At the Farmer’s Inn

Her lover lifts a Pilsner to his lips,
swallows it back
till the order arrives and they move like marionettes,
eat without talking.
Devilled kidneys, sea bass, crème brûlée.

The waitresses angle their hips between tables and carry
the plates in the air,
straight limbed as matadors. Meanwhile, the men in the bar,
afloat on their barstools,
are baying like seals; a forest of black occludes

both the girl and her tongue-tied lover. Out of the window,
behind his head,
night falls between the slats of the trestle tables,
over the scutch-grass
and the sheep, bunched in a corner of the field.

The hubbub thickens the air like moth-wings, it beats
at the sides of her skull.
Meal over, the day’s a done deal – the dawn and the dusk,
the seed, the eggs
they harvested at noon with the consummate needle,

drawing them off like tiny, luminous pearls
from the sea of her body.
Now they drink to the dregs of their coffee, call for the bill,
link hands above
the petit fours while fifty miles from here

along the unfurled ribbon of the street,
the lamplit miles
of motorway, in a clinic, a darkened room,
like mushrooms, very
whitely, discreetly
, the longed-for lives begin.

Julia Copus

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Raymond, at 60

The 185 from Catford Bridge, the 68 from Euston –
those same buses climbing the long hill into the evening.
This is what stays with him best now, this and watching,
in the ward where mother has finally died,
the way the rain has fallen on the window –
a soft rain sifting down like iron filings.
The whole of that evening he’d kept his eyes fixed on the rain,
out there in the O of the buses’ steel-rimmed headlamps.
Now I am I, he thought, his two dark eyes ablaze – as if he’d
found God
the very moment she’d left him. He took off his hat,
and he put his dry lips to her cheek and kissed her,
unsettled by her warmth, the scent of her skin
so unexpected he found himself suddenly
back on Bondway, crushed to her breast, in a gesture
that meant, he knew now, You are loved. There he was, with her
pulling his bobble-hat over his ears in that finicky way she had.
What was he? Eleven? Twelve? Too old, in any case, for her to be
holding his hand the entire short walk from the house
that first time she’d taken him down to watch the buses.

That first time she’d taken him down to watch the buses,
holding his hand the entire short walk from the house,
what was he? Eleven? Twelve? To old, in any case, for her to be
pulling his bobble-hat over his ears in that finicky way she had
that meant (he knew now) You are loved. There he was with her
back on Bondway, crushed to her breast, in a gesture
so unexpected he found himself suddenly
unsettled by her warmth, the scent of her skin,
and he put his dry lips to her cheek and kissed her.
The very moment she’d left him, he took off his hat.
Now I am I, he thought, his two dark eyes ablaze – as if he’d
found God
out there in the O of the buses’ steel-rimmed headlamps.
The whole of that evening he’d kept his eyes fixed on the rain,
a soft rain sifting down like iron filings,
the way the rain had fallen on the window
in the ward where Mother had finally died.
his is what stays with him best now, this and watching
those same buses climbing he hill long into the evening:
the 185 from Catford Bridge, the 68 from Euston…

Julia Copus

A bowl of Fruit

When I think of that room
I see the de Kooning at the end of the hall

Sometimes rain on the long windows
Or the tinkering of drops on the skylight

But not Yvon
Splashing Scotch into a cocktail glass

Otherwise fastidious—

In retrospect
I should have asked her more

About the famous jazz guitarist
She had been engaged to

But that much was true—

Even after she bought me a pocket knife
Sheathed in velvet

Every young man needs a knife
She informed her group

But in the restaurant her friends
Eyed me like a turnip. One that talked—

While she was away at her office,
I tried to read

Her unfinished essay
On the vagaries of diplomacy

Reclining
On a rug of embroidered storks

The two small Rodins
Seemed misplaced

A grand piano
She didn’t play

(though I did, affecting a controlled
passion

while gazing over rooftops
at carefully maintained gardens)—

I don’t remember her smell

I don’t recall her fingers

The last I heard she was living in Barcelona

She never did learn to cook

Now her letters are worth money

Robert Vandermolen

Tourist

Warsaw, October: rose-madder by four,
the soldierly grey boulevards slippery

with tickets to winter. After forty years rebuilding,
the Old Town is like this beautiful girl I knew

whose face was wheel-broken in a crash,
and remade so well it was hard to say how

she looked wrong. I’d brought two questions here—
holding them as if they might slip: who were

my mother’s people? Where did they die?
In an attic-archive—deep card indexes, ink turned lilac

with age—I handed my questions to a love-laborer
in a yarmulke; with sad palms and a shake

of the head he regretted that any answers now
lay probably beyond our reach. So

I abandoned questing and went back to tourism;
joined the passeggiata, drank black tea, got stickied

under sooty lime trees, saw boisterous children,
all knees and elbows, skyline-capering

on the wall at the river-divide. Beyond
their frail silhouettes against the petrol dusk

huge cranes were moving, courtly, confident,
building another new Warsaw across the Vistula.

Sam Willets

To Earthward

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of – was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young.
The petal of the rose
was it that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.

Robert Frost

In A Glass Of Cider

It seemed I was a mite of sediment
That waited for the bottom to ferment
So I could catch a bubble in ascent.
I rode up on one till the bubble burst,
And when that left me to sink back reversed
I was no worse off that I was at first.
I’d catch another bubble if I waited.
The thing was to get now and then elated.

Robert Frost

Equinoctial Lines

My seventh autumn in the western mountains
and letters from the capital grow scares.
At summer’s end when the unearthly
blue of hydrangea was everywhere,
friends filtered down from the north
en route to new lives and old.
Already night had begun its encroachment
on the long, florid twilights of July;
curtains would be drawn before our guests
had finished their dinner wine; disquiet ensued,
polite smiles traded around the room.
Later, we walked down to the river.
It is always the same: my friends speak
broadly of life. Once the talk
was of lust, ambition. Now, disillusioned
by one or two lean winters, softer
in the belly, some of them balding,
they speak more of philosophy.
What nights we have hear in autumn
when the wind turns harsh and blows
to flame every light in heaven.
For days afterward I consider how far
along my friends have likely journeyed.
In a month all is forgotten. How strange
it seems whenever I am drunk in autumn
I can dream of nothing but life in the capital.

August Kleinzahler

Deep Sea Diver

There’s a field inside my head.
It’s dark and flat and a moon

hangs above it in whose silvery
negative light nothing appears to live.

It’s very mysterious and simple,
on a different planet

to the one outside my window
that moves and is manifold:

each one of the tens of millions of blades of grass
shivers in its singularity;

one sheep’s crusty underwool is home
to a greenbottle settling down to lay
her two hundred and fifty possibilities

while another stares out
of the glazed globe of an eye
not unlike a man who’s lost his mind
but found there cause instead
to be vaguely, dully, afraid of everything.

And beneath the sheep
and field and flattened buttercups

miles and mile beneath,
all is shift and shale,
burn and boil:

old underearth
unseeable, unexplorable
who scrambles through your soft weak rock,
who swims through your molten ocean,
what holds court at the centre
of your solid iron ball the size of the moon?

Once I plumbed down
level by level

into the sea,
into the realm

of the falling-debris,
dead and dying-fish-eating creatures

into the pitch black frigid waters
and blind long-tentacled things;

down among the deepwater canyons I went
and still nowher near was I

to the outer core
of the earth’s interior,
its massive indoors

where I saw hanging there
a sole, or flounder

a self never before seen – never before a self

but one who remained unchanged
in the bright beam of my look
(though something may have gone through it
like the mildest electric shock)

and I rose to the surface
like one who had only that to do

where slowly over the years
all that I held dear came loose

and I took to wandering the fields

that covered the earth
like so many soft individual dressings

and I lay down on one
and looked up at the sky

where I saw a fish hanging
in the black, where I saw a moon.

Greta Stoddart