When Jodie Opened the Window the Sun Burst
In the middle of winter,
at the heart of the frozen ground
a wild spring rumbled.
If the day was nothing but grey,
it was all possible and impossible hues of it.
It was the whole universal range
of outrageous, electric, beyond reason greys,
as hot as icebergs in Titanic seas,
as cold as the bristly heart of fire.
A tinge of blue
was loud enough to crash through the skies;
violet rang bells and sirens;
a streak of white was an emergency
racing through red lights.
With the slightest yellow sending shivers down the earth,
the room, the air, shook.
The bare trees outside, the hedges and their hidden roots,
all gardens imagined or real,
the frantic wind with its outbursts of birds,
all whirred with a voltaic flare.
And that was just the beginning of the day,
even before she had opened the door,
before she had even said a word.
For Jerry, I.m. Jodie Moss
Found in a black bag in the loft,
reeking of dashed hopes.
Washed too many times,
to a sadder shade of conviction,
fading towards lethal indifference.
A thrill turned comfort, like slipshod love.
Strange as the faith we lost.
Strange as ourselves in another face,
after a transplant.
Awkward like an embarrassing episode
someone rakes up, from a time which was once
the future of a present that made sense then,
but was spent recklessly on living,
as if that present was
the be all and end all of our lives.
We cannot believe
we used to be such as would wear that.
All those expired selves… If we met them now,
we would try to cross the road,
ignore them, or act a new cool self
as when we run into him or her
after so long, with someone else:
a lot to explain, but not much to say
for what was lived and loved,
and lived through and over,
and over with and forgotten.
Why the keeping then. Why the clinging.
We cannot think
where that whole chunk of history went,
how we turned to exiles, how we
became foreigners to ourselves.
The sleeves are in a dead tongue.
The legs are offensive, absurd clauses
from a screwed, retrograde code of law.
But we slip into them, and they fit,
and we go on breathing.
We stand in them
like half-restored ruins, sites for tourists.
It would be entirely possible to survive like this,
finding a kind of dignity in the lack of it,
finding freedom in renouncing
our own judgement in style,
which is never other than a fad anyway.
Time to return to our riper, updated now,
and to the refilled shells of our current selves,
so we can get on with our forging of more past,
our latest version feeling fully upgraded and evolved,
our taste changing imperceptibly with every breath.
‘New Light’– the Persian New Year
To Iman Askari
It is quite clear the year opens not at the beginning of winter
but of spring, which is when it should be celebrated,
when Iman’s family in Shiraz will be doing it without him.
It is still possible to buy a goldfish there – they’ll put it
in a clear plastic bag for you; no regulations there
about the welfare of goldfish, which start dainty,
giving little sign of the monsters they’d become
if given their due space, or of their dreadful death
when they can no longer cope with the confined
prison of the bowl. At this stage, a goldfish is a symbol
of what comes to an end in the heavens,
and it is placed in the display for Nou-Ruz alongside
the bottle of rosewater, the budding branches,
the yellow tulips and blue hyacinths. When the candles are lit,
their flames flicker in the mirror set as centrepiece,
speaking of the equinox and confusing the fish, a jittery wisp
of colder fire before its own reflection. The significance of the apple
and the bulb of garlic in their gilded glass dishes is obvious
and needs no explanation. It takes weeks to prepare the table
in advance: to sprout a handful of wheat to a small green field,
to cook a jugful of wheat so it becomes proverbial sweetness,
to paint the hollowed eggs in impossible patterns, sit them,
as fragile as life, by the cup of sumac – the colour of dry blood,
the cup of vinegar made from unripe grapes
– the patience of old age, the drink of the dejected.
Doe at Horner Woods
The clearest path is the one I follow by the tug of musk
daubed on the bark of oaks, the fern feathers, the moss.
The breeze turns and I can see by the coded script of scents.
Day and dark, they sing their leap-bound lays: who it was,
what they were up to, how long ago. If we had names
like humans do, I’d say ‘Red Stag the Wise Strut’
grazed this grass three hours ago; ‘Sister Doe Flit’ drank
from this puddle near dawn and she was warm. She left
of a trace, her unique tag. And in the wake of it,
Her thin-air toe-gait stirred the sighs of rained-on earth.
My thought tunes to the slightest twitch. I read the eyelash
flick of every blade of grass, and, talking sense behind my back,
the neat calligraphy of twigs, which blurs, if they are still,
into a dunce flat mat. But what stops for long? The stars
pour to the west; the planet’s magnetic streams swish
underground; spring slides through the growing trees and
sap pumps from their roots to their bursting buds.
The anxious leaves suck air, then spit it out. I hear it all:
your breath, your heart in your mouth, the lifting of your hand.
A Line Through Exmoor
On Richard Long’s abstract ‘walking sculpture’
This work of his, like the wind, is invisible,
so he draws the theory in pencil – a straight line
on a compass bearing of 290 degrees –
with a ruler across the Ordnance Survey map.
It’ll be a sculpture of strides on the terrain,
north-west to south-east, from Parracombe to Exford.
It means a radical departure from his previous Line
Made by Walking, a piece of grounded pith:
see the bare thread worn in the meadow
by his tread from A to B, backwards
and forwards for a month, in this photograph
taken before the grass grew back.
But A Line through Exmoor will leave no trace
other than his memories of it, wearing thin
and thinner with each day, and what appears
on paper as a neat, hassle-free bee-shot,
like a biography of the artist in a hundred words,
translates as miles of fences, hedges, banks.
All the trundling through moors under the rain,
scrambles over styles, the slosh through fords,
the sludge in bogs, the clods loading his soles,
traipsing ice-hardened soil, thirst, breath clouding
in the frost, the steep combs, the trespassing,
wire fences, foxes’ holes, the arrow-like
line in his mind will need to rhyme in slant.
His progress will wend the corrugated verse
of a space odyssey told in rambling phrases
his heart understands but cannot speak.
He’ll pause under the sleek antiphonies of owls,
in the ruffled waves of red stags’ bellows,
the ultrasound fizz of damselflies, the drone
of easterlies harassing the uplands’ face,
breaking through the boundary of his scheme.
Third Prize at Hope Bourne Poetry Competition,
rganised by Exmoor Society
I write his speeches for him.
He can sleep in peace – he knows
he can leave the rigmarole of fetching metaphors to me.
I slide current notions into a sleekly swung sling,
and lithium phrases broadcast their buzz
on the see-saw sways of counterpoised analogies.
I set them to a mnemonic beat
that he wears well. His voice melds
the scores into a corollary that just slides down.
He memorises lines like lyrics, lists,
rehearsing as he shaves, mock-lecturing
the mirror in the lift, self-addressing
safety-glazed reflections in the back of cars.
He beats himself to it; in record time
he digests the cud he chewed, while he chews
the turf he grazed. Now it’s his role
to stand in the red-shift of public light,
and distil the logic of stellar parallax.
The words I wrote and he delivers
have become himself, the picture is now
the eye that shuts down for the night.
The world spins, tilts on its axle.
In his sleep I edit his peace speeches.
He had a knife and a clean aspen.
He left out the bleating, the bells, the blades of grass.
He carved the bark: “What a beautiful place to grow old
without my beloved”.
He had the nails at the end of his fingers.
He had himself, the height of the trees, the lambs.
He scratched the bark: “Gypsy, a trap
for wild doves”.
The aspens tapped the soil, grew on, slurred the words.
He drove the herd down to the 1,000 metres.
He cut a fish, a star, body parts, the bark of a dog.
“My only pain is that of a woman…”
He had a tongue no one spoke that side of the sea.
He had a tongue to lap ewe’s milk from a bowl.
He left messages for the odds to come: “All is mine,
all is mine, all is mine”.
All this thick tough grass, this trial of trees, these foreign sheep.
He had them in thousands, someone else’s chagrin.
He had turned into the myth with the golden fleece: “At home
they think that we are heroes”.
“But we are nothing”, read the aspens, and
“This and this and that and my thigh”.
From Cry Wolf, Straid Award, Templar Poetry 2012
A Prayer For a Poorly Child
After Gerard Manley Hopkins.
For Rebecca Leslie,
with joy at her recovery.
Maker, Swiftlover, override the rules
rifing in the malignant cells’ alliance,
their abracadabra coven in the brain,
behind the cosy plan-filled vessels.
those think-tank wire knots,
idea sparks that network hand in hand
an assembly outnumbering the stars.
Our lark has only begun once-upon-timing,
her pillows billow in yellow primrose rhymes.
Your tunes atone all fallings out of pitch:
sing her your Self-strummed hymns,
hum soundness into the naughty strings that bray.
Handle your yearling with holyridden husbandry.
Gainsay the bully, impeach the scaremonger
arsoning rampant since we let him in.
Breathe your rosefire down the neck of malady:
a single perfumed verb from you spring-cleans the fumes.
The garden that you gave us, in a mess.
We’ve cultivated briars for the thorns.
Blow us all to suit your unfenced fancy
transparenting your face in bowls of glow.
Unbridle us from Time’s parade in grey-stuff narrows,
the clock’s rude show-offs in each and every room.
Reword this nightmare into your daylight stallion
to ride your unfeigned gallop
that loves us loves us loves us.
First published in Domestic Cherry 2, 2012