Agnes Bernelle, 1923-1999

There is no creature I love better than the spider
That makes her own centre every day
Catching brilliantly the light in autumn,

That judges the depth of the rosemary bush
And the slant of the sun on the brick wall
When she slings her veils and pinnacles.

She crouches on her knife edge, an ideogram combining
The word for tools with the word for discipline,
Read for a lifetime of cold rehearsals;

Her presence is the syllable on the white wall,
The hooked shadow. Her children are everywhere,
Her strands as long as the railway-line in the desert

That shines one instant and the next is doused in dust.
If she could only sing she would be perfect, but
In everything else she reminds me of you.

Eileen Ni Chiulleanian

from Speech! Speech!

16

First day of the first week: rain
on perennial ground cover, a sheen
like oil of verdure where the rock shows through;
dark ochre patched more dark, with stubborn glaze;
rough soggy drystone clinging to the fell,
broken by hawthorns. What survives
of memory | you can call indigenous
if you recall anything. Finally
untranscibable, that which is | wrest back
more than can be revivied; inuring us
through deprivation | below and beyond life,
hard-come-by loss of self | self’s restitution.

Geoffrey Hill

At First I Thought I Wouldn’t Say Anything About It

but then I though keeping quiet about it might appear even ruder.
At first I though I had died and gone to heaven
but that scapegrace the unruly sun informed me otherwise.

I am in my heavyset pants and find this occupation of beekeeper
charming
though I have yet to meet my first bee.
We don’t know if I get to keep the hat and veil.

‘Too hot,’ he said. ‘Too hot for everything!’
He so caring, so mundane. ‘…to have you on board.’
Bulgarian choirs everywhere stood up and sang the song of the rent.
It was lovely. Now I shall take a short vacation,
proof that I am needed here. Nobody wants my two cents

anymore, I believe. To some it was like skating in summer.
A small turret perched over the lake. It exploded.
That’s the way I feel about people taking me out
to some nice repast, and afterwards you go home and
go over everything that was stated. I prefer flowers and breathing.

John Ashbery

From the Observatory

When they had climbed the Valley of Thieves
and rested at the aleatory base camp
a horseshoe moon began to pierce the curtain of dreams.

It seemed there was something wrong with everything.
The greenhouse was ethereal and too far away.
A gnat ignited the harbour; it rose up gold and sloppy,
with too many seals to think about. The basement
was a dirigible. The Home Counties bristled at suggestions
of voyeurism and venery: ‘Was it for this you came?
To watch us writhe and cringe? Are you happy,
knowing the palace janissaries have subdued us?’

The cult of personality issued conflicting commands
that managed to puddle every surface.
It’s like it was before the flood: Nothing
is dry enough or wet enough. What’s needed is a sense
of invitation, to this or some other domed picnic.
But since we’re here, we might as well memorize the rules
for future reference. All other details
are as the exterior of this wall that reared us: ancient,
trapped in an understanding of the present, where submarines
gather, and evesdroppers ply their trade.

And the riddle
unknotted itself; the second agreeable ordeal began.

John Ashbery

Half the Story

Franz Kafka, the story goes, encountered a little girl in the park
where he walked every day. She was crying. She’d lost her doll.
Franz helped the girl search for the doll, but they couldn’t find it.
They arranged to meet there next day to look again for her doll,
but still they could not find it. When they met the following day,
Kafka gave her a tiny letter that he told her he’d found nearby.
She read ‘Don’t be sad: I’m only travelling. I’ll write every day!’
And every day that summer, when Kafka and the little girl met,
he’d read a new letter to her describing the places the doll visited
what it did there and who it met. The little girl was comforted.
When the holiday was over and she had to go back to school,
he gave her a doll that he said was the prodigal returned,
and, if she seemed a little different from the doll of her memory,
a note pinned to her scarf explained: ‘My travels changed me.’

Or so ends this version of the story, popular with therapists,
but in Dora Diamant’s own account, our one first-hand source,
there was no new doll, nor a message of change and growth;
instead, Dora had described a final letter sent to the little girl
detailing how the doll met its soul mate and had married him’
how it would be too busy with family life to write again,
enjoining the little girl to seek similar fulfilment in her own life.
Dora also noted how this affair had driven Kafka to distraction,
who’d endured white nights, tortured by his own compassion,
feverishly thinking up new adventures for his changeling doll,
a golem doppelgänger made out of letters and lies and love,
this correspondence of doll, girl and Kafka lasting three weeks –
the same time as that holiday when Dora had first met Kafka,
a place whose name I only half-recall at best, Graal-something.

Ian Duhig

Lucina Schynning in Silence of the Night

Moon shining in silence of the night
The heaven being full of stars
I was reading my book in a ruin
By a sour candle, without roast meat or music
Strong drink or a shield from the air
Blowing in the crazed window, and I felt
Moonlight on my head, clear after three days’ rain.

I washed in cold water; it was orange, channelled down bogs
Dipped between cresses.
The bats flew through my room where I slept safely.
Sheep stared at me when I woke.

Behind me the waves of darkness lay, the plague
Of mice, plague of beetles
Crawling out of the spines of books,
Plague shadowing pale faces with clay
The disease of the moon gone astray.

In the desert I relaxed, amazed
As the mosaic beasts on the chapel floor
When Cromwell had departed, and they saw
The sky growing through a hole in the roof.

Sheepdogs embraced me; the grasshopper
Returned with lark and bee.
I looked down between hedges of high thorn and saw
The hare, absorbed, sitting still
In the middle of the track; I heard
Again the chirp in the stream running.

Eilean Ni Chiulleanian

Autumn Begins In Martins Ferry, Ohio

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltsonville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchmen of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each others bodies.

James Wright