Archive for the ‘Poem’ Category
So I will go, then, I would rather grieve over your absence
……………………………than over you.
Back in the same room that an hour ago
we had led, lamp by lamp, into the darkness
I sit down and turn the radio on low
as the last girl on the planet still awake
reads a dedication to the ships
and puts on a recording of the ocean.
I carefully arrange a chain of nips
in a big fairy-ring in each square glass
the tincture of a failed geography,
its dwindled burns and woodlands, whin-fires, heather,
the sklent of its wind and its salty rain,
the love-worn habits of its working-folk,
the waveform of their speech, and by extension
how they sing, make love, or take a joke.
So I have a good nose for this sort of thing.
Then I will suffer kiss after fierce kiss
letting their gold tongues slide along my tongue
as each gives up, in turn, its little song
of the patient years in glass and sherry-oak,
the shy negotiations with the sea,
air and earth, the trick of how the peat-smoke
was shut inside it, like a black thought.
Tonight I toast her with the extinct malts
of Ardlussa, Ladyburn and Dalintober
and an ancient pledge of passionate indifference:
Ochon o do dhóigh mé mo chlairsach ar a shon,
wishing her health, as I might wish her weather.
When the circle is closed and I have drunk myself sober
I will tilt the blinds a few degrees, and watch
the dawn grow in a glass of liver-salts,
wait for the birds, the milk-float’s sweet nothings,
then slip back to the bed where she lies curled,
replace the live egg of her burning ass
gently, in the cold nest of my lap,
as dead to her as she is to the world.
Here we are again; it is precisely
twelve, fifteen, thirty years down the road
and one turn higher up the spiral chamber
that separates the burnt ale and dark grains
of what I know, from what I can remember.
Now each glass holds its micro-episode
in permanent suspension, like a movie-frame
on acetate, until it plays again,
revivified by a suave connoisseurship
that deepens in the silence and the dark
to something like an infinite sensitivity.
This is no romantic fantasy: my father
used to know a man who’d taste the sea,
then leave his nets strung out along the bay
because there were no fish in it that day.
Everything is in everything else. It is a matter
of attunement, as once, though the hiss and backwash,
I steered the dial into the voice of God
slightly to the left of Hilversum,
half-drowned by some big, blurry walts
the way some stars obscure their dwarf companions
for centuries, till someone thinks to look.
In the same way, I can isolate the feints
of feminine effluvia, carrion, shite,
those rogues and toxins only introduced
to give the composition a little weight
as rough harmonics do the violin-note
or Pluto, Cheiron and the lesser saints
might do to our lives, for all you know.
(By Christ, you would recognise their absence
as anyone would testify, having sunk
a glass of North British, run off a patent still
in some sleet-hammered satellite of Edinburgh:
a bleak spirit, no amount of caramel
could sweeten or disguise, its after-effect
somewhere between a blanket-bath and a sad wank.
There is, no doubt, a bar in Lothian
where it is sworn upon and swallowed neat
by furloughed riggers and the Special Police,
men who hate the company of women.)
O whiskies of Long Island and Provence!
This little number catches at the throat
but is all sweetness in the finish: my tongue trips
first through burning brake-fluid, then nicotine,
pastis, Diorissimo and wet grass;
another is silk sleeves and lip-service
with a kick like a smacked puss in a train-station;
another, the light charge and the trace of zinc
tap-water picks up at the moon’s eclipse.
You will know the time I mean by this.
Because your singular absence, in your absence,
has bred hard, tonight I take the waters
with the whole clan: our faceless ushers, bridesmaids,
our four Shelties, three now ghosts of ghosts;
our douce sons and our lovely loudmouthed daughters
who will, by this late hour, be fully grown,
perhaps with unborn children of their own.
So finally, let me propose a toast:
not to love, or life, or real feeling,
but to their sentimental residue;
to your sweet memory, but not to you.
The sun will close its circle in the sky
before I close my own, and drain the purely
offertory glass that tastes of nothing
but silence, burnt dust on the valves, and whisky.
from God’s Gift to Women (1997)
And the just man trailed God’s messenger
His huge, light shape devoured the black hill.
But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her:
‘It’s not too late, you can look back still
At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you,
The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed,
At the empty windows of that upper-storey
Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.’
Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt
Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind;
Her body turned into transparent salt,
And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.
Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?
Surely her death has no significance?
Yet in my heart she will never be lost
She who gave up her life to steal one glance.
translated from the Russian by DM Thomas
Anna Akhmatova, sketched by Amedeo Modigliani
Is this you, Guadarrama, the old friend
I’d look for in the blue indifferent eye
of all those lonely evenings in Madrid?
Through your gorges, corries, ragged peaks,
a thousand suns, a thousand Guadarramas
are riding with me to the heart of you.
To Emiliano Barral
Plane by plane,
corner by corner,
your chisel struck upon me
holding my breath
in the frozen dawn
of this porphyry block,
or at least the man I now
want in my mirror:
the Spanish Buddha, in all
his idle grandeur!
The dumb, slaked mouth,
the ears set to the wall
of silence, and under
the bare slope of the brow,
eyes scooped from the rock –
from rock, that I might not see.
from The Eyes: a version of Antonio Machado (1999)
Bust of Antonio Machado, Emiliano Barral, 1920, pink sandstone, 54 x 33 cm
The free evening fades, outside the windows fastened with decorative iron grilles.
The lamps are lighted; the shades drawn; the nurses are watching a little.
It is the hour of the complicated knitting on the safe bone needles;
……….of the games of anagrams and bridge;
The deadly game of chess; the book held up like a mask.
The period of the wildest weeping, the fiercest delusion, is over.
The women rest their tired half-healed hearts; they are almost well.
Some of them will stay almost well always: the blunt-faced woman
………whose thinking dissolved
Under academic discipline; the manic-depressive girl
Now leveling off; one paranoiac afflicted with jealousy.
Another with persecution. Some alleviation has been possible.
O fortunate bride, who never again will become elated after childbirth!
O lucky older wife, who has been cured of feeling unwanted!
To the suburban railway station you will return, return,
To meet forever Jim home on the 5:35.
You will be again as normal and selfish and heartless as anybody else.
There is life left: the piano says it with its octave smile.
The soft carpets pad the thump and splinter of the suicide to be.
Everything will be splendid: the grandmother will not drink habitually.
The fruit salad will bloom on the plate like a bouquet
And the garden produce the blue-ribbon aquilegia.
The cats will be glad; the fathers feel justified; the mothers relieved.
The sons and husbands will no longer need to pay the bills.
Childhoods will be put away, the obscene nightmare abated.
At the ends of the corridors the baths are running.
Mrs. C. again feels the shadow of the obsessive idea.
Miss R. looks at the mantel-piece, which must mean something.
The first day, you cough up only water,
warm saline laced with vitamins and herbs.
Your lungs mistake healing for drowning,
they fetch up what tastes like the sea
into a white enamel bowl.
Your lungs mistake baptism for torture,
‘O God. O my God. O God.’
You sought him out, like countless others
who speak too much and breathe too litle,
you found the only doctor in the world
who washes lungs, and went to him.
The second day you know what comes –
‘Breathe in Sir, now breathe out.’
The tube is pushed behind your voice
and water floods the hair’s-breadth
channels of your lungs, you choke
‘No no too much too much’
and phlegm rides up between the words,
coloured by the scent of home, and cigarettes.
By Wednesday the elegant office
with its dark red leather chairs
has won a terrifying fascination.
Sun streams through the window,
and the motes of dust light up
as if to show that air is only clean
when not seen for the carpet that it is.
Today you splutter up more phlegm,
with bonfires of your childhood,
other people’s breath kissed into you,
incense and cooking smells
and long forgotten perfumes.
Then when all the phlegm is clear
the lighter, deeper hidden words begin
to bubble out into the room.
‘I always loved you, want to kill you,
be my life, come take my life.’
On Thursday morning you sleep in
and dream about a pulmonary specialist
in Venice with a plan, to counteract
the crumbling of his city with a thousand
human Venices, their lungs full
of the Grand Canal, but still you go
‘O Mama don’t leave me, I’m hungry
I’m thirsty, I’m begging for some sleep.’
All the unsaid retches to be heard.
Il dottore with his bowl is ready to catch.
The last day you are growing into silence.
Four names from the bottom of your soul
were sobbed in sleep into the hot hotel room.
Morning brings a consciousness of breathing.
Coffee, or the smell of the lagoon
seem like a shot of meths.
Your chest is skinned and raw.
The still air of the clime is like smelling salts.
The final treatment raises vowel sounds,
back to the first stirrings of your voice,
and then it stops.
That evening, eating shellfish in a café
full of idle conversation, you close
around your quietness. From now on
every word you use is plucked from nowhere.
Everything you say is sudden poetry.
from Raising Sparks (1999)