Long Legged Fly

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand upon his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.
That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.
That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding resides
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

WB Yeats

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Duet

Yesterday, without warning your
Suzuki Alto somersaulted on the M4

with you caught inside, contorted
as the spine of the rust-sunk bedstead

disguised by the garden’s
tangle of dog roses, dividing
coded vegetables

from your lawn: a stage.

Two birds blend
their story on a wire:
you and I

aged eight and nine entwined

by the school piano where
our mother sparkles out
the keyboards certainties

in black and white. I’d keep my eyes
on that portrait of the Queen, feel

soprano notes tingle through your
clothes. Now you can’t even breathe solo.

Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch

Severn

When the weather comes always and sideways
it’s not enough, the settling.
Why is this known only and over as first
and not all over again?

Each time the tide overtakes itself
what’s worked loose is moved inland
on river over-running river
carrying off the tree-chimney-telegraph
wreckage of your way home.

It starts with a lapse, a taking back
of background (breeze and creep and song)
a making room for the massive collapse
of distance, a rolling up of the world
into a wave that comes to an end unbroken.

There’s no way home. Ask the man
who turns in his sleep reaching past
his wife for his lover, his lover for his wife
and cries that the lamp must be put out
and puts it out, setting fire to his hair.

Lavinia Greenlaw

Blakeney Point

Such constancy is no celebration.
Under this careful sky
it is only earth we walk on.

The long day empties.
The small things, so vital, quicken and fly.
Already no song in the garden.

The fires we build along the northern edge
are no more upsetting to the air
than breath. Is this love?

A cure for the visible.
Fern seed gathered this midsummer midnight
would render us as clear.

Lavinia Greenlaw

To paraphrase Judy Brown

If a poem doesn’t tell you anything that isn’t part of the general consciousness of the world, then it’s not doing its job.

While John makes the point that while a single conceit is generally a good thing, it needs then to reach a critical mass and then go beyond itself. It is only a means, a mechanism, not the end.

You Drew Breath

as a boy draws something silver from a river,
an angler from the sea a bale of weed;
as a woman draws herself from a bath,
as blood is drawn from a vein.
You drew breath as thread is drawn through
the eye of a needle, wet sheets through a mangle,
as steel is drawn through a die to make wire.
and oil draws up through wick its flag of fire.
You drew breath as a reservoir draws from a well
of ink and a mouth and a nose and eyes are drawn,
as money and a bow and the tide are drawn;
as up over her head a woman draws
a dress and down onto her a man.
You drew breath as a cloud draws its pall
across the moon, across the car park
where a sky-blue line draws the way
all the way to Maternity; as all in blue
they drew a semi-circle around the bed,
a line and then a knife across the skin;
as in another room someone drew
a curtain around its runner, a hand across
a pair of finished eyes. You drew breath
as they drew you – besmeared and blue – out
and sublime was your fury at being drawn
into this air, this theatre; you drew breath
for the first time – for a second I held mine.

Greta Stoddart

Five Houses Down

I loved his ten demented chickens
and the hell-eyed dog, the mailbox
shaped like a huge green gun.
I loved the eyesore opulence
of his five partial cars, the wonder-cluttered porch
with its oilspill plumage, tools
cauled in oil, the dark
clockwork of disassembled engines
christened Sweet Baby and benedicted Old Bitch;
and down the steps into the yard the explosion
of mismatched parts and black scraps
amid which, like a bad sapper cloaked
in luck, he would look up stunned,
patting the gut that slopped out of his undershirt
and saying, Son,
you lookin’ to make some scratch?
All afternoon we’d pile the flatbed high
with stacks of Exxon floormats
mysteriously stencilled with his name,
rain-rotted sheetrock or miles
of misfitted pipes, coil after coil
of rusted fencewire that stained for days
every crease of me, rollicking it all
to the dump where, while he called
every ragman and ravened junkdog by name,
he catpicked the avalanche of trash
and fished some always fixable thing
up from the depths. Something
about his endless aimless work
was not work, my father said.
Somehow his barklike earthquake curses
were not curses, for he could goddam
a slipped wrench and shitfuck a stuck latch,
but one bad word from me
made his whole being
twang like a nail mis-struck. Aint no call for that,
son, no call at all. Slipknot, whatknot, knot
from which no man escapes—
prestoed back to plain old rope;
whipsnake, blacksnake, deep in the wormdirt
worms like the clutch of mud:
I wanted to live forever
five houses down
in the womanless rooms a woman
sometimes seemed to move through, leaving him
twisting a hand-stitched dishtowel
or idly wiping the volcanic dust.
It seemed like heaven to me:
beans and weenies from paper plates,
black-fingered tinkerings on the back stoop
as the sun set, on an upturned fruitcrate
a little jamjar of rye like ancient light,
from which, once, I took a single, secret sip,
my eyes tearing and my throat on fire.

Christian Wiman

Pupil

I could no more know
myself than this flame
seated in the air
one quarter of an inch
above its burnt root
– so self –contained a form
you’d think it held in ice –

no more know that flame
than one drop of rain
or a single leaf
let alone this draught
slicing across the sill
nudging the little
corpse-boat of a fly;

no more know you, fly
than this cat – the cat
perhaps but what about
the way it holds us
in a gaze so void
of an idea of self
our own can only fail.

Were we to return
that look we might learn
to take something from
nothing, might begin
to steady and see,
figure who we are
in that slit black flame.

Greta Stoddart

I’m Perfect at Feelings

so I have no problem telling you
why you cried over the third lost
metal or the mousetrap. I knew
that orgasms weren’t your fault
and that feeling of keeping solid
in yourself but wanting an ecstatic
black hole was just bad beauty.

Certain loves were perfect
in the daytime and had every
right to express carnally behind
the copy machine and there are
no hard feelings for the boozy
sodomy and sorry XX daisy chain,
whenever it felt right for you.

And when the moment of soft
levitation with erasing hands
made you feel dirty, like
the main person to think up love
in the first place, I knew that.
It’s okay, you’re an innocent
with the brilliance of an animal

stuffing yourself sick on a kill.
Don’t, don’t feel like the runt alien
on my ship: I get you. I know
the dimensions of your wishing
and losing and don’t think you
a glutton with petty beefs. But
even I, who know your triggers,

your emblematic sacs of sad fury,
I understand why the farthest fat trees
sliver down with your disappointment
and why the big sense of the world,
wrong before you, shrugs but
somewhere grasps your spinning,
stunning, alone. But you have me.

Brenda Shaughnessy

At Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-barooque
Hardly involves the eye, until
it meets his left hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptors sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidl they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. the stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.