The Hotel

Cash, the sloe-eyed night-student wanted.
The walls were cardboard, the pillows pulp,
and the bathroom a plastic all-in-one,
the kind they fit on oil-rigs:

a knocking shop, and already home.
The ceiling blossomed with shadow,
the walls were bushes they pushed through
to their place of rest, fragrant with juniper.

God’s ripe fruit: no matter how
they ate or drank it was not enough.
The wind whipped and stripped every leaf,
and they clung, two animals in a gale.

Something of them would always be there
now among the sinners and whores; even
when they’d torn that cheap place down,
and nothing was left but the air.

Henry Shukman

Looking for the Comet

You push back the sheet, leave me
naked and cooling in the night air.
You stand by the window,
by the yellow flowers in their blue vase
and there’s moon on your face and shoulders.
‘It’s here’ you say, but I’m pretending to sleep,
and just watch you, watching the comet
moving off towards the sun and beyond.

A car passes. Headlights fill the window,
making new shadows, that rise, then fall.
You take a flower from the vase,
carry it to me in both hands, slowly wipe
the petals over my face. Now, I can smell
the pollen on my skin, feel the trail.

Andrew Waterhouse

Plainsong

Stop. Along this path, in phrases of light,
trees sing their leaves. No Midas touch
has turned the wood to gold, late in the year
when you pass by, suddenly sad, straining
to remember something you’re sure you knew.

Listening. The words you have for things die
in your heart, but grasses are plainsong
patiently chanting in circles you cannot repeat
or understand. This is your homeland
lost one, Stranger who speaks with tears.

It is almost impossible to be here and yet
you kneel, no one’s child, absolved by the late sun
through the branches of a wood, distantly
the evening bell reminding you Home, Home
Home and the stone in your palm telling the time.

Carol Anne Duffy

A Scherzo

(A shy Person’s Wishes)

With the wasp at the innermost heart of a peach,
On a sunny wall out of tiptoe reach,
With the trout in the darkest summer pool,
With the fern-seed clinging behind its cool
Smooth frond, in the chink of an aged tree,
IN the woodbine’s horn with the drunken bee,
With the mouse in its nest in a furrow old,
With the chrysalis wrapt in its gauzy fold;
With things that are hidden, and safe, and bold,
With things that are timid, and shy, and free,
Wishing to be;
With the nut in its shell, with the seed in its pod,
With the corn as it sprouts in the kindly clod,
Far down where the secret of beauty shows
In the bulb of the tulip, before it blows;
With things that are rooted, and firm, and deep,
Quiet to lie, and dreamless to sleep;
With things that are chainless, and tameless, and proud,
With the fire in the jagged thunder-cloud,
With the wind in its sleep, with the wind in its waking,
With the drops that go in the rainbows making,
Wishing to be with the light leaves shaking,
Or stones on some desolate highway breaking;
Far up on the hills, where not foot surprises
The dew as it falls, or the dust as it rises;
To be couched with the beast in its torrid lair,
Or drifting on ice with the polar bear,
With the weaver at work at his quiet loom;
Anywhere, anywhere, out of this room!

Dora Greenwell (1867)

Phantom

Part II

i.m. Michael Donaghy

Zurbaran’s St Francis in Meditation
is west-lit, hooded, kneeling, tight in his frame;
his hands are joined, both in supplication
and to clasp the old skull to his breast.
This he is at pains to hold along
the knit-line of the parietal bone
the better, I would say, to feel the teeth
of the upper jaw gnaw into his sternum.
His face is tilted upwards, heavenwards,
while the skull, in turn, beholds his upturned face.
I would say that Francis’ eyes are closed
but this is guesswork, since they are occluded
wholly by the shadow of his cowl,
for which we read the larger dark he claims
beyond the local evening of his cell.
But I would say the fetish-point, the punctum,
is not the skull, the white cup of his hands
or the frayed hole in the elbow of his robe,
but the tiny batwing of his open mouth
and its vowel, the ah of revelation, grief
or agony, but in this case I would say
there is something in the care of its depiction
to prove that we arrest the saint mid-speech.
I would say something had passed between
the man and his interrogated night.
I would say his words are not his words.
I would say the skull is working him.

Don Paterson

Lily Pond

Thinking of new ways to kill you

and bring you back from the dead,
I try drowning you in the lily pond –

holding your head down
until every bubble of breath
is squeezed from your lungs

and the flat leaves and spiky flowers
float over you like a wreath.
I sit on the stones until I am numb,

until, among reflections of sky,
water-buttercups, spears of iris,
your face rises to the surface –

a face that was always so puffy
and pale, so curiously unchanged.
A wind rocks the waxy flowers, curls

the edges of the leaves. Blue dragonflies
appear and vanish like ghosts.
I part the mats of yellow weed

and drag you to the bank, covering
your green algae-stained corpse
with a white sheet. Then, I lift the edge

and climb in underneath –
thumping your chest,
breathing into your mouth.

Vicky Feaver