Miracle

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in –

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
And raised up to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid-out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those ones who had known him all along.

Seamus Heaney

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In the Terrible Night

In the terrible night, natural substance of all nights,
In the night of insomnia, natural substance of all my
nights,
I remember, awake in tossing drowsiness,
I remember what I’ve done and what I might have
done in life.
I remember, and an anguish
Spreads all through me like a physical chill or a fear,
The irreparable of my past – this is the real corpse.
All other corpses may very well be illusion.
All the dead may be alive somewhere else,
All my own past moments may be existing somewhere
In the illusion of space and time,
In the fallibility of elapsing.

But what I was not, what I did not do, what I did not
even dream;
What only now I see I ought to have done,
What only know I clearly see I ought to have been –
This is what is dead beyond all the Gods,
this – and it was, after all, the best of me – is what not
even the Gods bring to life…

If at a certain point
I had turned to the left instead of to the right;
If at a certain moment
I had said yes instead of no, or no instead of yes;
If in a certain conversation
I had hit on phrases which only now, in this
half-sleep, I elaborate –
If all this had been so,
I would be different today, and perhaps the whole
universe
Would be insensibly brought to be different as well.

But I did not turn in the direction which is irreparably
lost,
Not turn or even think of turning, and only now I
perceive it;
But I did not say no or say yes, and only now see what
I didn’t say;
But all the phrases I failed to say surge up in me at present,
all of them,
Clear, inevitable, natural,
The conversation gathered in conclusively,
The whole matter now resolved…
But only now what never was, nor indeed shall be,
hurts.

What I have missed definitely holds no sort of hope
In any sort of metaphysical system.
Maybe I could bring what I have dreamed to some
other world,
But could I bring to another world the things I forgot
to dream?
These, yes, the drams going begging, are the real
corpse.
I bury it in my heart forever, for all time, for all universes,

In this night when I can’t sleep and peace encircles me
Like a truth which I’ve no share in,
And the moonlight outside, like a hope I do not have
is invisible to me

Fernando Pessoa

The Malarkey

Why did you tell them to be quiet
and sit up straight until you came back?
The malarkey would have led you to them.

You go from one parked car to another
and peer through the misted windows
before checking the registration.

Your pocket bulges. You’ve brought them sweets
but the mist is on the inside of the windows.
How many children are breathing?

The malarkey’s over in the back of the car.
The day is over outside the windows.
No streetlight has come on.

You fed them cockles soused in vinegar,
you took them no the machine.
You looked away just once.

You looked away just once
as you leaned on the chip-shop counter,
and forty years were gone.

You have been telling them forever
Stop that malarkey in the back there!
Now they have gone and done it.
Is that mist, or water with breath in it?

Helen Dunmore

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you aren’t thinking clearly as you enter the bank
on the day leslie nielson dies
the coldest December ‘in living memory’
mark’s badge reads
‘have a good time all the time’
maybe you should think about getting a motto
maybe you should think about painting the fridge blue again
maybe then you’d feel less like the shape of a person
suggested by the fall of light on a bookcase
you find you’re thinking a lot about your friend the monk
who won’t share with you his secret
to be sure he is a very complex gentleman
but hardly deep even if he can burn leaves
with nothing but the power of his mind
he is a remorseless self-publicist
maybe that’s his secret
or his secret is he doesn’t have one
he claims to remember where he buried
a live beetle in a matchbox
but afflicted as you are with awful memories
you’re not sure you believe him
filling out the paying-in slip is difficult
maybe you should stop growing your fingernails
‘shhh’ he went this morning
pretending to be listening

Sam Riviere

Mermaids

We’d explode from the change in pressure
before we saw daylight, and anyway
evolution has sheathed our eyes as dead ends.
We live by taste, which is really smell;
we taste what’s diffused in water
and sense the direction. Carcasses mostly.

We’ve kept a vague idea of our shape:
wing-spindles propelling us forward,
armoured backplate, excretory organs.
But sex is a mystery. Our best guess
has males as krill-like specks
which winkle, sometimes, under our chitin.

We sing to each other in pheromone, never
certain how message matches to sender.
Sometimes we taste our long past’s echo.
We cultivate theories on the existence
of dry land, spin theologies of loneliness. We hang
translucent in love’s deepwater trenches.

John Clegg

Water-Burn

We should have been galloping on horses, their hoofprints
Splashes of light, divots kicked out of the darkness.
Or hauling up lobster pots in a wake of sparks. Where
Were the otters and seals? Were the dolphins on fire?
Yes, we should have been doing more with our lives.

Michael Longley

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
to a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate as an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and leans to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Wallace Stevens

On the Move

The blue jay scuffling in the bushes follows
Some hidden purpose, and the gust of birds
That spurts across the field, the wheeling swallows,
Has nested in the trees and undergrowth.
Seeking their instinct, or their poise, or both,
One moves with an uncertain violence
Under the dust thrown by a baffled sense
Or the dull thunder of approximate words.

On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boys,
Until their distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh.
In goggles, donned impersonality,
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt – by hiding it, robust –
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.

Exact conclusion of their hardiness
Has no shape yet, but from known whereabouts
They ride, direction where the tyres press.
They scare a flight of birds across the field:
Much that is natural, to the will must yield.
Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.

It is a part solution, after all.
One is not necessarily discord
On earth; or damned because, half animal,
One lacks direct instinct, because one wakes
Afloat on movement that divides and breaks.
One joins the movement in a valueless world,
Choosing it, till, both hurler and the hurled,
One moves as well, always toward, toward.

A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-defined, astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.

Thom Gunn

Wasp

Hammer, hammer, hammer, the wasp
has been banging his head on the window for hours;
you’d think by now he’d be brain-dead, but no,
he flings himself at the pane: hammer, hammer again.

I ease round him to open the sash, hoping
he doesn’t sting me because then I’d be sorry
I didn’t kill him, but he pays me no mind:
it’s still fling, hammer, fling, hammer again.

I’m sure his brain’s safe, his bones are outside,
but up there mine are too, so why does it hurt
so much to keep thinking – hammer, hammer –
the same things again and, hammer, again?

That invisible barrier between you and the world,
between you and your truth … Stinger blunted,
wings frayed, only the battering, battered brain,
only the hammer, hammer, hammer again.

C.K. Williams

The Turtle Dove

Love that drained her drained him she’d loved, though each
For the other’s sake forged passion upon speech,
Bore their close days through sufferance towards night
Where she at length grasped sleep and he lay quiet

As though needing no questions, now, to guess
what her secreting heart could not well hide.
Her caught face flinched in half-sleep at his side.
Yet she, by day, modelled her real distress,

Poised, turned her cheek to the attending world
Of children and intriguers and the old,
Conversed freely, exercised, was admired,
Being strong to dazzle. All this she endured

To affront him. He watched her rough grief work
Under the formed surface of habit. She spoke
Like one long undeceived but she was hurt.
She denied more love, yet her starved eyes caught

His, devouring, at times. Then, as one self-dared,
She went to him, plied there; like a furious dove
Bore down with visitations of such love
As his lithe, fathoming heart absorbed and buried.

Geoffrey Hill