Behind the crick and bang of the house cooling
I hear the spillage of rain, the seltzer splash
out there in the dark. I know the outside wall
is shining like a running mirror in the yellow sluice
of the streetlight, where the gutter blurts water.
Some kind of fabric flags and whips
in the sound of the wind, as if the street were slung
with the slack banners of beaten armies.
I topple back to sleep, the old feeling of a pebble
filling my mouth. And wake, seeping at the mouth
from dreams of toffee and the canal water
falling and rising in the deep lock at Dudley.
At dawn the carpark shrubbery sways in silence.
Two snails are chugging across the front step.
And on the doorframe, swollen and pointed,
a third: a fluke of wet flesh, or petals spoiled into gel.
He had a dozen ways of waking me, always early,
on October mornings like this. I’d leave late
to join Londoners labouring under umbrellas,
cars on Hearne Hill swishing their skirts of rain.
My ballroom shoulders were ruined
by those wings. Now there’s hardly a scar,
just a sheen on the skin as if the light
falling right there had passed
through frosted glass. As it has.
I imagined them taking their leave
of my back: the exit hole fist-sized;
paramedics; a tussle of sinew and rag.
But it wasn’t like that. When I turned
my face from flying, they shrivelled
like spiderplants freeing their young.
Feathers husked into onion-skin,
flaked, choking the shower.
You’ll miss the sky, more than one
person said. They were wrong.
These days the strength of my body
is held in my legs and I like it that way.
I hung long enough like a doll
from the beating white engines of God.
(That kind of talk does no good.)
You never forget the standing start,
the torque of the upward stroke,
the rowing into the sun. Yet I’d rather
sweat here, down on the dance floor,
tasting the street – if it weren’t for the birds.
When I see a swan, like the last clench of snow
at winter’s end, my eyes drizzle
melted light, my nose starts to drip.
Whatever I’ve done, its holy water still.
I dispose of the tissues wit due respect.
The tick you hear
is the heart-valve’s catch,
holding back the wrong
traffic of blood;
this click is the notch in a run
of iron, and love is a ratchet
that slides only one way,
and cannot return
In the meadow the anemone
is creaking open to the dawn.
By noon, the sky’s polyphony
will flood her white lap till she drowns.
The tiny muscle in her star
is tensed to open to the All,
yet the daylight’s blast so deafens her
she barely heeds the sunset’s call
or finds the willpower to refurl
her petal-edges – her, the power
and will of how many other worlds.
In our violence, we outlive her.
But which new life will see us flower
and face the skies, as true receivers?
(version by Don Paterson)
In my dream the dead have arrived
to wash the windows of my house.
There are no blinds to shut them out with.
The clouds above the Lough are stacked
like the clouds are stacked above Delft.
They have the glutted look of clouds over water.
The heads of the dead are huge. I wonder
if it’s my son they’re after, his
effortless breath, his ribbon of years-
but he sleeps on unregarded in his cot,
inured, it would seem, quite naturally
to the sluicing and battering and parting back of glass
that delivers this shining exterior?
One blue boy holds a rag in his teeth
between panes like a conjuror.
And then, as suddenly as they came, they go.
And there is a horizon
from which only the clouds stare in,
the massed canopies of Hazelbank,
the severed tip of the Strangford Peninsula,
and a density in the room I find it difficult to breathe in
until I wake, flat on my back with a cork
in my mouth, stopper-bottled, in fact,
like a herbalist’s cure for dropsy.
May the man who gained my trust but did not come
Turn to a devil, sprouting triple horns.
Then he would find himself shunned by mankind.
May he become a bird of the water-paddy
With frost and snow and hailstones raining down.
Then he would find his feet frozen fast.
May he become the duckweed on the pond.
Then he would sway and shiver as he walked.
Masked by the snowflakes,
The colour of your petals
May well be hidden:
Yet still put forth your scent
That men may know you flower.
Trans: Bownas and Thwaite
Since that parting
When she seemed as unfeeling
As the moon at morning,
Nothing so cruel
As the light of dawn.
When you show yourself to the woman
you love, you don’t know your fear
is not fear, itself. You have never been good,
but now your are so good,
who are you? Is it the liquidity of her skin
that bathes the world for you,
or her face, captured like a she-lion
in your own flesh?
This summerbed is soft with ring upon ring
upon ring of wedding, the kind
that doesn’t clink upon contact, the kind
with no contract,
The kind in which the gold in only (only!) light.
Cloud covers and lifts,
and sleep and night and soon enough, love’s
big fire laughs the terrible burn,
but only (only!) because pain absorbs excess
joy and you shouldn’t flaunt
your treasures in front of all day’s eyes.
for Nat Jansz
Low in the south sky shines
the stern white lamp
of planet Jupiter. A man
on the radio said
it’s uncommonly close,
and sequestered in the telescope lens
it’s like a compère, spotlit,
driving its borrowed light
out to all sides equally
while, set in a row in the dark
beyond its blaze,
or coy new talents
awaiting their call onstage
– what must be, surely,
the Galilean moons.
In another room,
my children lie asleep, turning
as Earth turns, growing
into their own lives, leaving me
a short time to watch, eye
to the eye-piece,
how a truth unfolds –
how the moonlets glide
out of their chance alignment,
each again to describe
around its shared host its own
unalterable course. Tell me,
Galileo, is this
what we’re working for?
– the knowledge that in just
one Jovian year
the children will be gone
uncommonly far, their bodies
aglow, grown, talented – become
mere bright voice-motes
calling from the opposite
side of the world…what else would we want
our long-sighted instruments
to assure us of ? I’d like
to watch for hours, see
what you old astronomers
apprehended for the first time,
bowed to the inevitable…
but it’s late already:
the next day’s obligations
pluck at my elbow
like an infant who needs his mother,
next-door’s dog barks,
and cloud arrives, distilled,
it appears, out of nothing