My first wife knew no more than me, no telling
where her needs ended, mine began. One day though
I turned the hill to find the boat moored in the field,
the house out in the bay, adrift, door open wide.
I rowed out to a message on the mat: gone
to my cousin's place in Valparaiso.
My second wife blew ashore in a force ten
leading a shipload of apprentices astray
with her white dress, her turned-up Nordic nose,
her precious bible clutched in a manicure hand.
No matter how I pumped, the organ of her heart played flat,
her painted smile as wooden as a figurehead's.
My third wife won't say where she lives.
She comes to me when the tides are right,
stays longer if a wind's got up or fog's come down.
I stroke the warm loaves of her biceps, kiss
dimpled elbows, listen for the souch
our breathing makes when we're together.
She has cousins everywhere. They post her money
in denominations the local shop won't take
or drop by uninvited while we're having tea. They push me
into corners, whisper her address. I turn a deaf ear.
This is my third wife I explain, who's known
many husbands, some worse some better than me.
Young couple alone, he recumbent on red rock
near pinnacle of sand-hill pocketed with grass,
she by his feet, sky making threat of raindrops
though earth remaindered dry. Mid-afternoon,
adjacent to sun's zenith, she touching ground
at plural potions of her body, while lightning
conflaged cracked dead-bush 6m from stone,
surge entering body by left toe and knee-skins
scorched but hardly. Consciousness abandoned
but resumed itself to her beyond thirty minutes
bequeathing no damage but burn marks, livid
at spine terminus, shaping like shouting throat.
Her memories of suction into light fibrillating
like new leaves. Man felt no perverse effects,
seven heart-flowers uncorrupted in his hand,
though since he suffers rapture of tympanum.
213. Higashi-Yuri-Machi Incident (22/09/97)
In Takaiwa-Yama, summer's declining parts,
school-teacher of language and nine-year son
relaxing in garden by lotus pool at light-fade,
playing go. No hailstones, no St. Elmo's fire,
so foreboding invalid, yet flash strick jay-tree
20m distance, beneath whose roots iron pipe
reclined, convoying pool-water at arid times.
Predominant currents swept below go-board
and players either side, with subsidiary flow
up left leg of father, departing from his body
at index, central fingers of right hand almost
touching board. They badly cindered, fused,
yet still holding black stone for further play.
There is death in the ha-ne, as proverb says.
Boy hurtled into water, naked as carried out,
unscathed except for fern-prints on left heel.
i.m. James Agee
What are you going to tell us, Bud;
about the days that keep coming and
rain and wind and the sour smell of shacks
and empty fields and the silence of women?
How do you look your children in the eye
and what stories can there possibly be to
hide the intimidation, the neglect that nails
you and the stench of what you wear inside?
Let us now praise insects that survive and winter
grass and the ways the bed travels and the boy
with a broken head who keeps singing and how
the moon seems to care in occasional dreams.
Let us praise the locust and some birds and those
who know how a book works and the man who
sits in a field with some children and says it is
a special place where the light can become song.
What is song, Bud; what is its persistence when some
yell it from a distance and some hide inside a hymn
and even your own children listen to its sway and
how it rocks the soul if you let it in?
What is it,Bud; keeping you here between days and
the nights that are useless and the junk that you
hear some other men speaking and the solace that
every so often appears when your wife lets you in?
Let us praise the far distance and the biggest star
and the river that lives forever and the way a child
makes a game with some rope and the way that you
can some days see your mother inspecting her hands.
In the photograph you stare straight ahead, Bud;
what do you think this is all about? Are they going to
pay you? Are they going to ask you to say? Anything.
Anything they might possibly understand. What words
are you going to use, to tell, to share, to cut out an image
that they can take to others? Talk of what and to make
what happen when nothing will? Wind. Rain. Dead dogs.
Tell us about dead dogs and how you keep hearing them.
Tell us about earth and the hot nights and the no sleeping
and the scream of the father who returns to swear at you
and the way you cannot ever remember him whistling and
how he never ever praised a thing. Never ever did praise.
(note: a quarrel is an old name for a diamond-shaped pane of glass used in making lattice windows)
I love to think of them
standing on a bench outside the Angel,
Walter Bogan, John Tucker, 8 in the evening
Nicholas Gay, William Amyott,
a candle on the table, Edward Rounsevall,
taking turns to stand on the bench
to peer through a broken quarrel
at the Reverend John Prince in the Angel
holding the thighs of Mary Southcote,
her coats around her waist,
William Hoyle, shuffling along,
William Payne, standing up, her hands on the wall
Henry Martyn, a diamond shaped aperture,
her hands on his shoulders, John Atherton,
the vicar of Berry Pomeroy, John Prince,
the author of the Worthies of Devon
his back to the wall sitting down, Lizzie Payne,
Mary Southcote facing him, standing between his legs
Walter Bogan, John Tucker,
outside the Angel, Nicholas Gay,
William Amyott, Edward Rounsevall
shuffling along on the bench
to peer through the quarrel,
William Hoyle, Mary Southcote 29,
her back to the viewers, William Payne,
John Prince, holding her thighs,
Henry Martyn, John Atherton, Lizzie Payne,
Walter Bogan taking turns to peer through the broken quarrel
John Tucker, Nicholas Gay,
her hands on his shoulders, William Amyott,
Edward Rounsevall, his hands around her waist,
William Hoyle, her coats round her thighs,
her hands on his shoulders
William Payne, his back to the wall
Henry Martyn, John Atherton, Lizzie Payne
until Nicholas Gay shouted
"Fie! For shame on you!"
on a bench outside the Angel
in Fore Street Totnes, April 24 1699
about 8 in the evening
We stand at the door and watch the pale night,
you, my twelve pounds of grackle bird, seagull boy,
oblivious to the moonlight and what lies beyond –
the foxes silently slipping through fences,
robbers waiting in their cars for a gap in their nerves.
A helicopter rides overhead, restless and searching.
It's all right birdie boy, it's not us they're looking for.
But its beam exposes me – how even now
I am preparing you, handing you down my alibis,
already thickening your soft new-leaf skin.
A siren bleeds and the chopper canters away.
You ruffle down in my arms' nest, eyes closing,
So we leave the garden to its own stealth
and the foxes to their rusty shadows in the wet grass.
He was not raised bodily to heaven as they said,
but when the god was torn from out the man,
he was without weight
and drifted like thistledown upon the breeze.
The children shouting with delight,
ran after him to see he was not harmed
and caught him as he passed across the vineyards
and brought him home tied to a string.
As he bobbed about above our heads
and his empty eyes gazed up towards the blue,
the summer air twittered through his wounds,
as if they spoke with the tongues of birds.
At once from the branches birds began to sing,
as if to the going down of the sun,
and even husks and stones and other mouthless things
seemed somehow to be singing too.
That stormy night he slipped away,
the string was hanging limp when morning came.
But we dreamed he was lifted by the winds
and sails forever high above the world,
close to the stars, cleansed by gentle rains,
too holy for the earth, too gross for heaven,
his whistlings still ignored by the chilly darks,
though carried far on late migrating wings.
Preparez – vous à des ragouts,
De rats aux champignons d'egouts' Victor Hugo, Paris 1870
All night Krupps' cannons pound the walls,
darkness smells of soil and gas
and at Voison's, rue Cambon, a special black card
buys sauce souris on pate of rat.
It's a challenge to garnish donkey with cepes;
there's a gold market for cats of all colours
and now that all the lights are extinguished
everyone's face looks like someone else's.
At the Menagerie, a bear roams untended,
the African parrot is losing his feathers.
Castor feels itching deep in his trunk,
Pollux pads in the snow and shivers.
The gates of the Jardin des Plantes have been chained
for over a week, but now carts from de Boos
are waiting outside. Zebras are easy, Martin the bear
puts up a fight, so they draw on a ruse
and Adolphe Lebeeque, whom Castor knows well
wheels out the last kilo of branches and fruit
which he tips at the base of their sandpaper tree
as others take aim from the rainwater butt.
Baggy grey lumps too big to be dragged
so they're jointed there in a scratch abbatoir.
Feet sliced away first, and eager talk spreads
to long lines outside the Boucherie Courtier.
A starving gourmet hurries out,
the carrier pidgeon's fragile message
unfurled says, Yes! There's going to be
a siege menu of 'variety meats' and elephant blood sausage.
Goncourt dines that evening, the sky
is brilliant with the enemy's flares.
There's consomm' Oliphant, and filet de mullet
and rarest, by Choron, the trompe sauce Chasseur,
nearly spoiled by Adolphe, who wept in the snow,
arms round the dead Castor's trunk, while at a distance
the butchers stood waiting to finish their work.
Adolphe wouldn't let go and they cursed at the nuisance.
over which you appear to have spent
several hours, I feel obliged to remark
it's not necessary to make still life
of the conical flask and teat pipette.
Diagrammatic sketches suffice. But yes,
I note you are handy with a pencil;
It is older and wiser than your pen.
And yes, you may surprise me. No, not
by washing my car, or wasting your money.
Shop roses are, in any case, travesties.
Consider preferring, as the lingua franca
of flowers, a peony: its three-week season
precludes an impulse-buy. You may even
come to prefer to give them to yourself.
You will please observe form. Use
my title and surname as other girls do.
Pigeon-holes are strictly for late
assignments. Poems remain locked
in your diary – the heat of whose pages
might hatch their escape in due course.
As for you question, it's unanswerable
precisely because it is a question.
The world will demand answers
before you are ready. Be as vague,
for as long, as you can. I assure you
there is nothing mysterious about me.
Rangers just scored, the first of the season.
My husband is mending the garage door.
I am here in his garden,
part of a crowd which rings the lily pond.
Escape is a few wet strides in.
A cold circle climbs my body to the neck.
As I move under his Japanese bridge
and lose their voices, my hair spreads.
I study his lilies from below.
Light spears each petal, smudging pink
into haze, where stems slant down
to hungry tubers.
Willow twigs reach through
the clouded lens of the pool,
I slip under root arches
to where lattice is fine as fishnet
till gloom deepens and their footfalls cease.
Then I'm out, over lavender.
I scale cool walls on a fractious rose
and under the white coverlet on his bed, wait
for the chatelaine to find me.
In the photo under the headline
the two girls, chin-deep in the lake,
are grinning from one ear to the other,
their faces pressed together so tight
it looks as if one's mouth ends where
the other begins, a long unbroken chain
of milky teeth. It is scarcely eighty degrees
in that country, and they call it a heat wave.
Let me tell you what I know of heat:
I have seen the horizon bend and warp
as though turned, in a flash, to taffy;
I have seen trees uproot themselves
from the earth and crawl under each other
for shade. Where I call home you can hear
houses sigh and grumble as the glue
that binds them melts, or you can,
in the stillness of the early evening,
as the sun contemplates its sinking,
smell the cobwebs coughing into flame.
Downtown at noon, the buildings
shed all their windows and doors
and bend their spires to snag the passing
clouds¯this, this is what I know
of heat. O frail country, if this
is where desire has led you, if this
is what you want, then follow me
no further-for all I have to offer
are the shouts of two grown men
chasing after lightning, trying
to anchor the storm, as ten miles over
in the next parched parish
the shadow of a barn eats the black dog whole.
Wear your hard hat at all times, even though it's made of blue
plastic and molten iron is tapped roughly 1300˚C. It'll
help when the boys on the platform drop refractory bricks
on your head when they're bored with nothing to do.
Be careful going around corners, where they might try to
knock off your hat with the high-pressure hose. Avoid
splashes of hot metal, which will not only burn or blind you,
but, being very heavy, will likely break your leg.
Remember, molten slag, unlike pig iron, sticks to your skin.
Make sure you're hard to find towards the end of your 6 – 2, unless you
want to "volunteer" for a double shift. Insist the man behind you in
the queue for minor injuries at the nurse's station goes in front of you.
Get friendly with the loco men You'll find that you can kill
a twenty-minute walk across the site, especially handy on a 2-10.
Make sure (important this) there's not a corner behind you at a tapping,
unless you want to run through molten metal, should there be a spill.
Keep your coat on when you nip down to the pipe room for a kip;
you're hard to spot between the black pipes in the dark on nights.
Except the change-hands know the best spots, and they'll slip
in quietly to bollock you, then chalk you up for shitty shifts.
Never jump the yard-wide troughs of white-hot iron flowing faster
than a river, even if the old hands nonchalantly do. One trip,
one error Just go the long way round. Watch out for gas leaks; it pays
to move around the platform, especially on windless or misty days.
Take no notice of the old men with their burns and scars
(or the one-legged bloke who's now a weighbridge clerk
who used to work in the casting bay). Or their tales of suicides
and instant disappearances in the pots of molten iron,
leaving nothing. Nothing. Not a hair or bone or jacket button
or hob nail boot, or watch or pen knife, glasses case or buckle
or pennies in their pockets, or anything to bury or to scatter. Only
a smoking film of grease that's gone as quickly as the popping bubbles.
Get your mate to clock your time card when the bus is late. Keep your fingers
off the chains when shovelling sand into the sling, or blue clay for the tap-hole.
Pray for no mistakes, no misunderstandings when the iron begins to run. Do not be
hypnotised to seek a consummation with the beautiful fire. Be awed. Be wary.
Bathsheba washed herself beside the palace
flush with the hope of feeling David's eyes
heavy along her shoulders and her hips.
A beautiful woman always realizes
someone s watching; secretly she tenses –
Artemis, for instance, at her pond
tinged by the cypress, knew before she saw him
the soundless presence there of Actaeon.
But you're not really naked if you know
somebody could be watching. Let him stare;
you've got your wits about you as defenses.
Nakedness is being unaware:
Blanketed up to the chin, when you're asleep –
that's nakedness. The slack face in the bed,
stripped of more than clothing – it's not there.
And watching a sleeper in that absence is
to see through flesh and more than lay him bare.