Akhmatova Variations

Akhmatova Variations
1
No, he’d never leave us here alone.
He merely became an ear of grain,
the fine rain he sang into lines,
the shine struck from wet sand at low tide,
the bedside glass of water rippling,
the eye of a horse between two blinks,
or so we think, to console ourselves.
Hear that thunderous whisper?
It’s time-lapse flowers bursting from the earth.
Years pass. At last, the echo fades

2

Where will I find you? Among the living
or pressed between my palms in prayer,
a shade swept like a leaf among shades?
I hereby dedicate to you the following:
First, my days, entire, and the delirious dawn
when the door of sleep clicks shut behind me,
the blue fire of my eyes, open, focussed,
but still twitching like a dreamer’s.
And all these too I offer up:
my unblemished sacrificial flock,
blank pages in a notebook in a locked drawer,
though no God could know me as well as you,
not my interrogator, not my torturer,
not even those who took, and forgot, my kiss.

3

If only you knew what trifles spark a poem.
A scream from the flat above
and you go cold hoping that it’s laughter.
That chill can kick-start the engine.
Or when you hang up and I hear clicks,
or clock the car drawn up beneath my window,
the punch in my chest is the muse touching my heart.
It’s brazen, this art. A poet might clench her eyes,
might stand with her face to the wall, listening
for footsteps in the corridor, trying not to think,
and suddenly a line betrays itself.

4

Two lovers walk abroad, night riddled and bereaved
because, years hence, some perfect stranger dreams they do
and dreams their every word of parting
but can’t decide the colour of his eyes,
can’t aim the loaded pistol of her gaze.
They walk the darkest alleyways because
their only freedom’s in obscurity
(but tell me, is that stranger you or me?).

Now deep inside the dream the moon emerges
exposing us, and now our footsteps click
into their positions on a mandala.
My whisper is a tile in a mosaic,
the sky a spray of one-star constellations:
the pupil, the tear, the full stop.

5

As we sat in deathwatch on our love,
the wraith of our first days knocked on the door,
then forced it down. There spread the silver willow
in all its splendour ghosting over us.
How could we meet its gaze or bear to suffer
the birdsong bursting from its branches,
the song of how we’d die for one another?

Not grenadiers bleeding but your night bus leaving
Not falcons and gyres but discarded desires
Not the death of the tsar but the smell of fresh tar
Not theories of language but gunplay in marriage
Not the marble of wrath but your hair in my mouth

Michael Donaghy

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