Seasons Such As These
Poor, naked wretches, where so e’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads, and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?
King Lear Act III, Scene IV, Lines 28-32.
“Down that road I went.” He said, pointing somewhere.
I thought you were near, a companion of mine,
The sun hot, softening a brittle floor,
And I here dawdling, walking as if drunk:
White not exactly white, blue which stretched beyond blue.
Restlessly wandering for a place
Of silence and poise: is this life?
Hot brush on a canvas of desert dust:
In the beginning white paper, ashes swirl, mindless.
Here a cafe, time is nine, place Holborn: tea.
An occasional diner shuffles an entrance.
To quote: “This place no good.”
Broken in my presence.
Or I’m a tramp
Exhausted in travelling,
Beaten by brooms.
Just as I was saying
“Yes, I realise...”
She kicked me from the stair,
Emptied me like a bucket
On the street,
Spilling to the cat flaps,
Simultaneous purr on each door,
Preaching like Jesus
“I’ll heal no one!"
Below the cry of a bat
Foots shadow on frozen faces:
Chilled notes of dawn.
A broken moon:
That and the tumble
Of drunken feet,
Splash of voices.
Thirst among the lamps pools,
Cry from the slashed mouth,
Flutter of lids and the street
Like the stamped pieces
Of a fractured vision.
A naked figurine in a green shrub
Or adorning the neglected lawn
The one comical illusion of one mind - mine.
And the great barn hall, stacked with dust,
Echoing the straw
Upon which we might have lain.
And, as your fingers curled the keys,
I was there in courtly guise,
Attendant, dancing upon your cast tunes,
Counterfeit of your desires.
Did you see?
Tempered, awkward key
Of that pianos sound
Disturbs sunlit dust,
This corpse's epidermis.
And on afternoons,
It seemed long and desperate,
Searches for that glimpse of woman
Heard in sounds of Joan
Or other musty romances.
Perhaps merely the hair
Reminded of the dust
Of those old school days
Or a pure line expressed
In the profile, catching
A last evaporate fantasy;
Maybe some dim sympathy,
Merely the union of interest
In one trajected plain,
Slim yet a basis for partnership.
If I’d found a place
It was, as always, momentary,
Caught in a second’s glance of sun:
Blue, common bell chimed its noiseless scent
More irritant to plans, more conducive
To the forgotten, forgetful days of school.
But those other ones: rather a feeling
Than tissue of incident where one hung
At the most appropriate place
As for a meal. Separate, I’d tempt
A natural force to come swing my way.
She headed to the door
Of some burnt out world
Lost to the dried flare
Of Apocalypse. With words
Telling of that special place
Her mind halved its voices
Where one would call “Where?”
To the others reassurance of
“One foot more, one age less.”
And held by the endless tide
Of works companions
Some sense of proportion was lost.
At home a dear friend
Had uttered the martyred cliché of
“Be yourself!” A thousand victims -
Were there more?
Down the battle broken world
Where the shadows left around:
Corpses, corpses flew
To glare their unholy cries.
And among the luggage of travel
A niche was found:
Here a shadow shared a bottle
With a friend or two,
Words scattered among the unintended,
Formed their partial puzzles.
One friendly companion,
Whose ever forming grin disturbed,
Some ending term,
Some clause of binding.
Sealed by the wax of finality
She considered her attention weak:
It had stopped at the cover,
Started at the completion of smiles,
Had broken at the ribboned bow.
Twisted in a distracting knot
These decisions had been made.
It was a comic sight:
His earnest face forward
In the fury of impotence,
Awkward and shyly expressed,
And she agile in her agreements
Reassurance with a “Yes, yes, yes.”
Had muddy eloquence enchained her
Or the force of that will
Perhaps afraid of turning keys
Of murderous desire:
Who knows the end of these things?
In the street and in the rain
He let her dwindle like his voice
That, lost and inept,
Had weakly made a pledge
Diverted by the beer
She ordered at the bar:
Words stopped in a shock stare,
He and she were released
From the embarrassment of proposal:
“You must avoid awkward promise of intent
Striving for a perfect civic form
Impossible and blind.”
That was the last time he saw her:
The idea afloat for a while
Till stress and ulcer and the starving age
Each had slashed its way
Through to his cognisance.
All the point was gone:
What had been a mirage
Of tempting possibility
Was a joke a city smiled at
In its busy search for gold.
Raining again among the ash pots
And hardened flies of a garden.
And the expected face at the window
Seemingly wet, staring at the one broken tree
Toppled on the late roots of a burning.
Eyes amongst clogged weeds
Tossed through the sly greys of morn
The reception he demanded:
Blank and called at dawn
To witness the first vision
Of a broken, scattered soul
Ever to stay hidden
In destined torment
Of childish pains.
Those noises in the blank hour
Between twelve and one,
The ingenuous girl singing a song
Perhaps borne from the late closed pub,
The car alarm that mischievously sputters
Its unfrightening sound off and on,
Drinkers warming themselves
Over the hollow sound
Of their chanted slogans
Ready to beat, in the unifying desire
Of oblivion, any fellow man;
And, in between, quiet and quiet,
This slow, singing, melancholy hour.
And, to distract, the thought of you asleep
Comes and goes like that crying alarm:
Dog barking desires of my frightful cellar.
If, in this sphere of solitude,
Egocentric and sentimental,
You could somehow intrude,
Could arrive with bags and face turned
To that obscure, private life we somehow share
What, in the broken paces of private habit,
What movement outside it and therefore hope,
Could bloom, stare its tired stare,
Bare from beaten limb (yes, that fellow)
The one, doubled, solitary flower?
Among the insomniac cars
My shattered face stares whitely
At the moon. The blown flowers
Of our common school die quietly
Aged gestures of a beaten face.
In my struggling, conceiving days,
Bouncing back from that rough, gauged place,
Poses the question of our death.
Am I then, in this absurd posture,
Abstracted by the flying blue lights
Making those correct, forewarned waves?
Death is a sordid thing
Done by sordid men
Use to a sordid world:
This our modern way
We love but cannot have
The once promised life?
My mind has not the peace that’s promised
But a rage, a rage at a limb and joints
Incomplete, broken desire,
The unforewarned abstraction of our death.
And yet if you were here like the nurse
You would find only words of blood
And the absurd indignity of this mans fall.
Death crying (sentimental) among
The blotted whiteness of a ward,
Silhouettes of urgent shadow
And the dark faces beaten beyond
The heat folded in an airless layer.
So you see my seeming arctic heart
How foolish this tearful child and babbling eye
Which is drunk and staggers,
Broken below your stairs.
We never could lift up our waxen wings
Or lifted did not the hateful, burning accident
Dissolve then drown its flesh? You and I
Adrift among the pillared trees,
Charred in our two dreams wary sleep.
We float on the lazy but then unstoppable streams.
So, to be left in the arctic land,
Here, where the bell broods hollow.
Among the clattering ice
Of your eyes dream
Never where we so formed
Nor oned like our lips seal.
Then darling (you permit me thus?)
I have fought the darker things
That instant light extinguished,
That here with fortune rise.
And age but the second tide.
Oh, perhaps sensed beneath the skin
Youths wild but aesthetic bone.
Then how we might laugh, how dream
As the tedium formed stalagmites
Count our mortality.
Blushes for the flesh
And a pointed limestone world.
Yes. But love? Words that patter on the floor:
It will not utter, it will not speak, disclose.
Our memory will blow like dust in the common wind,
Absorbed in a million pores it will forget itself.
I have fought this long hard day to contain you
But you where ever braver than I:
Will I always, thus, fall under your hammer
Auctioned at the obscurest price?
And how, then, do the ages tell
You from your dalliance,
Those ages that could never tell
Old bones from new dust.
And how then, pray, will you find
A companionable skeleton
There for me to commune
Through it’s blown skin ribs?
Our talk has a fungal form
Or metaphysic and directed down
From some ill hell it wiry swells
Like creeping ivy through the gloom.
Sad and distempered a fiery rage
Infects its veins and illuminates
A wistful steam that pales the face.
And, how, across this space,
That when I look stretches dizzy,
As if with ambition coils the Earth,
Can we again drown the cold
In ignorant passion?
Our desires recoil and wrap
In frigid, spiritful fire
Till love is all but a little,
Indistinguishable, sanctuary flame
For how long burning?
If the branches here do touch
Can the steal there then melt?
And, if inflamed, would you despise
The uncontrolled, fast beating heart
Or, then, mourn ices wavering
Or unwished loss of our loved
Stone, statuesque, seeming godhead?
Caught in the webbed distraction of a gaze
Buzzed impossibilities, Utopic dreams.
Your breath dragged at a thousand coattails
Saying seeming unity. I was aware of slurs
Genetic tales drowned in its inaction.
And you said: ”Then this sole point I put there?”
“Our land marks, thus devised in the conscience,
Display an open world, inessential.
Such mortality and such the way its tunes
Out echo as the corpse the body.” So thus I.
Now and then a curtain flits and a stare
At second or third floor windows opposite,
Half inquisitive of hotel happenings,
Half irritated by mock grandeur,
Brute noise this particular Victorian,
Part empty site displays. It’s the habit
Of some drawn up to face, across the nightly peace
Of no mans land, the street, dull combatants
On each side: Perhaps poverty separates you
From the pub downstairs, a certain angst
About the pull of popular haunts,
Getting more than your fair share of inarticulate friends.
A chance modern law decides
Dividing speech and the neighbourhood,
Forming false battles, situating
Between you and it a televisual screen,
Your thought on some Heaven
Where face to face we met,
Your eyes on some dark glass of a window.
You’re seen, the curtains drawn.
It’s something to be remarked upon,
Odd how every night it is done
Not only by you but repeated
Down the street, each side a sentinel,
If not throwing sticks in a fire, then
Looking out to see who’s watching who,
Catching the nightly skirmishes that,
With not uncommon frequency, continue
To punctuate a phoney war. Now and then
That irregular exchange of cigarettes
Or your side strikes the light, mine offers the fag.
Usually, though, askers are causalities
Rejected by us both, mostly ignored,
Often sleeping somewhere out of sight,
Under a bridge or whatever bomb shelter
Accident has devised, they roll in slumber
Tight into a plastic bag or the damp,
Soggy cardboard once used to wrap our guns,
Tanks, communications, surveillance units.
It is to be remarked upon how little
I see of you, how quickly you disappear,
How suspicious of you and I this neutral,
Unneutral status makes us: Together
Manufactured means of war – now we test them out.
But I’m bored of killing, it’s become such a
Common exercise – I wish you’d sign a truce.
It is not for this that I waited alone,
Listless afore a feeble fire,
The sun impatient to have done.
All the lighting bad no matter its source,
The coarse street shoppers shouting excitement
In fears oblivion: I was patient,
Reading horrid Milton, sipping cheap tea,
Smoking a haze of desire in troubled Pandamonia.
And those ‘after thoughts’ circling a vortex
In the blackened hole of incurable want.
To long and a chair to comfortable
Excusing the silence of passive desistance:
I claimed ignorance, then corruption,
Then the impossible greatness of the task
And so destiny: fated thus
To the eternal Ovidian whine,
Claiming sanctuary in exile.
The dark obliged, the nocturnal vigil,
The lack of vitamin D:
Cold, an empty gullet, the night.
One Sunday I ventured out:
The street was the same shabby bin
Of flowering tin and copulent flies.
I discovered the polluted sea
As I had discovered her before:
From the strand and at a distance,
Reflecting a sapien backside,
Resigned, as passive as a slave,
To complexions blare. And so,
Seeing the mutual indifference
Of man and water, I did not protest,
I certainly was not shocked,
I retreated back to my door:
Another forty days vigil
In the barrel of my bed,
With a preprepared, laconic tongue
So to list instructions
Confused but tolerable.
Next the eye saw around
The hostility of the times,
The self sacrifice requisite to repair
Deep holes in the fabric
Torn in an uncaring glance.
This was She who held the power to maim,
Taking what accident had gathered
In a forceful hands fine brutality.
Pain of a posterior enervation
Left the relics of charred anatomy
Scattered as an after burn
Whether the death, the caput mortuum
Of an alchemical change
Or the autograph of a miracle –
Who dances in the Elysian fields
Or laughs in the alley of posterity?
No songs past memories rest: all, all a ball
Of billowing winds wrapping chaos
In the cries of vulgar sentience;
Or the mechanics of bombardment
And the assorted atom contending
For upper air in feverish necessities,
Scratched epitaphs of void.
Death is a place past illusion
Where permanents and eternity
Are finally confounded
As dust across a plain
When a plain has gone.
Not many years after that we realigned,
Catching eye to eye a second sight:
With age had come the clearer thought that sees
And does not like, the in become the out.
Lining the brow with an ignorant script
Intervening chance and all those things not done
As two. And this chance that’s worst of all.
She seemed to say through move of eye and mouth
(Though she asked the usual things one asks)
That, where ever once we’d met, those people
Then had ceased to plague a time unfortunate
And dead: who were these gathered on a chance
It did not matter, an inconsequence
Set up to sting a faded photograph.
Faded, yes, but not gone: we both had kept
The odds and ends of our separate lives
And, this one conjunction amongst them all
Illusion, like the rest: one recovered,
The other not: “The lies that we call soul
I see and yet I cannot dispense with soul
But have kept that wound festeringly bad.”
And so her to I had not forgot. But,
As usual, I blindly circumscribed
My image there on cast. And though her face
Discouraged all it had not changed for me
But grew inside till it at last cracked out.
Shocked and battered and in retreat she said:
“Well, must be off. Another day, perhaps?”
I see you different, now, flattened by age
Till every feature lines the white of your skin
Like contours on a map. Pale, you luminess
A past of hopes, loves and lands seasons
Have obscured, a moon through thin cloud you show
Nothing I can recognise.
A loss and a feeling
Of a power that was important,
Whose tug still irritates, whose decline
Still saddens, I stare over the walls
Of Europe, see you in this town or that,
Ask meaningless questions, gain meaningless
Replies, each letter ending “Love –“,
The expected lie.
That postcard, whipped with the wind off the Hudson,
Monosyllabic and exasperated,
Words sped to a staccato breath like a wave bye, bye.
And I lying still, only by chance, tilted to catch
These paper words tumbling through the air.
How much attenuated, the spoken thought,
Its time crushed, instantaneous arrival
Expected and found on an American train
Saying, “Distance does not matter.”
And I believing the lie.
Ill eyes abed smoke the sour jaundice
Of an English room. And that picture
Of New York an agony of ground glass
Stabbing each window the fragmented
Possibility of an absent wave.
The sky the same drab, abstract balm
Its saving, enhanced, artificial grace
I can stare at here. Only you, turning
North or south the Hudson way,
Were missed in person, a shadow cast,
Edging an American infinite.
All the body’s turnings merely serve
To enshroud the certain loss of departure,
Once gratitude. A time measured by absence,
Forced forgettings, I stare up indeterminate
Distance, find only the severance
Of memory, a murder performed in a week.
We have resurrections as comedies
Their buffoons and twice now we have toured
The shifted bargain of lies we told
Our two nights. Hills of Utopian flesh
Made a nightmare of a need to be
Always central to a two oned self.
Illusion of integrity our line
And bait, echo and echo of enquiry
Till, shattered all light, tungsten snapped, we fall away.
Gathered such half real, remembered imagery
A perfect pastoral in the dark.
Sleep pierces; I wake to the tatters of fact.
A Sundays gentle cycle through seas of empty streets
Shadowing the shadow of Paul. We are expecting death,
September’s enervation as yet unyellowed,
A stilled silence at the grieving bed.
Or the hidden poor that scuttle out of view, the boxed porter,
Trader, shopmen with wives babed, again gestating.
The desperation of pubs bellowed by tongues of swollen want,
The dissipation of drunks, sickened
By that tumbled sense of all in one oned on Saturday,
Now stirred to listless cry of child, distorted hand of care.
On the makeshift carpet of grass men and women quiesced
By capital poison of fat and food.
An empty hall of towered streets, sepulchre of feet’s
Ghostly echo, the solitary essence of crowd, work, money,
The staccato knock of question and frigid stone.
Lost the prepared confusion of route,
The lanes that rebelled to be straightened, Wrens
Imperfect gloom twisted to a bridge and Thames.
That stilled, ineffable frown,
A photograph of faded shock
Where had leaned impotence
On query, cold rejection…
Or, frozen in a concrete angst,
This fumbled epitaph…
Lines straightened, surveyed
The taut geometry of a choice
Your absence has defined:
A last hour when fear fought
The swollen lip, the offered cheek,
I faced that end of you and me
Snatched in a flinching hand.
What final count you have made,
I find burdens in its silence:
Pressure of reluctant flesh,
That ending, lie of an easy stroll.
I booze till cash is gone.
The delayed hours of listless grief
Stretched on the wrack of damp England,
Surveyed the possibilities,
You on that Wien restaurant tour,
Me, the room, the DT’s.
That hug, epitaph to a tube stop,
Was too much full of the response I’d wished for.
And more? A compassion? Or the lame
Departure of the ‘brother’ and the ‘lover’,
Our two desires dislocation? Of course,
I returned to the party, already over,
Deciding to recall a blindness
That disappearance broke and not succeeding.
Ending in the decline of the unwritten and the postponed.
I have watched the many dawns since
Only with those ‘inane’ and fond regrets
A youth’s ‘first love’ is supposed to be designed for.
We don’t believe or, if we do,
What should all these visions amount to
But the superintended echo
Of passion itself. Like insomnia
Or a living out of sorts.
You deal only with the hard present,
Something I envy: your record’s written
By another, no one cares at the time
To stop you, drink doesn’t kill you or,
If it does, it’s at the end, a full stop
To who you are. We die, some of us,
Still incomplete and some whose life is nothing
But the presence of failure. I write this
Like a man who sits in the comfort
Of possibilities, the cobalt
Of a gun eyeing his talk of sophistries,
Entertained passion, solitude,
A neat cushion to back me up, stinking fear.
I don’t register what’s there.
Unlike you: you have the gun, I think.
As an aspect of that script I haven’t grasped
You turn this B movie into something more:
Like Marriott in ‘Farewell, My Lovely’
I’m the patsy, the limbo of certain guilts
Whose weaknesses ditch me in the end;
A clobbered beauty, corrupted by such
Expectation my body is forced beyond
What feeble reach I had into those other lives,
A sub plot that’s their harder climb.
Offended by the wrong words and never
Catching your welcome I retell mostly
A monologue of what could be done
Given conditions, appropriate sun,
Five mile wind, compliant interlocutors,
The usual list, verbatim anaesthesia
Of the irrepressible ego. Can’t be done.
Everyone expects, seconds before
The end, some kind of recognition:
Just the usual mechanics of the gun.
Except: I knew you before, before
The days of ‘hard drinking’ and searching out
Other people’s lives: a time when you were
Merely possible, not always there,
Treated as a friend of what was future.
Conceived, born and here, a place near the sea,
A path, bright but indistinct, where I walk,
Add a gesture, a sign to part and dissolve dawn’s early air.
You I met and have forgot,
Will remember, we shook briskly
Our forged request and let the here
Become the past without regret.
Then the eyes were precise and as ever
Misdirected, seeing beyond the hand
And the arm and the body two ghosts
Divert the dawn who both expected someone else.
Left the added buts sogged in water
A common signature termed B movie
As the superfice of what’s been,
Illusion of memory.
At the bottom of the card the faded ink,
A nation’s stamp that’s released
From the pressure of representation
Behind us and gone. What the faded air
Illumed as flag is the flare a dawn
Now scatters as ash. Our hands are glass
Darker and darker in the dark, gesture of distance
Twisting its banner of intercession
An apparently losing hope.
Or, if a day has burned itself a universe,
It has burned a tapestry of spread
Perception. ‘We’ lies forlorn, a mark
On the cotton like a stain of blood
Fingers scratch there. Notes that puncture
Their own hours as a mesh of stitched time
And leave frozen the particular. I walk
And you walk a tango in the sordid street,
One more blown wrapper found parting on the horn.
As a quest for something more exotic
It leans abandoned in the air, a patch
Of wall fluttered Rome’s Scottish border.
A Caesar will arise, reel some restless
Discontent to a march on an old idea.
Thus, broken upon flutings, faded
In a different age, it has assumed
Resurrection, hooked the grave with the bait
That’s a sword’s sanguine hope, the drums, pipes
And shouts blunted a dissonant song
Collected chance redemption.
If, when the marching’s stopped, the city
Returned to pub, board, and bedroom,
The back wave that is history
Knocks us out again, all we can mark
Are the lists of the dead, the captured,
The hoards, the rapes, the consequent
Retelling of adventure…
Cancel but revivify the ailing culture
And make true the absent as the present.
So, this thread rolled around as sky outlasts
The individual, does not touch the individual
Except as the burn of that alien one
Togetherness may pretend we enjoy.
To begin or find the origin
Which is nowhere, cannot be contained,
Is known only in and is known only as
Appearance: radial of no foci,
Hub of no turning, start of all
That’s not creation. Wave or somewhere the flag,
A signal that was individual.
We remedy history, its stretch of
The warp and the woof, its tear of the glimmer
By our rebellion against the lie
Of an impersonal intent, circumference
Of a revolving god, by a habit
Of seeing ourselves as limbed
In the tree, the bird, the dog, his howl
At the sky, a process that contains both
The general and the particular,
A word passed in the roll of cloth, appearing
Ramified essence, not common nor
A whisper termed misunderstanding.
‘Utopian’ – but history turns the conversation
Back from the dead, out of the present,
Into the present as a holla
That peaks the rumble of burnt forest
And factory, demos jumble thrown
A break in the ‘fix’ of an arm, rubble
Stimulus defined, mathematically,
‘Dead matter’. Azure not gravity spins
The words as tapestry, pageant, perhaps
‘Triumph of Life’, benign as golden faces
And as frightening. These ones return
Silent, the offered gesture a graceful start
To that being more than enervated.
I’ve tested it then,
The hollow sound of a world
Like the end of a journey
Whose expectations proved true.
Or, discovered, the enormous futility
Of the scheme, workers slouch
In a grubby tavern,
Take their pay.
It is the night, ponderous echo
Swelled in a worlds dizzy stream,
Large and warm,
Makes Jonah’s burning cry
Or charred the soul
A twitch of wings
Pinned by your image
A great black butterfly.
We wandered on,
Not willing to say goodbye:
Our bodies turned to that road
You’d be lost upon.
We sat on the scruffy edge
Not knowing, unwilling to say
“When is the last parting?”
The grass like an old mans hair
And our eyes upon our feet
As our words, torn vagaries,
Fluttered at the boundless sky.
Caught in the echo of your smile
Dreaming of chances graciousness.
And then a slow, then a weighted
Dwindling under cloud,
Walking the untested horizon,
That dangerous road.
Not a night to be seen:
The curtain, what’s left,
The dwindling, seeming circuit
Of autumn’s coming cold:
As this page may testify
Bought at a lower rate
Peace from oblivion of love.
That invented horizon
Aimed to or turned from
The test I failed at.
Scraped sense in the ditch of words
Till the line, a borrowed light,
Illumines what memory
Imagined as love.
And yet the illusion real,
You the ghosted thought,
Muse of this hovel.
All that time a denial
Of your impossible smile
Declaring an only child's
Own private love
Indifferent to the beloved.
Most when least I knew
Affections covered eyes
Affirmed an open fever:
That hard, 'pathetic' effort
To create your image
After you and know
Our unwarranted words
More real than truth.
Cascading from the dark
A streets brutal light
Hoofed as the devil
Pounding on you
My murderous need
To make it known
I can believe. Untrue.
The encumbrance of the second
Bulged from the blank
Dictates my empty page:
It is you against whom I rage.
In a pub’s borrowed chair
You sit there and smile:
Amused ghost of memory,
A lover’s tempting fantasy
Bidding that madness come.
It is pain that keeps me sane.
Blind, my love, to futures chance,
That path to absence
A ragged way has forced me home.
And back? No. We have seen
A brandished curve, the scythe
Exit has turned us from,
Spin the spiralled sky a dream:
Who knows the horizons line?
The limits of its distance?
Lilting among the wilting trees
The figure in the garden is me:
Expectant before every window
The cinema of romance, voyeur
Of improbable happiness,
Safely distant from commitment.
Farcical rumour of not being
What I am intruded upon,
Dawn delivers the accidents
Of nature insistent upon
That note experience cannot alter,
Indifferent to place or time,
Of the first, almost painful
Darkening of age.
Parks the grace
Of a jaded place,
Rough wood seats
And winter mud
The kind of good
I remember your bedroom window
Staring at the snow and I wondering,
With pen in hand, at this new distance,
A foreign land and you too perversely so.
When you appeared it was always only
That tumbling extension of a clumsiness
I had rediscovered, the broken door,
A two foot jump, you collapsed upon me.
Pregnant with a new thing I was merely
And subterranean, like, you might have said,
Some crushed crab barely crawling for escape.
I was just brooding, I saw no reason
To move, perhaps, I was slightly shocked.
‘In unsern Jugengarten führt strasse mehr.’
What amused in the gardens we treasured
But never had was the pretence that somehow
We could abandon with our clothes our fear,
On certain rare, indeed impossible nights,
Those saturnalias, vague, as imprecise
As antediluvian grass, caress
The warm, illusory dream of our being
Ourselves alone. Among asphalt,
Embedded stone, between the slabs of urban business
Our toy soldiers fought, finally lost,
Slain on the battlefield of the interstice.
We still live in those cracks the best of council
Maintenance cannot fill, disillusioned
As to security, the uniqueness
Of its fauna, even that ossified
And precious ego we watered and wept over,
Kept secret, was proud of, itself
But one common blade of grass: picked, plucked, gathered
In our cities, pressed to that green and bitter dew
Of being human somewhere in the subsoil
We pretend to maintain a true home:
Place of temporary, shabby rooms,
Of ‘secret gardens’ of ‘childish fantasy.’
What do I know now
But the winds breath
Passing to say:
We are frozen?
Even in winter
There is spring
Thin and unwarm,
The long road, untried.
Of land and sea
“I am not dangerous.” Their new form
Of politeness. Outside the white, flat world
Of roads. And, of course, they are not: A picture
In the paper come vividly alive
With all its crude, blunt art, the reds, the blues,
Folded into the bed a wedge of desire
To be ecstatic standing out in the land.
“I am not...” a partial conclusion to their ecstasy:
The distance of these walls a private cosmos
Urgent, diffident, the cataract and the vein
Only half oblivion wholly pain lost in oblivion.
If to work then to home the expanding enclosure
Finally unravelled a ‘failed life’ which, at this turn,
Frightens a room. What is left but persists,
What is to come is nothing in a small poison.
Half a line of bad verse
Are the days of this house
Or if you try to hear
Your own or an others voice
Listen carefully for the cars
In the nights silence
Or in the roads
Whose feet may search
Stone and drain
For absence as certainty
Forgotten with last year’s ghost.
Everything is so quiet and peaceful now:
How can there be an end, a beginning?
Yet slowly the darkness comes, voices fill
The streets and houses, the last light
Gathered by the children in their play
Hesitant among the cars filled with dad, mum,
The returning student wandering the last
Reluctance of once more returning home:
What was my hour has become a small town's
Suburbia where family and friends retrieve
All their efforts purpose – the work, the sorry
Climb of forced and futile destruction
Lost in the general folly of Being.
Like the wanderer and his shadow,
As tall as failure, you sit
In this mythical age of functional living,
Equality and race, god and his double,
Exhaling words a match may allow
Between cigarette and pen,
Writing ‘arse’ for a cheap bit of realism.
Lend me, you say, a message to hand over:
So much is about yet you cannot see it –
The heavy statues worked for others glory
Will always fall, noticed only
When the crowd is permitted a sacrifice,
Exhibited, appendages missing.
If all the flowers, herbs, trees of alien nature
Had that smile as their misjudgement
Could you still laugh at the folly of it all?
The rabbits, the foxes, the salivating wolves
Slapped as one slaps stone with the metal brightness
Of a crowds disillusionment, spat upon,
Could you be then still quite so curt
With your honesty and as if the failure
Was merely ordinary like a broken home?
On the moment, they say, here and now:
All your expectations flattened to a bed
Not much smaller than the room, drifting
In and out of windows, bounced between
The rattle of cans, the dance of feet,
The bodiless discourse of being.
‘To be is to be present’: where once
Two might have seen there is the mirror,
Where once light the sound of this silly hour
Reflected stale betwixt failure and failure.
What maltreatment made you beseech
A stranger of his word,
The second hand poets song
Destined, surely, this silent home?
Two extraordinary eyes, beautiful and young,
Always demanding a tale impossible to tell.
Yet for one smile even the stones had words.
I gave you room and board, I talked and talked
And talked till finally you loved me:
For one moment I knew a chance joy
Like a starved man fed poison.
In the morning you were gone.
Or was it I who fled the miles
Just for a coward’s home?
For three days I drank, certain of failure,
That you wouldn’t return… Without a penny,
Rich on the envy of others,
We boiled grass and smoked our emptiness…
Jumping up and down, shouting
“You love me! You love me!”
I knew I was without belief…
Behind you with a bottle that wouldn’t open
I spat my pain into your silence
Expecting, at least, the reaction of hate:
I gained that, broken on the stair
My test of unalterable love.
A gloomy summer’s rain so alien
To you with your hot, dry and lovely days,
Your unchangeable seasons, those certain
Winters of snow and a cold so cold it froze
The spirit. And I suppose that steady swing
Has pulled you more beautiful still than when,
Your eyes so blue, I knew heaven
Indifferent: A failure before
‘Possession’, knowing the end, having once
Gained from you the grace of that impossible
Answer of a smile, I fell, lost, at ‘home’.
The steady roll, stronger than generation,
A country bred you, twisted merely release.
The sharp urge of a road: “You’ve left me.”
How curt, stupid my answer: “Never!”
Do I have a relationship,
Then, with that dead moth?
Caught in a summers evening,
Dead in the morning
Of the first, the second day?
What was allowed a nocturnal flight
Burnt by my impotent vision,
Defeated between the soured sugar,
The faded cotton,
The fantasy and boredom of gold?
Command and it will obey
Whacked by a newspaper,
Bursting upon the ceiling
The little generated warmth
Of his fossilised brethren:
Civilised brothers that sublimate energies
A continuous constancy of flame,
A standard of intemperance
Worked towards but never achieved.
The hours, with weight and measure,
Of day and night,
Finally turned their chaotic end
Broken in age.
Whose wings are, perhaps,
Prettier than I imagined,
A bulbous, pathetic fluff,
A clumsy angel
The untragic, dying fly.
Up through dusty sunlight, hobbling over dried mud,
The discovery of a thousand allotments:
Age had finally learnt its Voltairian lesson:
“Make carrots, cabbages and flowers.”
Between tyranny and disaster, favour and exile,
The dubious loyalty of land.
Except this was limbo: the Russian slap still stung,
The tin slash of the west still vicarious,
Still unlimited: easy to forget, amidst beers,
Dumplings, countless songs, the ugly death
This world, too, must suffer: cranes, cement, foundations,
The path ending arbitrarily in a fence:
Mere intoxication, in love and in love with people
Who seemed to continue a conversation
Only imagined, gleaned from books and fantasy,
Animated over alcohol, guitars,
Through alien tongues, intelligence, community,
A smile: all of us mad, drunk with illusion,
Killing ourselves, our children,
Heading nowhere, blind.
A mess of cracked stone:
They call them flags, flagstone
Unnoticed as the awkward obtrusion
Of obstacles, the unsteady chair
At the barbecue, a flat rough for a butt,
Something one just wouldn’t lie on,
Sun or no sun: shoddy and inexact,
Badly paid labour, ‘spoilt’ by nature,
This rough, obvious ‘culture’.
Summer is where you are.-
Is where we are?
And England’s ragged weather,
Its people blown from street to room,
Fix of the vicarious.
When can we be together?
Just a photo, a momentary respite,
You turn from solitude your beautiful head:
Vistas of your own world beckon
Yet your thoughts are mine
Bridging a thousand miles
The agony of love, surety
Of being and not being here.
Always again the wish to begin
Brilliantly new, once more to look clear
And innocent on what’s not clear and innocent,
To imagine these dirty rivulets
Spilling down the street as children imagine:
Surprising, delightful, infinite.
But the street is only a playground for louts,
The frustrated conduit of labour,
The town a particular of a history
Intensely, chronically self destructive.
We cannot unlearn contempt for the world,
The fragmentary spirit, the family
That fell apart even before it began.
Friends that were not and have already gone
Leave that glamorous emptiness, the void
Of an age that has forgotten the words
Of a conversation or why it meant
Anything: each day behind the curtain
Must be found the appalling but still
Discreetly vague urge of the animal,
Panic before the inarticulate weight
Of this negative about to be exposed.
Upon the stairs phantom ascending and
Descending whispers left merely to
Remind one, if not of departure,
Then of a past where opening a door
Was significant, where each room was
A place, where being in a house made sense.
‘The way out is via the door:
how come nobody knows this?’
Confucius, The Analects
Neither to go far nor to come home
Is the point, they say:
To stay that distant fixation found
In their farmers fields
There to scare the crows. Others,
Across the years, from family
To friends, may beg benediction,
Proper words to confirm
What their presumptions will always presume,
But you that timid daring
Which says there is a way but I cannot find it
As the parameter of a town
Beyond which the road leads past the graveyard
But never past fear.