There was no secret
murmured down through a long line
of elect; no dark fakir, no flutter
of notes from a pipe,
no proof, no footage of it -
but I did it,
Guildhall Square, noon,
in front of everyone.
There were walls, bells, passers-by;
then a rope, thrown, caught by the sky
and me, young, up and away,
Thin air. First try.
A crowd hushed, squinting eyes
at a full sun. There
on the stones
the slack weight of a rope
coiled in a crate, a braid
eighteen summers long,
I'm long gone,
my one-off trick
unique, unequalled since.
And what would I tell them
given the chance?
It was painful; it took years.
I'm my own witness,
guardian of the fact
that I'm still here.
chin snug in her palm,
her elbow plugged firmly
in the knobbly joint of her kneecap,
legs a little ajar
beneath her skirts, is sound
asleep upon the stool, dreaming
of her mother teaching her
how to scrape parsnips,
which is how at 11.10pm
the mistress of the house
discovers her, stares at her
a while, sighs, then, as if
almost sensing a stream
of watchers on, looks
up suddenly and comes alive,
flush with wine and mischief,
gifting that wry-wild look
I love this painting for,
saying, it's too late for this,
and, see what I put up with?
How I adore this girl.
She won't change. It's 1655.
It's late. Let the dishes
alone. Let the cat eat the fish.
There was a craze for fountain pens.
Fat lacquered ones, walnut-effect, gold-nibbed,
unlocked and lifted, two-handed,
from spot-lit glass cabinets and carried over plush
by silent nail-varnished assistants
to the desk where you and your mum or dad
would have been waiting almost eighteen years,
not talking much, you worrying because the pen
you liked best was also the most expensive.
We kept their pass-the-parcel packaging,
treasured for months the slippery, important plastic bag,
the velvety plump moulded to fit our pen alone,
room underneath for two free cartridges
and an instruction manual in 14 languages, ours first,
the 12-month guarantee, as if a pen could break down,
when what we liked best was its low-tech simplicity,
that we could want a thing invented centuries before,
that it could symbolise our coming of age.
We scribbled in sepia, wrote everyone cheques
for a million hazelnuts. On birthdays
we'd crowd into the library at lunch
and watch the tip of a new pen touch its first white sheet,
the hand behind solemn and quivering, unsure
whether to doodle or draw or let the nib
try for itself, licking the page in thirsty blue-black stripes
as if it knew this was the end of freedom
and that soon it would have twisted to accommodate
each hesitation, dot and loop, its every molecule
straining with something like love as I leaned in,
imagining a future shaped by neat italics
where whatever I wanted I need only write it down.
Like the slow trickle of water
or the crumple of paper in the hand
the wasps take up residence under the roof
as they did last summer.
At first we do not hear them;
they are cunning as wolves,
accustomed to slipping ghosted
through the splintered cracks of solid wood and tile
to build their undulating nest
away from the innocent eyes of our everyday life.
For when the irregular crackle and hiss
of spiky tapping slips into our senses
it could so easily be
the dripping of rain along the gutter
steaming in sunlight
or the steady shifting of a house dying as it stands
which numbs our every thought
until we come almost to accept the thing we fear most.
And as in painstaking rhythm
they begin to mark what they count as theirs,
the slow stripe of possession,
stings golden with vengeance
for the many small deaths gone before,
then at last we hear them
as they ease through the folded swathe of conscience,
crawling just there under the skin
and filling our tormented ears
with hazy dreams of flight.
Suddenly they were there, a wall of men, all singing.
Surging towards us down the lane
Behind the harbour,
One playing a guitar held high and secured by an elbow,
In the center a young man
With a garland on his head,
His face flushed, led firmly by each arm,
His father gripping one side,
Smaller than his son and stronger,
With a harsh, grey cut, and a face as red
As the plug of wet grape skins
We'd seen him throw to the goat.
A groom on his way to a bride,
Befuddled and unsteady,
With a dazed grin.
Wounded soldiers, slugged with brandy
Then rushed to the surgeon,
Carelessness rising in their cheeks,
Or youths dragged to the gallows drunk,
A laugh quivering round their lips,
Not really knowing,
Must have looked the same.
Though this groom knew,
And was not afraid,
That this famous performance
Was now his.
Round the corner the girls step from their cars,
Raise their long white skirts,
Bend, remove their heels,
Then, holding back their veils,
Bare-legged, run through the dust,
Flickering like moths in the dark,
To the chapel on the shore,
Crammed with golden candle-light,
Like a beehive,
Where we'd stopped the night before, in a storm,
To ask Mary, though we were asking the sea,
To help us get away, and go home.
Mr. Panutka purses his mouth
and, after some thought,
moves two pins
an infinitesimal distance
somewhere to the south
of a left shoulder-blade
as, on tiptoe, he circles
the general and head on one side
runs his eyes, knowing as a starling's,
across collar, vents, button-holes,
lapels, appraising the miracle,
this cut of the cloth, this way
he has persuaded it to hang,
that which the general
still thinks of as his waist
and this is Mr. Panutka's finest hour,
this, he realises now,
is what he was born for –
to measure, cut and fit,
to tack and sew these fragile threads
to-and-fro across his President's
dress uniform in which,
very soon, though Mr. Panutka
does not yet know this,
General Ramon Garcia Ramirez
will be shot, at ten o'clock exactly
on the morning of June the fifth,
by one of the mothers
whose sons he tortured
and, smiling over his coffee,
fed to the flesh-eaters
in his shimmering lily pool.
Back in Scunthorpe, police
confirmed they'd made an arrest in the baked beans
case. A Scunthorpe
man has been taken into custody. Mother
is interested in this incident.
I phone her right
away. "Mother can you hear me alright?
It's been on the telly, the police
have arrested some loony. Remember that incident,
that woman, barefoot, beans,
yeah, that's right mother,
they've got this fella in Scunthorpe,
in Waterstones, in Scunthorpe,
he tried it again right,
told the girl to close her eyes, mother,
poured beans on her nude foot. She called the police.
The police kept some for evidence, the beans,
this is about the seventh time, seventh incident,
all young women, in Scunthorpe,
all shop assistants, each time beans.
They think he's doing it for Comic Relief, right,
so they pull their socks and shoes off, for a laugh. The police
have warned them, nowt to do with charity, mother,
he's a fraud, an impostor, a nut-job, mother,
in the last two weeks. The police
became suspicious when, right,
he didn't ask for any cash. He's been
known to take a photo of the bean-
smothered foot, mother.
These young lasses must be shaken. He sounds like a right
weirdo. It was on the news today, the latest incident.
It isn't safe to be a shop assistant in Scunthorpe.
Well it is now, now they've made an arrest. The police
have bean after this beans man since that incident
in Mothercare, seven shops in Scunthorpe,
this beans nutter has hit, until now avoiding the police.
She was a small singing bird, a young wren
you caught in your hand and felt her heartbeat.
You chose two rings, one for her foot and then
one for your hand. She fluttered like green wheat
beginning to sense the wind, not ready
for ploughing. She flew into the bush and
when you came for me, I saw your greedy
eyes still alighting and smelt the ring band
on your finger. While we were arguing
the two rings fell from your pocket like crows
at a wedding, the giving and wearing
intentional as double knots, zeros,
the two rings plural and not singular,
irreducible in kind and number.
Someone, some false friend persuaded her to sell her hair;
now you might think she has a tumour.
She is an old, old baby, stripped of her prettiness,
ridiculous, the pink casing round her mind
keeping me out like a strong room box.
'Oh Mum it will grow,' she says.
But I miss that soft charm she carried around her
and her features unsettle me in their order,
as if mouth would change places with an eye,
an eyebrow drop jowlward.
She mocks my solemn look but still –
I can't wait for the crawling hairs to soften
the terrible varnish of her wooden poll;
coaxing the unexpected notches and pits
back into their feathery nest.
She says the shearings went to Padua
where there will be another woman,
who wears them softly tonged into curls,
or arranged in scallops over her breasts.
Even as her white face sets to stucco.
after David Lynch
When Alvin encounters her on the road,
she's just run over her thirtieth deer
and is crying out across the ravaged plains
in dismay and despair of the gentle beasts
which spring out of nowhere.
Will he lay his hand on her sleeve,
boil a kettle he takes from his trailer?
And as he hands her the strong, sweet tea,
offer a tale or rumination to summon the genius
of solace, bring an end to the deathfest stalking
her trail although she blows her horn along
that stretch of tarmac and slows right down.
And at that moment as she drives out of view,
does she sense the fragile and sinuous
connections which sometimes take
the shape of a deer listening
at the shadowy edge of the woods?
And that for every collision in the landscape,
every dislocation and burden of grief,
there's a magic property in words
which can tilt the earth in just such a way
that man, woman, deer may let the other
pass like tremors of light breaking
through the surface.
But he looks around him at the drained fields
where a single tree stands blasted of leaves,
can find no sense to string
an honest meaning.
That night he barbecues
under the stars, succulent deer
in its crisp juice and the silence
pours unction on his soul;
while the woman continues as a magnet
to the creatures who fall under her wheels
like figments of an impossible language.
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.