Modernist Canadian Poets
The Hangman Ties the Holly
28th Apr 2014Posted in: Modernist Canadian Poets 0

[2 blank pages]
Anne Wilkinson


THE
HANGMAN
TIES THE
HOLLY

TORONTO • MACMILLAN • 1955
[unnumbered page]

COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1955

BY

ANNE WILKINSON

All rights reserved—no part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine or newspaper.

Printed in Canada
[unnumbered page]

TO MY MOTHER
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CONTENTS

One Or Three Or Two 1
I Was Born A Boy, And A Maiden, A Plant… 2
The Pressure Of Night 4
Lens 5
Strangers 8
Swimming Lesson 9
Easter Sketches, Montreal 12
Alleluia 15
Greek Island 16
In June And Gentle Oven 17
Italian Primitive 19
Once Upon A Great Holiday 20
A Child Can Clock 21
The Red And The Green 23
Items Of Chaos 25
Tigers Know From Birth 27
Dirge 28
Miser’s Grace 30
Topsoil To The Wind 31
Pastoral 32
On A Bench In A Park 33
South, North 35
I Am So Tired 36
Christmas Eve 37
Carol 39
Little Men Slip Into Death 40
On The Death Of A Young Poet 41
When Wound Is Fresh 42
Daily The Drum 43
Boys And Girls 45
Three Poems About Poets 47
Letter To My Children 48
For Dinah, TheAdeneys’ Cat 49
After Great Shock 50
Virginia Woolf 51
Poem In Three Parts 2
Twilight Of The Gods 54
To A Sleep Addict 55
Where Cliffs, Reflected, Cower 56
[unnumbered page]

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ONE OR THREE OR TWO


Who has the cunning to apprehend
Even everyday easy things
Like air and wind and a fool
Or the structure and colour of a simple soul?

New laid lovers sometimes see,
In a passion of light;
A man, alone,
Perfecting his night vision
May be struck by dark
And silenced into sight.

But lovers sign false names
Unless their love is fable;
A man, alone,
Is unapproachable;

The dome of his observatory
May cap a hill
Or crouch in the wind of prairie
Who can tell?

Or whether far away is near
And blocks our view
Or if one joined to one
Makes ONE or three or two? [page 1]

 

 

‘I was born a boy, and a maiden, a plant and a bird, and a darting fish in the sea’—Empedocles


I live in only one of innumerable rooms
When I damp the fire with purposeful breath,
Stare at ash, sharpen
My pencil on stone at a cold hearth

Or flick the dust on good white genesis of paper,
Flocking the air with rhymes for death, soft
As the fluff of sleep or witched by broom—
Sticks, rough with rattle tall tales of bones.

Yet always I huff out the flame with breath as live
And green as Irish grass, recalling the gills
Of my youth when I was a miner
Deep in the hills of the sea.

I was a poet then. Boldly I carried my light
Through all the pressure of black water.
My blood was cold with fire for I swam
In the glimmer of a self-ignited lantern.

And I was born a boy for I bore a boy
And walked with him in the proud
And nervous satrapy of man—
Though who can hide the accent of a mother tongue?

And I was a maiden all forlorn
A long long time ago.
But the time for maidens is said to be brief
And I do not remember it otherwise—

A time of bells, with the crystal
Tinkle of grief
To indicate the supersonic moment
Pitched an octave higher than the heart’s belief. [page 2] 

And I was born a plant. My lettuce life
Was sunny as the leaf is green.
I linger still in daymares of my flowering era—
If I blazed no light, I caught and held its sheen,

Tangled the moon in man, submissive in my flora.
For mine is a commonwealth of blood, red
And sluiced with recollection. Portage
From the sea is in the salt of my sweat,

My roots are running with the juice of stems
When pale for home they grope for a touch of earth.
Boy and maiden meander through the dendrous veins
Of everyone under the sun

But who has been a bird?
Featherless our pilots know their mammoth stretch
Pinned precarious to naked skin.
What child, from white verandah steps

Heaving his gravity with angel faith
Has not cried his tears on concrete
And on concrete learned
His kind has no primeval right to wings?

Empedocles presumed Olympic Sire;
Out of a Goddess by a God.
Beside him put his peer,
The man who stands, knowing he swam in mud. [page 3]

 

THE PRESSURE OF NIGHT


The pressure of night is on her,
She lies stiff against her saviour sleep.
Vicious as a scratch her cry
‘I love the light, I’ll have no traffic
With the nigger world of night’.
And her white flesh creeps.
	
But night is, and blazed with eyes.
Night has no shudder in
Its whole dark hemisphere of skin
And night replies
‘I am your shepherd lover,
Root of daisy and the seed of clover,
I am the poet’s pasture.’

But she lies dumb
Ice and fire die tepid on her tongue
Scorched with cold, the unbeliever
Resists her saviour. [page 4]

LENS


1

The poet’s daily chore
Is my long duty;
To keep and cherish my good lens
For love and war
And wasps about the lilies
And mutiny within.

My woman’s eye is weak
And veiled with milk;
My working eye is muscled
With a curious tension,
Stretched and open
As the eyes of children;
Trusting in its vision
Even should it see
The holy holy spirit gambol
Counterheadwise,
Lithe and warm as any animal.

My woman’s iris circles
A blind pupil;
The poet’s eye is crystal,
Polished to accept the negative,
The contradictions in a proof
And the accidental
Candour of the shadows; [page 5]

The shutter, oiled and smooth
Clicks on the grace of heroes
Or on some bestial act
When lit with radiance
The afterwords the actors speak
Give depths to violence,

Or if the bull is great
And the matador
And the sword
Itself the metaphor.

2

In my dark room the years
Lie in solution,
Develop film by film.
Slow at first and dim
Their shadows bite
On the fine white pulp of paper.

An early snap of fire
Licking the arms of air
I hold against the light, compare
The details with a prehistoric view
Of land and sea
And cradles of mud that rocked
The wet and sloth of infancy.

A stripe of tiger, curled
And sleeping on the ribs of reason
Prints as clear
As Eve and Adam, pearled
With sweat, staring at an apple core; [page 6]

And death, in black and white
Or politic in green and Easter film,
Lands on steely points, a dancer
Disciplined to the foolscap stage,
The property of poets
Who command his robes, expose
His moving likeness on the page.[page 7] 

STRANGERS


The juxtaposition of strangers,
Charged, when strangeness claps
A lightning recognition,
Clears the sticky senses,
Humid from a hot-house vision.

Empty of heirlooms, free
From bric-bras of identity
Their vowels pray in Solomon song
And the mongol child of grief
Dies a day in their arms;
A blaze of time tat is not here
Or past or in the space to come

Till, human, they close in and crack
The abstract of the unfamiliar room.

Though iris of the eye is blind
To the death of the strangers,
Pupils see their deputies,
Lovers mocking their kind
In a game they know by head
And play with wit
Below the hiding spirit.[page 8] 

SWIMMING LESSON


He found her
Tied with ropes of kelp
In shallow water.
A good Seamaritan he beached
His body, knelt and cut
The weeds that bound her to an arc
About the land’s tail end of rock.
	
Then seaward over the swell
He climbed the cliffs of spray
But braked his fins and turned
When she called over the wind
‘I’ll drift from shore and drown,
I’m buoyant only when I swim
In shallow water.’

He listened, drifting, while
She told a tyrant’s tale;
Step-motherly with threat
Of octopus and squid
She’d bound her slavish toes
To shell and sand and pebble
Tethered by the tide
To bays about the shore.

‘I float in home-eroded caves,’ she sighed,
My faint head weak
Above the horseplay,
High-capped white effrontery of waves.’
‘All animals can swim,’ he said,
‘In the swimming season;
Children wet with birth
Remember to their dying dust
The lost aquarium of Eden.’[page 9] 

‘Not if they were dark in the well
When they were weaned,’ she answered him,
‘My lungs are full, I choke
On memory of water;
I live by shallow seas
Where I can hear the landlubber
Dig the rib and soil of laughter.’

‘Earthbound dunce,’ he said,
And there on rock, in merman’s sense,
Became her master
(He was dyed a teacher—
Not in wool
But bright in silk and nylon
To his driver’s soul).

‘Come,’ he said, ‘you’ll swim
With all four fins,
You’ll duck your head;
Your eyes will open on
A world of fish and flora
And our own green notion
Planting rosemary and thyme
In acres red with herring
Under a sky of ocean.’

And though she did not holy believe
She’d lost the hellfire of her disbelief
And moved, a sleeping swimmer,
As he steered her out
To where the sea rolled bass with whales
And there were no more walls.

Awash and knots away
The breakers whinnied on the sands;
Fields of moonripeseawheat [page 10] 

Fed by currents in her blood
Swayed to the tug and slack
Of Polar streams
On the warm gulf seam of love.

On the seventh day from land
He whispered through a crevice in the roar
‘Now I’ll let you go and we will swim
In fathoms deeper than the need for breath,’
And she, accepting, drowned and swam
And happily lived ever waterward.[page 11] 

EASTER SKETCHES, MONTREAL


1

South of North
Men grow soft with summer,
Lack the winter muscles
Set to tauten at the miracle;
Boom and shrapnel,
March of Easter, loud
Where guns of ice salute
The cracking god.

Vision dims where flowers
Blur the lens
But here, intemperate
The ropes of air
Whip the optic nerve
Till eyes are clean with crying
For the melting hour
When flocks of snow stampede
And rocks are spit by spring
And intimations of fertility
In water ring.

Southof North
Men grow deaf with summer,
Sound is muffled by the pile of lawns,
But where the air is seeded fresh
And skies can stretch their cloudy loins
To the back of the long north wind
The ear is royally pitched
And hears the dying snows
Sing like swans. [page 12]

2

Where campanile of rock steeples the town
Water bells the buoy of all our birthdays;
Rivers swell in tumbling towers of praise,
Ice in aqua risen hails
The bearing down in labour of the sun.

And after sun, guards of northern lights
Stand their swords; green fires kindled
By the green shoots in our wood
Cut the natal cord,

Freeing the animal sensual man with astral
Spears of grass.
Cerebral ore conceives when pollen
Falls from heaven in a buzz of stars

And time and the rolling world
Fold the birthday children in their arms.

3

North of South
Winter is Jehovah, we
The Jobs who scold the frosty Lord
Till wings of weather
Clap the air
And crows unfrock the melting God. [page 13] 

On our nativity
The mellowed sun is grown,
A man to kill our father,
A sun with breath so warm
It seeds the body of our summer. [page 14]

 

ALLELUIA


No fanfare of flowers
But an almost inaudible
Clatter of bells
As the last icicle falls
And rivers ride again
And warn their banks
To warn the woods
And the waking worm

Of the coming Passion of our Soil,
An oratorio rehearsed by treble birds
But bursting bass from earth. O hear
The vegetable kingdom swell
And life explode,
The sound upheaved about our ears
By cabbages and cauliflower
And the gangly stalks of fresh risen corn
And radishes newborn
And row on row of cheering lettuces
Proclaiming their authentic green.[page 15]

 

GREEK ISLAND


These male and muscled hills trace their line
Back to the smoking draughtsmanship of Zeus
And in the hollows curved about the coves
The tender olive grows
And lemon sows the air with irony,
Spicing the languor of the bridal orange.
	
And bees sing here and the breathing sea
Inhales the breath of flowers
And hungry children cast their nets
For a catch of gods,
Scenting, in fumes of salt and honey,
Things to come and the NOW in all things past.[page 16]

 

IN JUNE AND GENTLE OVEN


In June and gentle oven
Summer kingdoms simmer
As they come
And flower and leaf and love
Release
Their sweetest juice.

No wind at all
On the wide green world
Where fields go stroll-
Ing by
And in and out
An adder of a stream
Parts the daisies
On a small Ontario farm.

And where, in curve of meadow,
Lovers, touching, lie,
A church of grass stands up
And walls them, holy, in.

Fabulous the insects
Stud the air
Or walk on running water,
Klee-drawn saints
And bright as angels are.

Honeysuckle here
Is more than bees can bear
And time turns pale
And stops to catch its breath
And lovers slip their flesh [page 17] 

And light as pollen
Play on treble water
Till bodies reappear
And a shower of sun
To dry their languor.

Then two in one the lovers lie
And peel the skin of summer
With their teeth
And suck its marrow from a kiss
So charged with grace
The tongue, all knowing
Holds the sap of June
Aloof from seasons, flowing. [page 18]

 

ITALIAN PRIMITIVE


A narrow virgin droops
In newborn blue,
Lips folded in, lines following
The path of stilted tears,
Medieval mother of men
Holding inept hands	
Her little manikin.

Enamel butterfly and bee,
The polished bear, sing
Beside the bearing olive tree. [page 19]

 

ONCE UPON A GREAT HOLIDAY


I remember or remember hearing
Stories that began
‘Once upon a great holiday
Everyone with legs to run
Raced to the sea, rejoicing.’
	
It may have been harvest Sunday
Or the first Monday in July
Or rockets rising for young Albert’s queen.
Nobody knows. But the postman says
It was only one of those fly-by-days
That never come back again.

My brother counted twenty suns
And a swarm of stars in the east,
A cousin swears the west was full of moons;
My father whistled and my mother sang
And my father carried my sister
Down to the sea in his arms.

So one sleep every year I dream
The end of Ramadhan
Or some high holy day
When fathers whistle and mothers sing
And every child is fair of face
And sticks and stones are loving and giving
And sun and moon embrace.

A unicorn runs on this fly-by-day,
Whiter than milk on the grass, so white is he. [page 20]

 

A CHILD CAN CLOCK


A child can clock
An era on the arc
Of a day in the sun
	
A boy is young
When he holds the pale of dawn
Smoking in his arms,

A youth, when waved with fear
The smoke’s consumed
By the climbing fire.

A man is high as noon
When he can see
Ahead to trees whose shadows

Lie in sleeping dragons
On the lawn
Or easy turn and touch

The shrinking shade
Where morning 
Withers on the grass

And he is old when
Counterclockwise into clown
He tumbles on [page 21]

The dial of earth
And dying blows a puff
Of dandelion

Envy greens his eyes
As the flighty seed
Soars then falls to birth [page 22]

 

THE RED AND THE GREEN


Here, where summer slips
Its sovereigns through my fingers
I put on my body and go forth
To seek my blood.

I walk the hollow subway
Of the ear; its tunnel
Clean of blare
Echoes the lost red syllable.

Free from cramp and chap of winter
Skin is minstrel, sings
Tall tales and shady
Of the kings of Nemi Wood.

I walk an ancient path
Wearing my warmth and singing
The notes of a Druid song
In the ear of Jack-in-the-Green.

But the quest turns round, the goal,
My human red centre
Goes whey in the wind,
Mislaid in the curd and why of memory.

Confused, I gather rosemary
And stitch the leaves
To green hearts on my sleeve;
My new green arteries [page 23]

Fly streamers from the maypole of my arms,
From head to toe
My blood sings green,
From every heart a green amnesia rings. [page 24]

 

ITEMS OF CHAOS


On a Tuesday quiet road
A bird flew into my windshield;
By a barley field
A bullet broke the glass; a toad
Lived all its summer in a bird’s nest;
A storm escaped the cloudy throat
Of a man possessed
And thundered round the town.
	
A Monday murder under a lilac tree
Gained a short renown
But only because the flowers
Tumbled, purple, down
Bewildering the sense
With fragrance
Poured on a common crime.

A twoheaded boy, Sunday born,
Made the news this week.
About his single neck
Authority has hung a disk,
Identifying and abstracting grief.
The father drives a truck,
The mother is mild
And knows not why from wither
Or the double hunger
Of her two-faced child.

Some say goblins. Others swear
A ring around the moon
When she conceived her son
Bewitched the way of genes.
The moon has no opinion, [page 25] 
The father’s pride is broken,
Doctors are no wiser.
‘Variations from the norm
Are plentiful,’ they say,
‘But not explicable.’
Sabbath voices drone
‘In the sight of God, ALL
His works are beautiful.’ [page 26]

 

TIGERS KNOW FROM BIRTH


My bones predict the striking hour of thunder
And water as I huddle under
          The tree the lightning renders
	
I’m hung with seaweed, winding in its caul
The nightmare of a carp whose blood runs cold,
          A crab who apes my crawl

My lens is grafted from a jungle eye
To focus on the substance of a shadow’s
          Shadow on the sky

My forest filtered drum is pitched to hear
The serpent split the grass before the swish
          Is feather in my ear

I’ve learned from land and sea of every death
Save one, the east rest, the little catnap
          Tigers know from birth [page 27]

 

DIRGE


Who killed the bridegroom?
I, said the bride,
With a nail in his pride,
I killed the bridegroom.
	
Who killed the bride?
I, said the groom,
I fashioned her tomb,
I killed the bride.

Who saw them die?
I, said the ice,
In my cold embrace,
I saw them die.

Who caught their blood?
I, said the sea,
It ebbed back to me,
I caught their blood.

Who’ll be chief mourner?
I, said the fire,
I’ll mourn for desire,
I’ll be chief mourner.

Who’ll carry the coffin?
I, said the wind,
Till the two poles bend,
I’ll carry the coffin. [page 28] 

Who’ll toll the bell?
We, said the lovers,
For all whom love severs,
We toll the bell. [page 29]

 

MISER’S GRACE


What amputation
Of the sod
To hack it out
To stretch the dead

How angular
We make the snow
When putting down
The bones we knew

A miser’s grace
To fill with lead
The breathing earth
That gave us bread [page 30]

 

TOPSOIL TO THE WIND


We have mislaid ourselves, purposely
As a child mislays a burden;
As if in miracle of treason
Pastures willingly,
Threw topsoil to the wind.
	
We gnaw the forked and brittle
Bone of wish and call it food,
Party every hour to murder
At the altar of our adulthood.

In aisles between the graves we waste
The landed fish, our flesh.
Our hearts, unrisen, yield a heavy bread. [page 31]

 

PASTORAL


Let the world go limp, put it to rest,
Give it a soft wet day and while it sleeps
Touch a drenched lead;	
Roll a stone where the skin’s aware on your palm,
Stretch long and latitudinal on sand

And smell the salt drugged steaming of the sea,
Breathe sudden shock,
Drench the flesh in fonts of memory

Before you turn
Uncurl prehensile fingers from the tree,
Cut your name on bark, search
The letters for your lost identity.[page 32]

 

ON A BENCH IN A PARK


On a bench in a park
Where I went walking
A boy and girl,
Their new hearts breaking
Sat side by side
And miles apart
And they wept most bitterly.

‘Why do you mourn,’
I asked,
‘You, who are barely born?’

‘For gold that is gone,’
Said the girl,
‘I weep distractedly.’

I turned to the youth,
‘And you?’
‘For what I have not gained,’ he cried,
‘Possessing her
I lost myself and died.’

And so we sat, a trio
Tuned to sobs,
And miles to go
And miles and miles apart

Till they, amazed
That one as old as I
Had juice enough for tears,
Dried their streaming eyes
To ask the cause of mine.[page 33] 

I told of the grit I’d found
In a grain of truth,
Mentioned an aching tooth
Decayed with fears
And the sum of all I’d lost
In the increased tax on years.

They yawned and rose
And walked away. I moved
To go but death sat down.
His cunning hand
Explored my skeleton.[page 34] 

 

SOUTH, NORTH


Countries where the olive
And the orange ripen
Grow their men
On slopes unpuritan;
Joy a food	
Deserving rites of measure.

Where winter pulls the blind
A bliss as keen—
On native stone of sin
Cold men whet their pleasure
Cussed by the black north wind. [page 35] 

 

I AM SO TIRED


I am so tired I do not think
Sleep in death can rest me
	
So line my two eternal yards
With softest moss
Then lengths of bone won’t splinter
As they toss
Or pierce their wooden box
To winter

Do not let the children
Pass my way alone
Lest these shaking bones
Rattle our their fright
At waking in the night [page 36]

 

CHRISTMAS EVE


Close as brothers are or breathing
I am tied to men whose mourning
Wears out benches in the park;
My shadow mates with shadows
Where they trespass
On the fenced and guarded acres of the heart.
	
They stack the litter of their discontent
On private property.
I order them to pick up skin and go
But sit and stare
When, paper thin, they stand on cardboard feet
And ask me, ‘Where?’
We shake our heads and scald our eyeballs
In community of tears.

Then one among them speaks,
‘Tonight is Christmas Eve;
Tattered and torn my tongue,
My heart is hanging
On the ill will of a thorn;
But if my head can rob
A neighbour of his joy
I’ll be a thief of feeling,
Steal his love and wrap
A red, illicit toy.’

A felon speaks,
‘Tonight is Christmas Eve
And derelicts are bitten
White with grief.
But look! enchanted children cry
To see the blizzard blacken [page 37]
Where the flakes come tumbling
On the evil in my eye.’

The chorus sings
‘Tonight is Christmas Eve,
What shepherd guides the sheep?
The saviour in our sinews
Is he dead or only nodding
Out his forty winks of sleep?
Noel Noel
Hullo goodbye
The day salutes goodwill.’

Terror strains my mercy
And I yell
‘Go home before I call the...’
‘Madam, home is where we die,’
They grin and sigh,
‘And we can die as well as not
In your walled garden plot.’

I shut my eyes and build my hands
In dikes about my ears
(I am the priest the church the steeple
All the people
Riddled with the peak and mob of fear);
I sing song in my head,
‘Tinsel angels guard my bed,
The house is warm,
The witch is chained to the barn,
God rest us merry gentlemen.’ [page 38]

 

CAROL


I was a lover of turkey and holly
But my true love was the Christmas tree
We hung our hearts from a green green bough
And merry swung the mistletoe
	
We decked the tree with a silver apple
And a golden pear,
A partridge and a cockle shell
And a fair maiden

No rose can tell the fumes of myrrh
That filled the forest of our day
Till fruit and shell and maid fell down
And the partridge flew away

Now I swing from a brittle twig
For the green bough of my true love hid
A laily worm. Around my neck
The hangman ties the holly. [page 39]

 

LITTLE MEN SLIP INTO DEATH


Little men slip into death
As the diver slides into water
With only a ripple
To tell where he’s hidden.
	
Big muscles struggle harder in the grave.
The earth is slow to settle on their bones,
Erupting into mounds or sprouting flowers
Or giving birth to stones.

And how to stand a tombstone
With the ground not quiet yet,
And what to say, what not to say
When moss is rooted and the stone is set? [page 40] 

 

ON THE DEATH OF A YOUNG POET


How can an old man
Talk with the young?
The weight of his secret
Stops the pulse of tongue
	
The young are saying
Men die too soon
Who die while their words
Uphold the noon

The young are grieving
A young man’s death
An old man knows
Whom the gods bless [page 41]

 

WHEN WOUND IS FRESH


When wound is fresh
She bathes in blood
To cleanse the pain
	
Then fragile mesh
Of sentient skin
Shuts pulsing vein

Day after day
The graft, o thin,
Is grief to touch

So strange the way
Of healing
She wonders why
This convalescence
Calls itself relief.
Now scar is thick

Her tongue, compulsive
Hunts a redder
Wound to lick. [page 42]

 

DAILY THE DRUM


‘If we had a keen vision and feeling…it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.’—GEORGE ELIOT

1

 

Daily the drum is burst
It is not only or foremost
The din of squirrel hearts
Or the spangled noise of grass
These are simple sounds
Like bird love,
Not the sound we die of.

2

On the other side of silence
I can hear the bones
Of bold and trembling girls
Clacking castanets
In dance of fire and fear

And who is dear enough
When young men cry
And hailstones break the panes
That glaze the lovers’ eye,
Or terror’s tin scream rises,
Not from a throat
But from the key that locks
The sickness in the mouth?

The service at our graves
Comes clear, and bells, [page 43] 

But who can bear
The hidden grinding mirth
When etiquette conceals
The date and nature of our death?

And every hour a child’s
Black coal of trouble
Picks at the poet’s ear
Sharper than any other,
For child and poet wind
A one-day clock. ‘NOW,’
It strikes, ‘NOW is forever.’

These are the sounds that murder. [page 44]

 

BOYS AND GIRLS


Boys and girls come out to play
In air, in water;
All together, duck, dive, somersault,
Push the waves about as if they owned
A cool blue liquid fortune;
	
Then, mysteriously,
For no one gives a signal,
They climb the ladder, throw
Their spongy selves on silver dock.
The pale boards darken round their bodies
Where the water runs.

The plumpness on the girls is new
And not yet of them;
Awkwardly as the farmer’s boy
His Sunday suit
They wear a flounce of hips,
The prickling breasts.
Their minds have gone away to sleep
In a far country;
Nothing IS, except to tease
And nurse them into women.
They do not speak to boys unless to jeer,
And sit apart,
But out of the corners of their eyes
They look at them incessantly.

Boys are proud, groin
A phoenix, fire and ash
And new-found agony;
Minds are here, not stars away
And fine nerves sing [page 45]

Like wire stretched from pole to pole
In a prairie wind;
Nowhere are they cradled
In a warmth of fat
So they must tremble, boast,
Insult the lolling maidens,
Girls they hate
Whose bodies swim in their veins,
Whom somehow they must touch.

Mysteriously, again,
For no one gives a signal,
It’s water time.
Pink girls rise and run, sticky
As foam candy at a fair,
Shriek and mimic fear
When the crowing boys push
Into the quivering lake
The girls they’ll kiss next year. [page 46]

 

THREE POEMS ABOUT POETS


1

Poets are fishermen crying
‘Fresh catch from sleep,
Fresh as the mackerel sky
Or a salmon’s leap
Is the catch we offer.
Come buy, come buy!’

2

Poets are cool as the divers who wander
The floor of the sea;
Their eyes are aquariums, swimming
With starfish and stranger.

Dark waters breed the phantoms
They haul in their nets to the sun
And sun is the power
That glisters their scales with meaning.

3

Poets are leapers, the heels of their sprung feet
Clearing the hurdles of sleep.
See how they run! Muscled with rhythm
And fleshed fair and rosy with vowels.
They’re pulling the tunnel out into the light,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
As three new poems? [page 47] 

 

LETTER TO MY CHILDREN


I guided you by rote—
Nipple to spoon, from spoon
To knife and fork,
And many a weak maternal morning
Bored the breakfast hour
With ‘manners make the man’,
And cleanliness I kissed
But shunned its neighbour,
Puzzled all my days
By the ‘I’ in godliness.

Before you turn
And bare your faultless teeth at me
Accept a useless gift, apology,
Admit I churched you in the rites
Of trivia
And burned the family incense
At a false god’s altar.

If we could start again,
You, newbegotten, I
A clean stick peeled
Of twenty paper layers of years
I’d tell you only what you know
But barely know you know,
Teach one commandment,
‘Mind the senses and the soul
Will take care of itself,	
Being five times blessed.’ [page 48]

 

FOR DINAH, THE ADENEYS’ CAT


Thirty elongated seconds
By the sun	
We stared, the cat and I,
Strangers, cool and crouched
Behind unwinking green

Till flick
Along the spine, a whip
Of recognition cut
Our masks of fur and skin, 
Cat o’nine tails with a sting
Neither hinted at
By curl of lip
Or spitting tongue.

Then one cat turned
With poise of air
And washed a spotless paw,
The other took a tortoiseshell comb
And almost yawned
As she combed her tatless hair. [page 49]

 

AFTER GREAT SHOCK


1—Physical Findings

In slow motion body moves,
Fingers clumsy as a brood of thumbs,
Legs on the loose and stumbling
And the voice crying
‘O dear why should this matter be.’

Thigh and shin burn blue with bumping
Stove and desk and angles of the dead,
Lips move awkwardly as young
And unloved girls,
Elbows swell, broken
On confusion of banged doors;
Tears dictate their gush and their withholding.

No ink yet graphs the movement of the heart.

2—Prognosis

If tissue shrinks and head, aloft once more
Pilots the body, proud
Between its world of matter,
A poet’s point will trace the trough
And pitch of pain, a cardiogram
Abstracted from the shaken centre. [page 50]

 

VIRGINIA WOOLF


Her coral remnants lie
Where fishes keep their watch by night
And move transparent fins
In hollows of her delicate drift-bones.
From ivory pelvis spring
Her strange sea changeling children;
In sockets deep with six lost layers of sight
The sea fans open. [page 51] 

 

POEM IN THREE PARTS


1

Those behind me
Those about me
Millions crowding to come after me
Look over my shoulder.

Together we consider
The merit of stone
(I hold a stone in my hand for all to see)
A geologist tells the time it has endured
Endurance, a virtue in itself, we say,
Makes its own monument.

We pause, resent
The little span
A miser’s rule
Inched out for man

But blood consoles us
Can be squeezed from us
Not from stone.

Saying this fools no one
A sudden bluster of words
Claims for human seed
A special dispensation
Foxes and flowers and other worthies
All excluded.

Immediately sixteen creeds
Cry out to be defended—
A state of emergency exists; [page 52] 

Flying buttresses
Revolving domes, a spire extended
By the spirit of
A new and startling growth of thorns

Skies in Asia catch 
On uptilted wings of temples
In the Near East the talk is of stables.

2

Above-below the din
A few quiet men
Observe the cell’s fragility

How Monday’s child
Makes Tuesday’s vegetable
And Wednesday petrifies
The leaf to mineral
While Friday sparks the whole in fire
And Sunday’s elements disperse
And rise in air.

3

The stone in my hand
IS my hand
And stamped with tracings of
A once greenblooded frond,
Is here, is gone, will come,
Was fire, and green, and water,
Will be wind. [page 53] 

 

TWILIGHT OF THE GODS


One man prayed
‘Hold your nuclear Sun
On the Right hand of heaven,’
Another cried,
‘The God of Power belongs
On the Left hand with the chosen.’

As was to be expected
Neither received a reply.
But how could they admit?
Forging God’s signature
Each sat down
And composed a holy writ.

The two books were so similar
They might have been written by brothers;
For absolution both proposed
Last rites, flood-lit. [page 54]

 

TO A SLEEP ADDICT


Turn your compass from
The point of sleep.	
Let the fixed pole wait.
Why hurry the traveller home?

The track is short so beat
The racing blood
For when its foaming dries
No whip can make you bleed.

The linen that covers us
At last, is cold and worms
Are hatched in shadows
Of our human arms.

Speak now

For we must hold our peace
When resurrection springs
From the crook of an ulna
And slithers through the grass. [page 55]

 

WHERE CLIFFS, REFLECTED, COWER


Where cliffs, reflected, cower
I see the image of a stranger
In a sheltered pool.
	
He clings to crumbling
Ledge and the clatter
Of three pebbles, loosed and tumbling,

Drowns the edgy grief
Of fingernails and the torn quick
Pleading for his life.

I hear him sigh. Fatigue lets go
And up he comes, though he comes crashing down
Where hawks are crowned, and kingly

Feed on the delicate ways of flesh
Then sharpen jaded beaks
On a jag of bone.

Below the clouds but far
Above his head the hawks are lagging.

I would cry my heart around
And stretch it to a wide red net
To catch the falling stranger in.

I’d hold him still and stunned
But safe from vultures and the titter
Of small birds

Waiting for his thud
Of matter on the ground. [page 56] 

But my red boasted net
Is less than air, the mesh
Too weak with words

To bear his weight
Or frighten off the plunge
Of preying birds.

Shorn of grace
I stare at the mocking pool
And throw a stone

To break the image of his fall
And my cold face
And the white gull bearing our souls away. [page 57]

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