for Toby Underwood

If I lived in a cave and you were my only visitor,
what would I tell you that that the walls had told me?
That people are unfinished and are made between
each other, that worry is neither a Mexican finger trap
or the revolving door of a hospital foyer, that love
is a feeling deferred, which is why it weighs negative
and sucks on you like a cruise ship disappearing?

I would probably warn you to never feel mystical:
nothing is mystical. I would tell you to let yourself
be sad, if being sad is what happens when a person,
awkward in the universe as a plum on a plate,
doffs their day to the inaccessibility of other days,
and loosens their tie on the sofa to let some life out.

Jack Underwood


A Walk Blossoming

The spirit opens as life closes down.
Tries to frame the size of whatever God is.
Finds that dying makes us visible.
Realizes we must get to the loin of that
before time is over. The part of which
we are the wall around. Not the good or evil,
neither death or the afterlife but the importance
of what we contain meanwhile. (He walks along
remembering, biting into beauty,
the heart eating into the naked spirit.)
The body is a major nation, the mind a gift.
Together they define substantiality.
The spirit can know the Lord as a flavour
rather than power. The soul is ambitious
for what is invisible. Hungers for a sacrament
that is both spirit and flesh. And neither.

Jack Gilbert

The Nests

for Kathryn

You ask again about the nests – the wren’s
hung in the ivy above the broken pier,
a goldcrest’s low in the privet,
the robin’s safe in the pampas.
And below the Lane Gate, coal tits
have built in the hollow post.
If you run your hand up the damp shaft
you’ll find the spot, where the metal is warm.
They lead us away from the house,
under the barbed wire and down the lane to Long Field.
We’ll keep to the lea of the ditch for shelter.
Overhead a mistle-thrush stirs the hawthorn,
as out in the wind the larks have settled
in cups of grass-corn for the night.
When we cross to the Glens a snipe catapults
from the rushes close by the feet.
Now we approach the wall-dark of the wood
and hear within the wounded call of the owl.
We come in due course to a river, where I lie face down
on your surface, the rain soft on my spine.

Maurice Riordan
(from The Water Stealer)

Useless Islands

I’m trying to remember
what happened when love overtook me,

how the old self slipped
from its hard boundaries

like a ripe plum out of its skin.
It’s a personal mystery.

It was August, each moment
setting fire to the next,

the woods already
bloodied by the first bright deaths.

I’m trying to remember, but there’s
a blacked-out part of the story,

a steep, crashing wall of seawater,
a long thrill of fear. I was dragged

in an undertow as if out of sleep,
and the blue-green light I swam toward

was this paradise of islands,
these green days spilled

across a vast mercurial blue.
We lie in a flood of white sand

under the broken prism of the sky,
watching its fragile rays disappear

down the secretive avenue of palms.
How long can we lie here?

The luminous charcoal and manila clouds
cross like fish overhead

His hand sleeps on my thigh.
The ratcheted voices of the tree frogs

start up their random music,
and we lie listening. It’s a way

of passing more slowly through,
of dragging a stick in the water

like a brake. There’s the dull
clop of goats on the red dirt road,

and the lisp of the sand beneath us.
What the leaves were saying

back in the other life,
the palms are saying here.

It’s the words to the long slow sad
familiar hymn about the hourglass.

I lie beside my love
in the silence between two waves,

the grains of my body pouring.
I know the second wave will ripen

and fall. It will fall in a world
that is emerald and sapphire,

lit by the sparks of the sea. A world
that will darken and abandon me.

Chase Twichell


In Springtime when the leaves are young,
Clear dewdrops gleam like jewels, hung
On boughs the fair birds roost among.

When Summer comes with sweet unrest,
Birds weary of their mother’s breast,
And look abroad and leave the nest.

In Autumn ere the waters freeze,
The swallows fly across the seas:—
If we could fly away with these!

In Winter when the birds are gone,
The sun himself looks starved and wan,
And starved the snow he shines upon.

Christina Rossetti

Doing Poetry

Poem, you sonofabitch, its bad enough
that I embarrass myself working so hard
to get it right even a little,
and that little grudging and awkward.
But it’s afterwards I resent, when
the sweet sure should hold me like
a trout swimming in the bright summer stream.
There should be at least briefly
access to your glamour and tenderness.
But there’s always this same old
dissatisfaction instead.

Jack Gilbert