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71 A SCATTER OF POEMS DORSET

for september 20th 1982

today we should have been married thirty years
- it didn't work it didn't work
no but so much of it had the look
of permanence - what damped its spark

i loved - still do - can't treat
its shards as useless - store
them in a dark corner of my heart
they do their cutting bleeding if i tread there

it couldn't have worked - we were flailing
a long time since - even when the roses
hung about us messaging our feeling
too early on we found the maggot's traces

and now what's after (other love apart)
the far-flung travelling i'm bent by
half a year - that would have stopped us short
in / out of union we'd have been strangers now

so it hurts but the wound closes
aching fitfully as old wounds do
it's just this morning i've woken harshly - faces
(i thought gone) gone - too much charged with you

october 6th 1983

my dead mother (eighty) and jack (eight months)
have both had me crying on the same day
the one living in peace in her cold chapel
the other dead eager to have the world
in his hands and mouth
i am stretched
between grief and delight - delight in my grief
for my mother that she is so beautiful
with her swept grey hair and her face alabaster
- grief in delight for my son that i see him
so sharply come to the brink in himself again
and again and (happily or sadly) fall over

a delight so intense it spasms the stilled
core of love (the moment is molten with tears)
and there's grief flung out of its cavern
(the vessel of all coming and going)
then
i'm grieved for myself that jack won't have reached
my present age when he'll have to view me
in my marble - but be boy / man much younger
yet delight in that too that (having come
to so late a father) he immeasurably
revivifies me - opening out wings
in myself that time would have done with

so today (buoyant with grief and delight)
i have stood young with my young mother
all whitely clothed and come to a threshold
(like a calm stone) in her eyes and her mouth

now you both sleep
jack (eight months) and my dead mother (eighty)
i take you both in my grateful arms
find root and crown in your shared intimations

 

the arrival of spring (cathe waller)

on the last day of winter i went to bed
harsh winds rainstorms beating my head
houses trees with a sucked-out look
new year flaked from the old one's hook

then overnight such a change of heart
spring come home with her confectionery cart
hundreds-and-thousands strewn in the breeze
houses sampling them as well as the trees

people savouring them in punts on the river
earth knee-deep in them praising the giver
so (blankets off) i'm out in the streets
glutton for spring and her burst bag of sweets

 

cold and rain

during the cold and rain
kate our daughter died
and for many days we tried
to be open with our pain

to encourage not embarrass
others to face the hurt
and full of festive spirit
we did as we had promised

but when the new year came
anger split us - we fled
to each far reach of the bed
i the cold and you the rain

the questioner

the old vulture (with sharpened eye)
razors the flesh from the bone
every speck of flesh must be uplifted
for him to be triumphant

it is a dirty job
but when the white bones gleam
ennobled by the sun
a quiet satisfaction adds itself
to the pleasing taste of flesh

both appetite and skill
must be made love to
for carrion truth
to sing itself to sleep

checking

six months is very little time
when a whole life is missing
it was a kind of nothing-gone
she needed our caressing

now her grave has arms enough
to do her simple bidding
complete her stillness reaches up
to us when we come treading

time the glutton won't consume
the ache that goes on pricking
as smart today as that dead day
when tears first checked all checking

 

on someone mistaking my age

now that i'm back in my forties
although i've just passed fifty-nine
i feel i'm in the state of cortes
and a younger pacific will be mine

no longer cast as an ancient moses
the lines on my brow will flower
and you my dear may pluck love's roses
redder and fresher by the hour

jack and the coming babe will wonder
who their new-born father is
see the ogre (clap of thunder)
turn tres gentil - fleur de liz

 

welsh experience

called out by the sun
this easter saturday morning
i'm sitting on a bank
in pistyllgwyn
(house of the sacred spring)
against a tall oak
(close to a daffodil-clump)
overlooking the road
between brechfa and abergorlech
on the west side of the valley
of the afon cothi
reading a poem by taliesin
from the sixth century
(the first poem in the oxford book
of welsh poetry in english)
which begins
there was a great battle saturday morning
and i have just reached the line
and when i'm grown old with my death hard upon me
when my youngest son
charges up the bank
and attacks me with his plastic sword
and sticks it in my heart
then sits down by my side
to succour me

your tiger

(in china it is symbolic
of darkness and the new moon)

in your night's hollow
the tiger stalks
black grasses have licked
it into nothingness

hooked by moon
i hover on your hollow's lip
i feel the smell of fire
the leap of a bright cat-fur

my eye is dumb
asking to be devoured
i am trembled over
(a bag of fear-bones)

there is a whoosh of flame
streaking but static at
your night's abundance
tall grass is waving

the moon waxes
the face of the tiger
sparkles in its own glow
offers a striped peace

fireflies come my way
messages are calm
i step inwards
stroking the bright pelt

sweet six

i once wrote a poem about
the long-haired moon my heart
matthew now has long hair
he can tear that moon apart

his favourite song is all
about the bare necessities
his spilling liquids on my trousers
puts me less-at-ease

he's friends with jack until
it comes to monsters-in-my-pocket
then hell breaks loose - just put
your nose there - let me sock it

now he's six i'm sure he'll keep
his outbursts under his lid
- be more like sylvia's uncle
and less the karate kid

 

jerusalem and redcurrants

my jerusalem
my newfoundland
juicy as redcurrants
with their sweet tang taste

my desire
my holy requirement
caught in a cleft of mountain
ever clambered towards

my yearning
my place of the blood-red fruit
my want at the first sherd
for the full-bosomed bowl

my jerusalem
my sinewy prayer
where dust and the dry rock
are chastened by the cool red juice

my jerusalem
my revolving love
as the year bends and the fruit's
pangs purchase my lips


only the children

the red man says hello
the green tree says i'm here
all grown-ups are sleeping
only the children hear

decorations are delighted
presents hug the floor
the room in its festive hat
hides behind the door

through the glittering day
two worlds split the one
grown-ups lose their tempers
children have the fun

the red man says goodbye
the green tree says next year
grown ups are exhausted
only the children hear

 

possibility

christmas this year
has been delayed
indefinitely
as a result of
the privatisation
of the reindeer service

santas unable
to make delivery
by christmas day
should seek to arrive
before easter
to avoid
the possibility of
crucifixion

 

shorts for the major arcana (examples)

the hermit

today out walking in a forest
of my own making i met the hermit
we spoke resoundingly - i've known
about him all my life but have only

laughed at him before - we touched
the punctured bowl of time together

i knelt to his aloneness - glimpsed
the rock his heart was weathered on

the star

boys who put their hands
down the fronts of girls' dresses
seeking the twin stars
shocked those with less courageous hands

but all life the image and the daring
have turned the dry tongue moist
and love at its most distracted
has fled to the star-pricked sky
seeking its consolations - its promises
that the hand and heart will be rewarded

 

enigmas

(i)
the dog found a flea
that had died
some days ago

wanting to feel
worth biting still

the dog gnawed
at the shrivelled thing

as if it still dared
to crave his blood

(ii)
the woman felt she was on a leash
when she tried to touch it
her fingers clawed the air

so she had nothing to show
as evidence of her conviction
yet if she tried to move outwards
from the one spot she stood on
a collar caught at her throat
something snapped taut behind her

within easy reach of her
was the man who loved her
he was there with his hands out

maybe he was pleading for something
she owed him - or maybe saying
look - there's nothing in my hands

or maybe (again) come back
she longed for fresh fields
he had a face like a gatepost

observer

the fly on the wall
was witness
to the most momentous
occasion

was unaware
until too late
what the conspiracy
was all about

owls and pussy cats and seven-year -old boys

owls and pussy cats can make up their minds
to sail out to sea and even get married
but they don't have parents or other such binds
whose one job in life is to see that they're harried

now a seven year old boy whose mind is quite clear
about what the world is and his proper place
will feel deeply distraught and totally drear
when told to wipe all his smart dreams off his face

when told he can't have what his brother (eleven)
just takes for granted and won't even share
adults can't imagine what hell blots out heaven
when a seven year old boy is forbidden to swear

so what a great hope is the land of the bong tree
where a piggy-wig grants you whatever you wish
and you can if you dare be as daft as a donkey
or turn on the spot to a great ogre fish

and brothers and mothers and fathers are sent
to the north or south pole or even to mars
and not to come back till you agree to relent
and then to shut up or you'll mars them to bars

mind you owls and pussy cats have to get married
they have to join hands and dance by the moon
for seven year olds that's worse than being carried
to a toilet and tipped in by a runcible spoon

so maybe it's better to stay where the home is
to put up with parents and brothers (eleven)
to turn the new day into the splendour this poem is
and everyone goes yippee for matthew now seven

guts

i admire beetroot
it leaves its mark
even when eaten
after the terrible
things it's been through
in the human prison

at the other end
the red is still there

worship

people being perverse
freedom is liable
to put them in prisons
of their own desiring
only when locked up
at others' behest
do they worship freedom
as the fountain of life

 

the kind vivisectionist

my friend you are mistaken
the mouse felt no pain
before the tests began
we snipped off its brain


haiku from israel

isaac
abraham expects
to go home son-less
clouds mimic the voice of god

pillar of salt
that's your lot cried god
rubbing in cryptic justice
with a dreadful pun

invocation to those attending exhibitions in florence

round about the galleries go
treading softly silence keeping
it's not the paintings you'll disturb
but the attendants who are sleeping

waca (japan)

hokusai saw mount fuji
lucky hokusai
we saw only clouds
small comfort - the truth is there
whether we see it or not

 

classless society

there is no such thing
as the working class
he said - knotting
the school tie round
the boy's throat
and pulling it
tight tight tight

 


two crocodiles gossip
by the banks of the thames at abingdon

two old lazy crocodiles are basking by the water
they get round to talk about the macdonalds' daughter

gemini gemini
have you ever set eyes on young stephanie

jiminy jiminy
who lives here in abingdon - the one who is two

gemini gemini
everyone knows she's a smart one that stephanie

jiminy jiminy
oh ever so smart - there's just nothing she can't do

gemini gemini
so smart - she could be a crocodile could stephanie

jiminy jiminy
she sees what she's after - then snap - and it's true

gemini gemini
if she came by here now - we wouldn't eat young stephanie

jiminy jiminy
oh no - we'd be too scared to even say boo

gemini gemini
so why don't we wish happy birthday to stephanie

jiminy jiminy
then straight in the water before she rings up the zoo

gemini gemini
don't be so daft - she likes creatures does stephanie

jiminy jiminy
ok - but no tears - or she'll raise hullaballoo

and the two old lazy crocodiles who couldn't hurt a fly
sing happy birthday to stephanie as she passes them by


images of snow - february 1996

snow is a thousand flowers
the chinese probably said
hundreds and thousands this morning
drop their garlands on my head
last night the festoons started
long before we went to bed

snow is a white-furred rabbit
the chinese probably wrote
hedgerows and fields this morning
wear a similar fluffy coat
last night the winter danced back
with a white fur round its throat

snow is a treacherous fox-face
the chinese probably thought
it lurks in wait this morning
for the weak and overwrought
last night it laughed its head off
loving the fear it's brought


jubilation 2000

since the essence of wisdom
is that wealth is the source
of great suffering surely
the under-developed countries
should honour the western bankers
for forcing them to enjoy
the fruits of such dire poverty


hopper's world

solitude has windows for its skin
eyes look out always (none looks in)

elsewhere teeming with invention
inside fraught with self-attention

tongue licks (body-thought on bed)
desire stalks deserts in the head

loneliness nothing (dismissive pun)
nothing new ever mimics the sun

eyes look out always (none looks in)
solitude has windows for its skin

 

stable society

the horses have bolted
the one door's been locked
the flood can't get out

the greasy bilge swills
up the walls to the roof
hercules is hopeless

the manger is mangy
fresh myths and sayings
are urgently wanted

mythmakers get busy

bee-attitudes

in the shadow
of the flower
is the sting

the bee driven by need
uses its painful gift
to keep its sense of beauty
in proportion

it does its job with
a thoughtless dedication
its honeyed world
excites no inner space

bees are not poets
who wade through words
with too much brain
around their ankles

each itching bee-part
is attuned
to a cosmic web
each buzz miraculous

flowers put powder
on their private parts
to call the bees in
it seems a good game

much fumbling and the bee
goes home to mother
rewards ripple outwards
to many dripping tongues

bees hate anything
that gets in the way
the bee-world is exclusive
aliens - keep out

bees live on a knife-edge
between honey
and a ripped-out sting
violation propels them

in the shadow
of the nectar
is the horror

woman

you have gone away from yourself
you walk in a dead way
your loins have lost their sweets
your breasts deny touch
your face exudes cold pain

everything you were
now you are not

the revolution then
has nearly been successful

happiness

happiness is the stuff of birthdays
and the coming of sweet things
when they are not expected

happiness is when the moment
catches the sunlight and a giggle
comes out of darkness to take a look

happiness is when the body
rhymes with the heart and the whole
self flows like a mountain stream

happiness is when mischief
dances like stars in the fingers
and adults are nowhere in sight

happiness has its own clock
it comes in short ticks - then
it tocks where no one can find it


understanding lemons

lemons don't let you admire yourself too much
they stick from their tree like awkward thoughts
demanding a truth be told even if the tongue
would prefer a far more sickly explanation

lemons are perfect though for the need to jump
straight out of bed on the eagerest of mornings
into the task that must have no nonsense about it
they have no truck with laziness or the idle hope

they can be easily misunderstood - their sourness
their association in sayings with the poorest of the lot
their way of squirting you in the eye when being cut
they don't have much emollience in their nature

you can't get that close to lemons - they stand firm
in their separate place asking to be respected - then
they will give what they've got like waxed nurses
offer you their own prim recipes for a healthy life

 

being a dysfunctional family

he am disjointed
she are too
children is hopeless
all be askew

 

the sex-peace

the first thing about a man my son
is that he's not a woman - and don't
let any woman tell you what a man is
or any kind of man with his own agenda
of what a man is - quite simply
a man is what a man is (crimes and all)
knowing that my son then find
your own way of being what a man is
and be it in the best way that you can

the first thing about a woman my daughter
is that she's not a man - and don't
let any man tell you what a woman is
or any kind of woman with her own agenda
of what a woman is - quite simply
a woman is what a woman is (crimes and all)
knowing that my daughter then find
your own way of being what a woman is
and be it in the best way that you can

 

still life with apples

paradise was the first still life with apples
adam and eve both found it hard to grapple

with having nothing to do both day and night
with such fruits around - eve took a bite

and of course a maggot popped out - end of dream
snow white then had a go - how her heart gleamed

at a rosy red one - it stopped her breath
still life for her was more like living death

my appled still-life goes back over fifty years
codlins russets cookers (cherries and pears)

a garden fixed in a kind of paradisal snap
(broken windows belts etc help to flesh the map)

an apple signifies totality...earthly desires
there's still life like that when one retires

fifty-seven varieties of life still for picking
time desire indulgence - nothing lacking

each locality an orchard every walk a fruit
(such paradisal longing was never so acute)

so rosy birthday sister - knowing you'll grapple
with your new still life (apple after apple)

 

view from a window at rödgen

an orchard in bloom
new light fingering through
a ridge of feathery trees
fingering in me
the leaves of an old book

somewhere....a girl somewhere
maybe jay sonja barbara
(a feeling not faces)
i don't know....somewhere
you know what it is

a young tree in spring
surprised into leaf
the lightest of greens
against a darker wood
so light...and light with it

the tree seems to be
lifting from the earth
and dancing....the tree's
alive in your heart

and your fingers enmesh
lightly with a girl's
every pore then lets out
its light green leaves

you pirouette there
like young spring trees
maybe one tree....
yearning to be one tree....

it's an old page
blossom flutters on it
obscuring the green
longings ...the wants
disturbed amorphous...
the young spring tree
dissolves into darker wood

sometimes you blow the blossom
and a girl forms there
like the light green tree
it's no more than that
no more than something
you yearned for then...
enmeshed selves....
being the one tree

but somehow pushed away
till later ...and by then
it was a different
kind of dance

this ache
this butterfly ache
flits even now
from being pinned down

it comes in the springtime
as transient as blossom
as offputting
as a seasonal migraine

 

crematorium-return

(to where the ashes of both
my parents are strewn)

i)
ok the pair of you lie still
what's disturbing me need pass
no fretful hand over your peace
this world's vicissitudes are stale
fodder for you who feed the grass

some particles of your two dusts
by moon's wish accident or wind
may have leapt that late-life wound
refound in you the rhapsodists
first-married days had twinned

i've come today in heavy rain
a storm barging through the trees
to be a part of this fresh truce
to dream myself to that serene
death's eye-view no living sees

a roaring motorway derides
machine's exclusion from this place
cozens what the gale implies
while overhead a plane corrodes
all feel of sanctuary and solace

i cut the edges off the sound
and let the storm absorb my skin
my drift unravelling as a skein
through paths no brain's designed
i want the consciousness you're in

too much a strain - my mind can't click
to earthen voices (whispers signs)
my eyes alert to this life's scenes
my ears are ticked to autumn's clock
my shoes crunch upon chestnut spines

(ii)
not a bird singing or flying
i seize upon such absence (here
the death-sense dares to split its hair)
why with such a strong wind flowing
inside the noises do calms appear

today the weather is supreme
it does away with frontiers - sweeps
breath into piles as it swaps
ashes for thoughts conjuring prime
life-death from the bones it reaps

abruptly flocks of leaves-made-birds
quit shaken branches (glide in grace)
first soar then hover - sucked to grass
flatten about me as soft-soaked boards
matting me to this parent place

and then i'm easeful - a hand scoops
dissent away (leaves me as tree)
settles the self down to its true
abasement where nothing escapes
its wanting (earth flesh being free)

i'm taken by your touching
there's no skin between us now
as tree i am death's avenue
you are its fruits attaching
distilled ripeness to the bough

i possess the step i came for
my senses burst into still speech
your potent ashes give dispatch
to life's tensions - i travel far
rooted at this two-worlds' breach

october 6th 1990
(seventh anniversary of my mother's cremation)

enjoy the day (2)

there was a man walked the streets
calling carpe diem to those passing
he was the most miserable sod
the town could ever have boasted
he was dressed in black rags
and his shoes crawled around his feet
(as if a tribe of scurrying mice)
his smell built a cage around him

that was the way he enjoyed
his day - and the sight of him
made people step a little faster
on their way wryly perking up
to a liking of their own condition
yes they muttered to themselves
yes they almost cried aloud - much
to look forward to where i'm going

they almost threw him a smile
they almost wished him a better
future than his present suggested
but not quite - their day was made
from his unremitting degradation
say he was the yellow press to
the purple prose of their ambitions
dispelled gloom with his dirty sun

they had no need of him - save
as a goad to get elsewhere- save
as a harsh reminder of their fortune
he knew what he was there for
crying out carpe diem as a curse
a stinking omen towards the want
the horizon carried - carpe diem
he shrieked - and how they meant to


a ludlow meditation on age and birthdays

a town that bears about its neck
the weight of history real or dreamed
and yet not shattered bombed or blown
from meanings streets and buildings schemed
keeps living-now in constant check

not one of us (wherever grown)
can shore up lungs from dust that teemed
from oldest times - of which one speck
(one mote) alone would have us beamed
backwards - our thin voice flagged in stone

birthdays battle against the fleck
a flash of seed-pride is redeemed
finds spotless image in the bone


from POEMS TO STAINED GLASS

5.
absinthe and stained glass

(i)
absinthe makes the hurt grow fonder
the green fairy burbles what's this 'ere
when vincent (sozzled) knifes his lug off
all spirits then succumb to fear
depression takes the gloss off wonder
and people (lost) tell god to bug off
the twentieth century drowns in sheer
excuse that life is comic blunder
temporality dons its gear
forbidden thought soon rips its gag off

stained glass (you think) must be bystander
its leaded eyes seek far not near
the day's bleak dirt it learns to shrug off

(ii)
the history of the race confuses
heady spirit with bloody need
nothing can stop the sky from tingling
intrinsic hope rewords its screed
assumes it must outlive its bruises
stained glass deigns to face the mingling
of atavistic search for creed
with each desire gets what it chooses
it tries to suck out truth from greed
and calmly pacifies the wrangling

lasting spirit allows no ruses
what's bottled dreads to pay much heed
between the two meek life is dangling

(from le trianon - stained glass window by berge)

roundels

(roundel: variation of the rondeau
consisting of three stanzas of three
lines each, linked together with but
two rhymes and a refrain at the end
of the first and third group)

3.
ease of mind

the world spins - today i have migraine
the peace i seek is never less than ill
striving's no answer to the bumptious pain
that is love's overspill

wanting warmth encourages the chill
relaxation breeds its bitter strain
the worst of all crimes is - i love you still

hope itself by nature is inane
i squat in a box dismembered from such will
to let me find the ease of mind again
that is love's overspill

5.
reflection

everything you do is my reflection
the hurts you cause are my pain inside out
blame's no matter for a close inspection
your guilt turns mine about

love itself is many hands of doubt
it cannot be without it breeds rejection
its silences result in one big shout

i am left with nothing but dejection
what's gold in me has nowhere to get out
love's pride is fatal to correction
my guilt turns yours about


8.
roundels in honour of the round

(i)
when energy was born it asked this question
which way dear parents do i go from here
mum fluttered indifferently (i blame exhaustion)
dad pointed with his sexual gear

so energy thrust straight ahead and fostered fear
at once its dreaded source became a bastion
too holy to be doubted - mum flipped a gear

she sought revenge on dad for his lewd suggestion
taking too long of course - things went nuclear
the scale of the damage was too much to ingest when
dad pointed with his sexual gear

(ii)
she sat with her flowing skirt spread out on the earth
and tore the garment into strips from toe to waist
laying them to point around the wide world's girth
my way the truth flows best

dad laughed his head off at the pointless waste
and energy itself was seized by powerful mirth
perhaps mum's petalled skirt was not well placed

in time mishandled plenty breeds its dearth
dad's roisterous one-way-ism was disgraced
energy began to sense what mum was worth
her way the truth flows best

meditations
from the
station of oi

meditations from the station odfoi
based on a wood-cut
by UTAGAWA HIROSHIGE (1797-1858)

from the series THE SIXTY-NINE STATIONS
OF THE KISOKAIDO ROAD
(c. 1834-42)
OCTOBER 1ST - DECEMBER 8TH 1997

After a visit to the Hiroshige Exhibition at the Royal Academy in London during September 1997, I purchased a pack of ten cards, thinking they were all different, with a view to writing a poem on each to celebrate various
relatives' and friends' birthdays.
When it turned out the cards carried the same illustration - that of The Station of Oi. from the artist's series of sixty-nine woodcuts based on the stations of the Kisokaido Road - I decided to attempt ten meditations around the one theme.
The first meditation celebrated my daughter Pat's birthday on October 1st, and the last my son Andrew's birthday on December 8th.
Those in between are all written for friends.
The final meditation relates to me personally and is a statement about my own confused journey at my sixty-ninth station of life.

six
faith

for fay

it was agreed before the journey
the order of going should be strict
the parents to ride on the oxen
the children walk in the snow

the father to be the foremost
his mount the bigger beast
the heavier bags would be his
his job was to look to the future

the mother with a lowlier role
her burden lighter her mind enclosed
she would keep her eyes on the track
in charge of the local vision

the boy would precede his father
the girl her mother - they could come
to no harm holding tight to the lead
they did not expect to be eaten

they had a long journey to make
in the severest of weathers
snow buzzed in their eyes
ice-bells jangled from the trees

in truth they had little to fear
this landscape absorbed them
threw a proportion around them
that kept chaos and ravage at bay

faith you could say sustained them
sensing all things had their place
humility in the face of nature
(as well as the manner of their going)

they knew the indissoluble bonds
between the path they had to be on
and the hills that would stand aside
the moment they duly appeared

nowadays we'd spit with disgust
how stupid to be so trusting
only murder is immortal - this family
could be dead in the next ravine

truth and beauty are best frozen
exist when in the blink of an eye
the mess and bloodiness of life
are scoured clean by an artist's pen

eleven
at the sixty-ninth station

here at the sixty-ninth station
of the gregokaido road
i have a sense of completion
that is not completed yet

the long journey to this moment
has many disparate paths
fragments of people within me
have stuttered their broken mantras

what a bowl of uneasy pieces
litters the well of my bed - my name
doesn't know how to welcome
tomorrow with its single demands

this christmas will say goodbye
to the last traces of middle age
the sere's banners will be ready
to set off on its late procession

i have not gathered myselves together
with anything like that composure
wisdom and age should concoct
i have lost control of my strivings

christmas a game of new birth
the light giving hope to the dark
i wish i had the will to recover
the young coals that kept me bright

collage - 69th station

(collage made from sharded Hiroshige's Station of Oi and then re-composed)

***

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