To Have Longer Periods of Light One has to Go North

Always water from the bottom
says the care leaflet of the patio rose.
He remembers the sense of affront he felt
when he saw bastard on the bathroom mirror,

and later that day, the head of a match had flown
off and burnt him when he’d struck it;
the pain had nearly made him crash the car.
He’d have to take stock.

All this is in the past, for now he’s intent
on kissing another woman’s abdomen.
The fish in the pond are coming up to watch
and the colours are richer than he’s seen before.
Smoke billows from a neighbour’s bonfire.
He notices that once again he’s drunk too much.

Annie Freud

The Reach

On a reach of the Thames, late afternoon,
The sun made clear what was in the air:
Flies and seeds, dust and thistledown.
Better to be there, I thought, than anywhere.

That shine on the water shouldn’t go to waste.
It was short-lived eternity; I went with it,
Its sky-struck presence, ambling water-paced,
Meant lightlessness wouldn’t overtake me yet.

Plenty of others had the same idea as me
To side with a shining and not an ending thing.
To measure or be gauged by its authority,
their kids excited, dogs occasionally jumping in.

They liked that border between wet and dry,
River-herbs, slanted and out-reaching trees
And the way its courses passed them by,
A courier of bits and darks and leftoffs of the breeze.

Of course, light overtook us, as it said it would,
Families receded, not to be caught
In the dark by the river, losing neighbourhood.
Before I went my towpath way, I thought

Of sky and river trying to interlock:
Then, for a moment, my thought couldn’t be stopped
Until it reached a western spot, the rock
down which the first bead of the river dropped.

Lee Sands

A Renewal

Having used every subterfuge
To shake you, lies, fatigue, or even that of passion,
Now I see no way but a clean break.
I add that I am willing to bear the guilt.

You nod assent. Autumn turns windy, huge,
A clear vase of dry leaves vibrating on and on.
We sit, watching. When I next speak
Love buries itself in me, up to the hilt.

James Merrill

Tambourine

I was trying to tell you something about the brittle winter,
about the snow that came down in the city streets and changed
everything, how they went quiet, we were all quiet
and the whiteness stood like an old collective noun for kindness
or something people feel for each other when they are trying not to fall
but also to walk in a way that says look at the light,
look at the beauty in the light and how it makes even the dirty
violet, how it shows me that other girl, the shiny, good girl
whose eyes are bright discs that quiver in their sockets.
I was wanting to say that every sound ever made is out there,
our private sounds, the shapes of words we put together are
occupying space, like snowflakes, spoken snowflakes
all over the sky. Maybe the snow is like sound and space,
like saying and not saying and I was trying to tell you something
I had figured out about forgiveness and the way it can suddenly descend
and how like absolution you can’t make it happen
but you have to really know it, really feel it and then all that matters is
getting home and I was trying to tell you that today I walked for miles
amongst the new fall, staring at the flakes melting on my skin
but you had stopped listening so I picked up the red tambourine
you bought me at Hessy’s and wrapped in tissue paper that Christmas,
you who doesn’t like clatter, who prefers stillness, bought me
a percussion grade Stagg, and there I was suddenly, come home,
to my 36 mini-cymbals, rattle-handing all over the place.
I think maybe today was a day you had waited for. Thank you
for my tambourine. There is nothing I can tell you about winter.

Jane Aspinall

They Were Burning Dead Leaves

They were burning dead leaves. Must oozed with scent,
tar bubbled and blew.
The moonlight glow behind the thistle bent
like a torn rainbow.

The street was a forest, night slid into the heart
of deepest autumn.
A guilty music the house apart
with its fife and drum.

To have this again, just this, just the once more:
I would sink below
autumnal earth and place my right hand in your
hand like a shadow.

Zsuzsa Rakovszky
trans. George Szirtes

Arracombe Wood

Some said, because he wud’n spaik
Any words to women but Yes and No,
Nor put out his hand for Parson to shake
He mun be bird-witted. But I do go
By the lie of the barley that he did sow,
And I wish for no better thing than to hold a rake
Like Dave, in his time, or to see him mow.

Put up in the churchyard a month ago,
‘A bitter old soul,’ they said, but i wadn’t so.
His heart were in Arracombe Wood where he’d used to go
To sit and talk wi’ his shadder till sun went low,
Though what it was all about us’ll never know.
And there baint no mem’ry in the place
Of th’ old man’s footmark, nor his face;
Arracombe Wood do think more of a crow –
‘Will be violets there in the Spring: in Summer time the spider’s lace;
And come the Fall, the whizzle and race
Of the dry, dead leaves when the wind gives chase;
And on the Eve of Christmas, fallin’ snow.

Charlotte Mew