Archive for 2014

ALCHEMY

The cherry’s leaves are gilded now, arranged
fan-like on the lawn, by that perennial
alchemy – no intellect invented –
that turns skyward green leaves to falling gold.

Before the season was named ‘the Autumn’,
it was ‘the Harvest’ and then ‘the Fall’.
The Pilgrims took the last across the sea –
where, from bosky Maine to tinder-dry
Arizona, its melancholy sounds.

A male blackbird with its bright yellow beak,
foraging, flicks the leaves hither and
thither as if they were fools’ gold – humans
being humans, birds birds.

 

 

 

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COLLATERAL DAMAGE

‘I’ve been away,’ she said, as we sipped our wine
at the Philosophy Department’s graduation party.
‘I’ve been ill but I’m better now. I’ll do a masters
on the teleology of the ampersand.’
I nodded. We were both acolytes
of linguistic analysis.
‘Do you know the wild flower,
Rosebay Willow Herb?’
I nodded again, a memory suddenly shaken.
‘The night I was born German bombs
planted its seeds in my brain.’

Next door to my first school was a field full of Fireweed,
in the ruins of a synagogue razed by a Flying Bomb.
I thought of my father in heaven.
As autumn progressed and the power cuts increased
and the flowers died, the teacher read to us
about Tundra and Mammoth and Sabre-toothed Tiger.
I understood that it was long ago or far away
but hoped nevertheless I should be able one day
to brave the snows and kill the beasts.

She was awarded an aegrotat degree
and, some two months later,
sectioned. We lost touch.

 

 

 

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SHOAH

…and, with the film-maker, he returns
to where he sang, as a boy, in a boat;
a prisoner, an orphan, a Jew dumping sacks of crushed bone in the river;
keeping the Germans entertained with the
Prussian marching songs they had taught him –
and the Poles so charmed that, now he has returned
in middle age, they reminisce fulsomely:
bemused, he turns to camera in such pain…

 

 

 

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LETHE

The sun was sharp as she entered the lane.
She found a point where enough of the wall
had tumbled – through neglect or misuse –
for her to climb the rough, sandstone blocks with ease.
She was in a forest of rhododendron,
dark leaves a foil to extravagant flowers –
rich, vivid reds, pinks, purples, lilacs, whites,
an exotic palette, almost sensual.
Though the sun was distilled, the air was humid.
She thought of what little she had left.

The silence was dense. What insects there were
were soundless. She saw a patch of dry sunlight
and rushed for it, foliage and branches
chafing her bare arms, calves and ankles –
pulling at her tee-shirt and her cut-offs
and snagging her empty backpack. She hoped
there would be stones – knew there would be stones.
She paused briefly to look at the marks
on her skin – knew it was too late to return.

She pushed on and emerged into full sun.
What had been the lawn stretched before her – a field
of long grass with occasional thistles,
cow parsley and yarrow. At its furthest edge
was the house – Georgian, derelict, its windows
and doors crossed shut with crude wooden battens,
half its roof collapsed. Suddenly, a vixen
lifted its head from the grasses to watch her.
She could hear the cubs mewling and looked away.

She heard the beck before she saw it.
It was pellucid, a murmuring brook
with crayfish scuttling amongst its pebbles.
As quickly as she could, she moved upstream,
the garden giving way to the wildness
of hawthorn and elderberry. An owl
flew suddenly past her, silencing the wood.

She reached the pool. It was, as she had read,
a covert place, suited to sacred rites,
surrounded by high banks of moss and fern,
its edges shallow, its centre profound –
and, yes, there were stones: large pieces of flint,
brought, for whatever forgotten purpose,
from some altogether different country.

From habit, she removed her trainers
as if she were about to paddle in the sea –
and sighed, suddenly weary with so much.
She took off her backpack, filled it with flints,
put some in the pockets of her cut-offs,
and shouldered the bag, staggering slightly.

As she took her first step into the shallows,
the cold and the pebbles making her gasp,
she saw minnows darting away to the depths –
thought of the crayfish, the lawn gone to pasture,
the owl, the vixen and her young, the
sensuous, destructible flowers,
began to sob then howl and howl and howl.

Exhausted, she took the flints from her pockets,
lay down in the moss and ferns and slept.
She dreamt she was bathing naked in the pool.
Menacing, he appeared on the bank.
Seeing his lust, she rose from the water,
splashed him, as one might at the seaside.
Dispassionately, she watched him turn slowly
to stone. The cooling air woke her, smiling.
She put on her shoes, emptied the flints
from her pack and built a cairn, selecting
each piece and deliberately placing it –
then made her way downstream in the sunset
with care, a lightness on her back, rejoicing,
the water squelching in her trainers.

 

 

 

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LOVE AND MARRIAGE

After the usual, civil formalities are finished
and the formal photographer has gone,
you begin to photograph people not poses;
charming, as you mingle; capturing, like a magus,
the very spirit of each and every guest.

In fifty years, we have been seldom apart.
When we are you are my very limb
and life. I was alone in Illinois,
driving, by the side of the Mississippi,
on the Great River Road, south to St. Louis –
thinking of you every lonely yard of the way.

Marriage, love, last, of course, by chance, choice.
I watch you ‘work the room’ – enchanting,
diffident, vital, a benison.

 

 

 

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