as if to see some trick
of clarity performed. Her misty world,
she is convinced, will kill her some day.
A stout, old, spinster lady grips
the handlebars and pushes up the hill
towards another friend
who may not be at home,
though she is always on the way
to give some fruit, a loaf or eggs
or leave another note to say she won't be long.
The coroner referred the court to all the writing.
Sheets of reminders to herself and scribbled lists
of gifts went with the last frenetic signs,
the carriers of hoarded change,
sleep anywhere, the endless search
to find her mother's watch,
asking the time from anyone she met,
constant returning to be certain
that the hymn-books were arranged,
her round face seen at first light peering
out across the mill-race
where the current always pulled a mix
of twisting moons. She had lived a lifetime
by the family river. That night,
in her sister's house up stream
and working late, I must have heard her
trying to get in
but was too absorbed:
the storm was only there in pauses
down the reach. She was searching east
along the bank, beyond the town
until she fell or the wind helped her.
They found her staring through clear water.
where we lived not in the middle
but at extremities of time and place,
on different levels, where we watched
forests spring up and rivers carve their beds,
seas and mountains changing places;
or our eyes became so quick, we saw
lightning hanging in the air,
a bullet revolving as it flew,
an incandescent particle defer
its moment of growing into fire.
Through caves and cellars we saw below
the ground, with dim abandoned forms
and rotten stairs and pitch black holes;
we gazed towards the dazzling sky,
where once the gentle prophets dwelt,
and found it flowing down upon us
into the airless clasp of earth and dark.
The people are streaming in the street,
when the rain falls or the sun appears
they turn their faces upward, how touching
to see their trust and aspiration, not knowing
the light must be eclipsed again.
Loving fathers will sacrifice
themselves to save their sons,
women will gather children round
to shield them with their bodies.
They hope to wake into another life,
rising from the warm earth,
trees rich in autumn colours,
insects busy in the grass.
I am waiting for a delivery of sleep
but the truck's red tail-lights are still
down in the valley, small, vanishing as the road
turns, turns its back on me again.
I must be the last stop on its round.
In the old days there was always plenty,
a free good, distributed to the poor
like air or water; buckets winched
from subterranean caverns, wells
that refilled easily, silently.
No queues, no waiting.
Even on days when the dry heat stilled
the agitations of the crickets and
lured the somnolent snakes outdoors,
we knew without thinking
there'd be plenty that night and the next.
We could be profligate, splash it around.
Now I watch the big dipper tilting
a glittering panful of sleep towards
those who must not drink: the night-sister
at her station in the darkened ward,
the shadowy man in the control tower,
the lorry drivers in their moonlit cabs
and I envy them their wakefulness
as I envy the dog-tired,
the labourers, the merchant seamen,
the fire-fighters, streaming down
to the shore, sleep-walking, silent,
heads filled with wants and stratagems.
From far off, gears engage on the hill.
The headlights come bumping towards me.
I am dry-mouthed and suddenly afraid,
not wanting this sleep to be the last -
drowning not dreaming, or dreaming
of something I shall never remember.
When they sliced him in half
like a length of French loaf
they found he was all white and gold
like the white of the coat of an egg
and the sunshine of its yolk,
which he would have liked, seeing
as he was Leeds United through
and through, to the pip of the core
of his English apple, to the marrow
of his bones and the cream of
his blood ran onto their aprons,
poured like Yorkshire pudding batter,
which would have pleased him
even more, him being Yorkshire,
from the northernest summit of
his shaven scalp to the southernmost
tip, flagging the nail of his biggest toe.
But he wouldn't have been chuffed
about them slicing him in half,
least of all before the ref blew,
with half a pair of bust scissors
and the arse-end of a table-spoon.
Boxes of fish
Wait on the quay to be lifted into vans.
Who will do the work with the town full of drunks?
Everywhere you look the same indignant men appear.
They block your way to every bar,
Staring at you,
Their eyes shining with a matt truculent desire.
There will be trouble tonight
Somewhere in the streets
Or public houses you can bet
Before the tourists, and the fishermen
And herring all get home.
At ten thirty-three, knitting women,
Tired of it and tired but never stopping,
Look up briefly at the clock.
He might have died, they think,
In the war; burned or disappeared,
Left nothing to be boxed,
Never lost a livingness,
Had it seep away,
Stream across the floor
Rainbows in it
Through the door
Oily runnels in the street,
As he stood on Friday evenings
With his friends
Learning how to drink.
The house of my youth has become the house of your Saturdays,
The house of your drab Sundays of laundry and packing the car,
Of sunning yourselves and putting in an hour's fishing at best.
I come from a long line of old people, too stubborn to give up this
Life for the next. You'll find what's left of them up the road,
But you might also find a hint of them in this drab rock house
With its many rooms added on as we needed them -
Outgrowing the older, smaller, rooms every twenty or thirty years
The small, brass key is for the top bedroom on the right,
Where sixteen years ago my wife died of everything all at once.
You should have seen her, disappearing like a bar of soap
In a hot shower until one day, she whispered "barn owl" in my ear
And that was it. I carried her body down to the parlor
(Black, medium-sized key, lock sticks) and was struck by the thought
She weighs no more than the Sunday paper.
That bent, rusted key stamped with a two fits nothing,
Though once it worked on a door in Spain.
Fourteen rooms and fifteen keys and a ring of the purest silver:
A gift, I believe, from one of our children, all scattered now,
All scattered now. The cheque you sent burns in my pocket
Like a kind of poison leaf. Here, take this ring of keys from me.
Find out for your own damned self which one lets you in.
Behind him, through the frosted window's gap,
a once familiar country
looks in, where he does not feel, but
moves; a slight adjustment to his tie,
his fingers tensed immortally.
Reversed, he overlooks this land
- road, trees, the city's far off frown -
where two young women walk, arm in arm,
calling to him, "Come down.
Come down ..." They've gone.
The dark blue road winds through the trees.
The guests are gathering downstairs.
"Come with us. Do. You loved us so".
The bright voices, faces lit with care.
Under the window is a chair.
He mounts; steps into air
Somewhere there are twelve children playing in a road.
Each of the children has a name and is nameless.
Each of them has a mother and father and is orphaned.
Each has seen the sky and bitten through a blade of grass
yellow or green as the rain proposed.
Each has saved a beetle from murderous hands
and murdered a beetle with a small black crack.
Each has flown the flight of the fly, with its buzz,
and a fighter plane, and a buzzard.
Each has said one thing and thought another.
Each has said one thing and meant another.
Each has said nothing and thought nothing and been nothing.
Each has thought, "I am a cloud. I am thunder. I am a beetle",
running down the field, or the road, chasing a ball.
Each has made a world disappear,
seen another rise up to meet it.
Each has seen one piece of grass become a field.
Each has gone from standing in the wood
to pinching one leaf in a road.
We are always falling through the road onto the field
or out of the field into the road.
Twelve children chase a ball.
There are twenty-four children.
The children chase the ball,
half red, half yellow, now blue, now green,
that gets away from them and rolls.