We buried him with a potato in each hand
on New Year’s Day when the ground was hard as luck,
wearing just cotton, his dancing shoes plus
a half bottle of pear cider to stave off the thirst.
In his breast pocket we left a taxi number
and a packet of sunflower seeds; at his feet was
the cricket bat he used to notch up a century
against the Fenstanton eleven.
We dropped in his trowel and a shower of rosettes
then let the lid fall on his willow casket.
The sky was hard as enamel; there was
a callus of frost on the face of the fields.
Dust to dust; but this was no ordinary muck.
The burial plot was by his allotment, where
the water butt filled up with algae and the shed door
swung and slammed as we shook back the soil.
During the service, my mother asked
the funeral director to leave; take away some hair
and the resemblance was too close; and yet
my father never looked so smart.
I kept expecting him to walk in, his brow
steaming with rain, soil under his fingernails
smelling of hot ashes and compost;
looking for fresh tea in the pot.
The heroine lay dying in her pasteboard cot
Seized by coughing, clutching with both hands
The big tenor who knelt at her side
It was too much
I slipped from my seat, stumbled through feet and knees
Mounted the stage in a burst of saving love
For heaven’s sake, I said, she’s a sick woman
An attic is no place for a consumptive
They hustled me to the wings
She took the stage, flaunting her gypsy skirt
In a fast spin, taunting with jutting hips
The workers who crowded close
I saw the danger
Hurried down, pushed aside the protesting musicians
Climbed the steps in a last bid to stop the brawl
Calm down, I told them, love’s all right in its place
But there’s no need for knives
They escorted me to the foyer
He reached out, touching the breasts of the peasant girl
In a sly gesture, reassuring her
He was a rich man, her key to a new life
I was disgusted
Stood up, decided to give him a piece of my mind
Burst out in a last attempt to protect her virtue
Come off it, I shouted, we all know what you want
Take your hands off that poor girl
They marched me to the door
Outside, I saw the bus, splashed through driving rain
Slipped in a puddle, fell heavily on the oily road
Under the big Jag, which screeched to a halt
I gathered my senses
Sat up, heard the chorus of concern
Broke into song in an effort to find the key
Take it easy, they said, the ambulance is here
This is no time for singing
They cut short my aria
My tiny aunt was always afraid
she might be blown away. She fluttered about
in the draft of her house chasing snails
that slid under the door. Each night she climbed
a steepening stair to lie beneath the stars’
straining light, hidden in sodium glare.
Her four room cave in the shade of passing
buses, where daylight goes
to snooze, with two knotted dollies
standing guard in a chair
and a wardrobe of tiny shoes.
You must have left the door ajar
the night the snails brought you the light
of stars on their backs, for the wind got in
and swept your house and blew you clean away.
Jonathan Trappe had a dream, sitting in his office swivel chair,
gazing vacantly out of the window. He imagined taking to the air.
Just taking off; buying fifty-five huge helium balloons;
a fantasia of reds, whites, greens, yellows and blues.
And he saw himself in slow motion frames, inflating each one,
tying each with string, hefting a huge clod of a stone to put on
the swivel seat, so that the balloons wouldn't lift it away,
not yet, at any rate; not until all fifty-five were tied in place.
A cacophony on the arms of his chair, a bored filing cabinet grey.
And then he imagined easing the stone off, right down to the date.
He could see it now. Raleigh, North Carolina, June 7th, 2008.
Early morning, commute time to work, half past eight.
And that was it. He decided this dream could not be late.
And so he left for a coffee break and walked at brisk pace
to a shop in the town centre, staring at his reflection facing
him in the window, beyond to the bright glare of party games;
striding in, he picked fifty-five huge helium balloons; matter of factly
paying for them, with no fuss, like it was an everyday activity.
The next day, he left work , and took to the air, in his office chair.
In the woods she skipped at my feet, swung on my arm,
pestered for stories, as the dead leaves drifted down,
and my wife, thoughtful, slightly apart, walked ahead,
when my small daughter looked up to the high branches
and pointed suddenly to the black bird which swooped
clattering, from the bare tree-top, wheeling across the
dark clouds, as she jumped for joy and tugged my hand,
and I lifted her in my arms, shouting at the sky
Mrs Big-Wing has gone shopping! and my daughter
clapped her bright red mittens, and laughed aloud.
On the path we slid in the wet mud, splashed our boots,
as her mother, ahead, touched the oak and wandered
alone between tall trees, when before us, a squirrel
paused, eyed, picked up a nut, then rounded the trunk in
a grey flash and I took the hand of my small daughter
and we followed him laughing round and around,
as she splashed for joy through the brown puddles, and
her giggles echoed in the dark wood as I called out
Mr Humbly-Grumbly’s gone for his supper! and she
whirled the red mittens in two bright arcs at her side.
On the bank we slipped on the damp grass and slithered
into ferns and wet bracken, as far off the lone figure
turned and watched unmoving, and I waved while we
stood and wiped the caked mud from our coats, when
I saw, motionless, not ten yards distant, one forepaw
raised, the thin red fox peering through leaves, and
I hushed my small daughter and motioned, as he silently
slunk back, and her eyes widened and I whispered
Mr Slinky-Pants has seen us! over her muffled squeal
as she held one red mitten over her open mouth.
By the lake we stepped carefully to the edge and watched
as we saw the thrust of tiny flippers, and a green frog
darted like a spear below us, and my daughter called out
beckoning to where her mother stood like a statue
on the old wooden pier, and gazed out into deep water,
and did not turn or move, as my small daughter looked
back to me with the question unasked in her eyes, and
I drew her back in my arms and said softly to her
Mummy’s talking to God, and she pressed to her cheeks
the bright red mittens, and began to cry.
No one can quite remember whether it was
during the Select Committee or a cabinet meeting
that he first whinnied, then flared his nostrils
in the direction of the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport.
Certainly this wasn’t minuted and either way
such things are often overlooked in Whitehall.
You might have thought the formal opposition
would have raised an objection
when, before a cross-party vote,
he bolted through the central lobby and headed out
towards St James’s Park to chew the cud,
or that a conscientious constituent would have written a letter
expressing deep concern when at the opening of a hospital
he tried to eat the ribbon.
But this is not what transpired and, miraculously,
he survived the reshuffle, proudly strutting out
of Number Ten in newly fitted hooves.
Only after he had been put out to graze
in the House of Lords, did someone enquire
as to whether, in polite society such as this,
it was really the done thing to toss one’s mane.
Since the last inhabitants left them
With the island, casting off
Into the fierce conflicting tides.
Two bulls, four calves and six cows
Roam the boggy fields,
Hoof-prints like runes
Across abandoned acres.
Once a year, a vet makes the journey.
He watches them from a distance,
The way a cow rests the bulk
Of her ribcage on the soggy earth.
The way the last boat,
Bleached on the rucked shore,
Arcs its empty ballast,
Holes worn through by scratching hides.
The days fall away like rust flakes
Off the useless gates. Their breath
Meets the mizzled air in currents
As unreadable as the ocean’s drowning pull;
Wind rough-tongues their eyes and ears
Like a calf being cleaned.
They are the part of us – warm-breathing –
That will always return, that never left.
In the end, we never made it to the Pavilion
but preferred instead to imagine
the gauche chinoiserie of Regency folly,
a camp flourish of minarets standing out
against the bitter English rain.
We closed our eyes and conjured faux Indian
domes knocked out from a nation’s first
concrete casts – brown and smooth
and looking, for all they’re worth,
We paused to recall the mudslinging
of hoi polloi, their descendants now
baying for Gehry’s blood, his daring
to aspire on the seafront. This crowd
would throw up Tescos for a Kubla Khan.
We meant to come in praise of whatever it is
that insists against the odds upon gilding
a dolphin on a lamp stand, that craves
primrose rooms and chandeliers shaped
like fuchsia blooms hung upside down.
But most of all, we liked to picture
a garden inspired by a glutton whose devotion
transported peonies, erected hollyhocks.
We see ourselves drowsing among his poppies,
inhaling the cheap scent of those blousy stocks.
I see you hesitate. Yes, how faded I have become.
You ask whether he was good to be with, this Amedeo?
Ah no. He drank continually, and spat blood,
and still if Jeanne had not been there, and the child,
he would have consumed me. When he was dead
Jeanne walked backwards out of their window.
There was nothing left of her, without him.
I could see her in a small painting behind his head –
a long oval face with almond eyes,
heart-stopping, lovely, cursed eyes
that cursed you as you looked at them.
The flat smelled of coal dust.
As you see I wore my black hat
and kept my hands in my lap.
I have lived in Paris, and Stokholm,
and Montevideo. I have family who love me.
But tonight at last it is clear.
I am not the woman you see sitting in the corner
stiffly, slow-speaking, preferring her own company.
I am that young student, head on one side,
in a black hat, in love with Nils Dardel,
devoured in an instant in a café
by a sad-eyed Italian who died soon after,
and I always shall be.
Her belongings, like skins,float back to the original effluvia of
ocean beds.An archive of buttons, newly dyed with fish
spawn,congealedwith masonry skill,disturbs the isotopes of an
ocean’s plan.A crustacean, plotting the symmetries of a
worldbetween its kelp stones,stares at the hems and petticoats
The pink ghosts of muscles still fasten
round the dress and an occasional sea bird
dips its beak into its folds, deciphering its smells,
the idiosyncrasy of its shapes, the neck stem displaced,
the dislocated spine of its buckle digging the waist
where a strong hold of sea lice thrill to its curves.
TV men with diving suits and tanks
return for a second take;
the satin dress holding itself up to the poles of the waves
like origami dancing, twitching lace mimicking breath,
sand filled pouch, its warmth.
It dances past the slow differential of a fin
its acrimony of scales, its Mache print of skin
to the laughing girl shedding herself
like Narcissi in the tsunami wave.
Once we were armourers to the gods.
We fashioned Zeus’s thunderbolts, Poseidon’s
trident, Artemis’s bow. We built the massive walls
of Argos and Mycenae, and laboured in Hephaistos’
forge’s fiery glow. Zeus allotted us this land where grapes
and corn and apples grow without the need to plough or sow.
Now we are shepherds and like all shepherds, live apart, alone
and sullen in our caverns in the hills. We’ve lost the art of smithing.
Couldn’t make a spoon. We have no ships or markets, don’t know
how to farm or bake or trade. We have no laws or government,
We do exactly as we please. They call us uncouth monsters.
We don’t care. We have our sheep and goats and curds and whey.
But after that tremendous storm, they came, the locusts
and the pismires, parasites and weevils, stinking lice,
a nest of fucking insects following a shifty fox.
I went to sleep blind drunk and woke no different.
I should’ve chewed the bloody lot. The bastards
poked my eye out with a burning olive tree.
That smart-arse said his name was Nobody. Nobody!
They’ve left me stumbling in the dark to herd my sheep
in everlasting night, a lamp without its oil, lighthouse
without a light, a torch without a flame. Who’ll
ever have me now? And worst of all,
no-one, no-one at all,
If I had a gold locket with my husband’s picture
in it – which I don’t, and I were dead – which I’m not,
and I could still think while being dead – which I
couldn’t, I’d be happy to think that some young woman
with a penchant for the past had found my locket
in the showcase reserved for special items
by the cash register in the secondhand store,
suspected it of possessing magical
properties, asked that it be extracted
from behind the World War II medals
with their umbilicals of dried ribbon
and the chip-winged porcelain hummingbird,
and bought it for a little more than she could
afford at that time in her life.
I’d be happy to think of her wondering
who he was, what he was like, trying to glean
from his miniature fading features with what
abandon he might have tossed his cap off on his way
through the front door after work, whether he was
a talker, a man who kept secrets – or both,
whether he might have been – discounting time and space
among other things — a man for her. I'd be happy
to think how love for somebody's husband might live
in a locket, a soundless echo of the human
act – the hands that scrupulously trimmed the black
and white photograph into a wobbly but workable circle
and slid it behind the wisp of glass from under which
it could never again be recalled, so right was the fit.