapsack, scrabbling
for sketchbook and pen,
when suddenly her wrist blossoms,
takes flight, meets itself
in a ricochet glare-
its hieroglyphs ghosting
into cartouched tombs.
For an instant, the mystery
of the living and beauty of the dead
flutter in the glass; impulsive
lenses zoom too late!, too late!
as the soul of a doodling girl
vibrates to the sky-light’s deep,
From The Best British Poetry, Salt Books, 2011,
editor Roddy Lumsden. First published in PN Reveiw.
Signs On a White Field
by Robin Robertson
The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
has woken the sealed lake,
leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
just curved plates of air
re-shaping under the trap-ice,
straining to give; the groans and rumbles
like someone shifting heavy tables far below.
I snick a stone over the long sprung deck
to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying
slide of a bottleneck, its
tremulous ululation to the other shore.
The rocks are ice-veined; the trees
swagged with snow.
Here and there, a sudden frost
has caught some turbulence in the water
and made it solid: frozen in its distress
to a scar, or a skin-graft.
Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders
clear of the surface, and the ice-shove
has piled great slabs on the lake-edge
like luggage tumbled from a carousel.
A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call
of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.
A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,
breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light
as the hidden tons of water
swell and stretch underneath,
thickening with cold.
A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks
that seem to echo back and forth for hours;
the lake is talking to itself. A loud
twang in the ice. Twitterings
in the railway lines
from a train about to arrive.
A pencilled-in silence,
hollow and provisional.
And then it comes.
The detonating crack, like a dropped plank,
as if the world will follow.
But all that happens
is a huge release of sound: a boom
that rolls under the ice for miles,
some fluked leviathan let loose
from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,
shaking the air like sheet metal,
like a muffled giant drum.
I hear the lake all night as a distant war.
In the morning’s brightness
I brush the snow off with a glove,
smooth down a porthole in the crust
and find, somehow, the living green beneath.
The green leaf looks back, and sees
a man walking out in this shuddering light
to the sound of air under the ice,
out onto the lake, among sun-cups,
snow penitents: a drowned man, waked
in this weathering ground.
From ‘The Wrecking Light’ Picador 2010
The Mower, by Philip Larkin
The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.
I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:
Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new abscence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
From Philip Larkin, Collected poems, edited with an introduction
by Anthony Thwaite, Faber and Faber, 2003.
Garden By Sam Willetts
Look to your life.
Rest your kindness
and your unkindness
now, and listen: I know
what makes your heart
in all weathers,
I know how it feels
that it always will.
Bear that. Look to your life,
to your one given garden.
From New Light for the Old Dark, Cape Books 2010
January 9th 2012
The Kite By Judith Beveridge
Today I watched a boy fly his kite.
It didn’t crackle in the wind-but
gave out a barely perceptible hum.
At a certain height, I’d swear I heard
it sing. He could make it climb in
any wind; would crank those angles up,
make it veer with the precision of
an insect targeting a sting; then he’d
let it roil in rapturous finesse, a tiny
bird in mid-air courtship. When
lightening cracked across the cliff-
(like quick pale flicks of yak-hair
fly-whisks)- he stayed steady. For
so long he kept his arms up, as if
he knew he’d hoist that kite enough.
I asked if it was made of special silk,
if he used some particular string-
and what he’d heard while holding it.
He looked at me from a distance,
then asked about my alms bowl,
my robes, and about that for which
a monk lives. It was then that I saw
I could tell him nothing in the cohort
wind, that didn’t sound illusory.
From ‘Wolf Notes, Giramondo Publishing 2003.
January 3rd 2012
‘A human head . . .’ By Edwin Morgan
A human head would never do
under the mists and rains or tugged
by ruthless winds or whipped with leaves
from raving trees. But who is he
in bronze, who is the moveless one?
The poet laughed, It isn’t me.
It’s nearly me, but I am free
to dodge the showers or revel in them,
to walk the alleys under the stars
or waken where the blackbirds are.
Some day my veins will turn to bronze
and I won’t hear, or make, a song.
Then indeed I shall be my head
staring ahead, or so it seems,
but you may find me watching you,
dear traveller, or wheeling round
into your dreams.
From Dreams and Other Nightmares: New and Uncollected Poems 1954-2009, Mariscat Press
Espresso by Tomas Transtromer
The black coffee they serve out of doors
among tables and chairs gaudy as insects.
filled with the same strength as Yes and No.
It’s carried out from the gloomy kitchen
and looks into the sun without blinking.
In the daylight a dot of beneficent black
that quickly flows into a pale customer.
It’s like the drops of black profoundness
sometimes gathered up by the soul,
giving a salutary push: Go!
Inspiration to open your eyes.
From New Collected Poems, Bloodaxe, 2011
Dead Fish by Paul Farley
Remember how they made us play Dead Fish?
If it rained, the dinner-ladies kept us in
and we cleared the canteen of its chairs and tables.
Have you forgotten how we lay so still?
The smell of old varnish, salt on the parquet,
or how the first five minutes were the easiest?
You’d find an attitude that you were sure
could last until the bell. Foetal, recovery:
each had his favourite. I’d strike a simple
flat-on back, arms-by-my-sides figure
Some fell asleep,
easy after seconds of tapioca,
and this proved fatal. Sleep is seldom still.
Others could last as long as pins and needles
allowed, or until they couldn’t frame
the energies of being six years old:
some thought would find its way into a limb
and give the game away. But you were good,
so good you always won, so never saw
this lunch-time slaughter of the innocents
from where we sat out on the bean-bagged margin.
Dead fish in uniform, oblivious
to dinner-ladies’ sticks poking their ribs,
still wash up on my mind’s floor when it rains
in school hours. Blink if you remember this.
From ‘The Ice Age’, Paul Farley, Picador 2002.
Mattresses, by Jean Sprackland
Tipped down the embankment, they
sprawl like sloshed suburban wives,
buckled and split, slashed by rain,
moulded by bodies dead or disappeared
and reeking with secrets.
A lineside museum of sleep and sex,
an archive of thrills and emissions,
the histories of half-lives
spent hiding in dark.
Arthritic iron frames might still be worth a bit,
but never that pink quilted headboard,
naked among thistles, relic
of some reckless beginning, testament
to the usual miracle: the need to be close,
whatever the stains or the bruises.
From Tilt, Cape books 2007.
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach will be published in June 2012.
Lyrics to ‘The Poacher’ by Ronnie Lane
Was fresh and bright and early
I went towards the river
But nothing still has altered just the seasons ring a change
There stood this old timer
For all the world’s first poacher
His mind upon his tackle
And these words upon his mind:
Bring me fish with eyes of jewels
And mirrors on their bodies
Bring them strong and bring them bigger
Than a newborn child
Well I’ve no use for riches
And I’ve no use for power
And I’ve no use for a broken heart
I’ll let this world go by
There stood this old timer
For all the world’s first poacher
His mind upon his tackle
And these words upon his mind:
Bring me fish with eyes of jewels
And mirrors on their bodies
Bring them strong and bring them bigger
Than a newborn child
The Moth Hour, by Kim Moore
It’s almost endearing to watch us again
in that vanishing dusk, the windows
stretching behind you
as the dark folds itself over the garden
and the bats flick back and forth
and I realise
I always knew that you’d tell me then,
in the moth hour, that we’d leave
the lamp to burn
all night and the moths would hit the walls
with a sound like fingers tapping,
that it was always
too late to close the window, that they
were already dying, every time
hit a surface, that I knew on our first date,
when you sat behind me and put your hands
on my shoulders,
that, yes, I even knew that summer
when you showed me the woods
where garlic grew,
when you gave me a wild orchid
and we heard the herons, calling and swearing
high in the trees.
The Moth Hour previously appeard in the TLS
and is featured with Kim’s kind permission.
2nd December 2011
The Knife by Michael Laskey
You brought it with you to the marriage
I think, already in your kitchen drawer
in Savernake Road when we first
pooled our possessions. A perfectly
ordinary kitchen knife: the two
rivets through the dark stained wood
of the handle still holding the blade
firmly after twenty years. Signs
of wear though, as you’d expect: the tip
broken off-used to lever once
too often- a nick in the edge
and the brown handle mottled, streaked
unevenly where the wood dye’s leached.
I like it sharp: gritting my teeth
I grind it between steel wheels
now and again, scare my thumb.
It fits my fist, loves stringing beans,
slicing onions, tomatoes, courgettes.
Who’d have thought it would come to matter
so much to me, this small knife
you say now you’re not sure was yours?
From ‘In the Fruit Cage’ by Michael Lasky
18th November 2011
from Lightenings by Seamus Heaney
The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.
The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill
A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’
The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvelous as he had known it.
24th Oct 2011 From Poetry London
Kathleen Jamie Hawk and Shadow
I watched a hawk
glide low across the hill,
her own dark shape
in her talons like a kill.
She tilted her wings,
fell into the air –
the shadow coursed on
without her, like a hare.
Being out of sorts
with my so-called soul,
part unhooked hawk,
part shadow on parole
I played fast and loose:
keeping one in sight
while forsaking the other.
The hawk gained height:
her mate on the ground
began to fade,
till hill and sky were empty,
and I was afraid.
11th October 2011
Here’s one of mine, written today.
With thanks to H, for asking (Removed as accepted for magazine publication).
3rd September 2011
The Meaning of Existence by Les Murray
Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.
Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.
Poems the Size of Photographs, 2002
Wilderness with Two Figures by Andrew Philip
Two men sit in open ground.
One holds a watch, the other a trout.
The one who holds the watch
envies the other’s contact with nature.
The one who holds the trout
wishes he could tell the time of day.
The watch is battery powered
and there are no shops
within travelling distance. The trout,
naturally, is dead. It is summer
and there is no ice. Not everything
is as simple as it might seem.
From ‘The Ambulance Box’, Salt Publishing, 2009.
Begin by Brendan Kennelly
Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world of dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.
From Familiar Strangers, Selected Poems 1960-2004
MOTEL CHRONICLES by Sam Shepard
He changed the canary
Fed the mule
Stood transfixed for half an hour
He changed the canaries
Fed the mule
And stood transfixed for half an hour
He never planned on standing transfixed for half an hour
It just happened
Maybe it was the pause in finishing feeding the mule
The momentum running down
There seemed to be a natural momentum
From changing the canaries
To feeding the mule
There was never any problem
Moving from the canaries
To the mule
It just happened
It was the pause
After feeding the mule
That stunned him
A Giant Pause
He even knew what the next thing was
He knew it very clearly
He knew the next thing was feeding himself
After feeding the mule
But he couldn’t move
He stood transfixed for half an hour
Staring at the desert
Sometimes staring at his bottle house
Sometimes staring at the well pump
It depended on which direction he happened to be facing
When the transfixion struck him
It got to the point when he looked forward
To standing transfixed for half an hour
It was the high point of his morning
Change the canaries
Feed the mule
Stand transfixed for half an hour
From Motel Chronicles, City Lights Books.
Fable by Maria Taylor
The girls pass us by, all volume and lilt
in their weekend tribes, hollering, invulnerable,
so we call it a night to the scraping of heels
sleepwalking through ring-shaped streets
and far away from the jewel-box fronts
of shops and bars, into the city’s midnight.
We lost our way home, under a crescent moon,
you and I diminishing with every footfall.
I wanted to turn back, to the pinwheels of light
thrown from the centre of the city we’d left,
the snaking filaments of neon electricity
and the sticky crowds, who shielded us from ourselves.
Fable town; our halls of pleasure and distortion,
the absinthe-green light, hollowing your cheeks.
Instead we murmur sobering goodbyes
our voices weaving into the pallium of dark.
You fall into the calyx of my memory
and bury yourself under clocks.
First published in Obsessed With Pipework No. 55
IT’S EVERYTHING YOU WANT FROM THE
END OF FINALS BY RIVER WOLTON
Sunny. The ice-cream shop’s open.
You’ve written ten three-hour papers in five days,
skirting the topic of medieval torture
in a question on the Albigensian heresies.
You’ve not called for a yard of ale. Someone’s
killed themself. You’ve knotted page to page
with lengths of string draped on the desk
by invilgilators strolling up and down.
Now you’re going to shove 10p’s in fruit machines
and drink until you’re in a Brixton attic,
the anarchists next door are Stopping the City
and shitting in the garden, and as you come round
from Special Brew a German punk called Tina
mutters Why, oh Why.
From LEAP, published 2010 by Smith/Doorstop Books.
Science by John Burnside
Sound waves were never explained
to my satisfaction,
how they could travel through water, lacing the pool
with muffled voices,
or streaming away from the deep end, to fledge the
with faint harmonics, lapping semitones.
On Thursdays I went from school
to the public baths
and waited for the body I desired:
the swallow dive, the underwater glide,
the surface tension
of a second skin.
In physics I watched a light beam shatter and heal,
bleeding to crimson and blue prism of glass,
and wondered if a soul could change like that,
my father’s shadow filtered through the lens
and disappearing, leaving something clean
and weighted, like the swimmer’s earned fatigue,
rythmic and steady,
a sine wave of grace and attunement.
From Swimming in the Flood, Cape 1995.
Caveat by Fiona Benson
But consider the cactus:
its thick hide
and parched aspect
still harbour a moist heart;
nick its rind and sap
wells up like sugared milk
from the store of water
held beneath its spines,
its armoury of barbs
and,once a lifetime
when the hard rains fall
there is this halo of flowers.
From the 2009 pamphlet Faber New Poets 1.
I have re-discovered Mike Di Placido’s Theatre of Dreams,
his lovely 2009 pamphlet from Smiths/Doorstop Books.
Mike covers a range of subjects from George Mallory to Amy
Winehouse with great ecomony of style, humour and beauty.
I urge you to vist Smiths Doorstop and order a copy.
Here is a poem from the collection; I could have chosen any of them.
A YORKSHIRE PARABLE
I went to see the wisest man in the world-
he lived above a shop in Cleckheaton.
A nice man, he offered me tea and biscuits
before we got down to business.
Is there an omniscient being? I asked him,
one who shares an intimate
relationship with each and every one of us?
I wouldn’t really know, he said.
Well, do you belive in an afterlife?
A heaven, perhaps: or maybe reincarnation?
It would be nice, he mused-
pushing over the chocolate eclairs.
Realising I was getting nowhere with this,
I wandered over to the window
and watched as cold November light
set fire to the trees across the road.
Nice day, I ventured.
Now you’re getting somewhere, he replied.
Love by Miroslav Holub
Two thousand cigarettes.
A hundred miles
from wall to wall.
An eternity and a half of vigils
blanker than snow.
Tons of words
old as the tracks
of a platypus in the sand.
A hundred books we didn’t write.
A hundred pyrimids we didn’t build.
as the beginning of the world.
Belive me when I say
it was beautiful.
From POEMS BEFORE AND AFTER
PUBLISHED BY BLOODAXE BOOKS LTD, 1990.
6th June 2011
Beautiful lyric from Tom Waits 2002 album, Alice.
(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan)
It’s dreamy weather we’re on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice
I disappear in your name
But you must wait for me
Somewhere across the sea
There’s a wreck of a ship
Your hair is like meadow grass on the tide
And the raindrops on my window
And the ice in my drink
Baby all I can think of is Alice
Turn the hands back on the clock
How does the ocean rock the boat?
How did the razor find my throat?
The only strings that hold me here
Are tangled up around the pier
And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
There’s only Alice
May 27th 2011
The stolen orange by Brian Patten
When I went out I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet
Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take the orange out and smell it
And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy
When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
there was nothing bright or special in the world