Today I have nothing to say.
Your mother’s breath was loaded
with dust from the mountains.
You were oil dunked on account
of the dryness. You slept all afternoon.
Your father called you pimpernel.
Today I have nothing to say.
Your mother’s eyes were blue, not black,
your father traded olives for a gun,
stole swallows out of their nests.
Today I have nothing to say.
I would feed you almonds and oranges.
Your sweet name gluts my throat.
You were gone for weeks.
I came outside and scoured the sky,
found you asleep in the sun.
(September started a sequence of ‘poems about hospitals’. There were poems from Bob Horne, Neil Clarkson, Charlotte Ansell, Ian Harker, Becky Cherriman, Rose Drew, Hilary Elfick, Lydia Macpherson, Andy Humphrey, Keith Hutson, Christopher North, Maria Taylor, Andy Blackford, Rebecca Gethin and Joe Williams. I’ve chosen this one from Bob Horne)
With a flick of fins the fantails
twist and tumble, shimmy and climb
through clear water between shingle bed
and still air resting on the surface.
Hexagonal tank: perfunctory aquascape
of single black rock, more fit for a wall;
tall plant with a look of ivy,
and bubbles rising like hopes.
Our files are on the trolley outside Room A.
Have you seen to next week’s nutrition?
Three rows of chairs; front left’s mine.
I’m fitting things in, doing bits of both.
Opposite, a metal cabinet in battleship grey.
I’ll get found out if they ask any questions.
CRE to DAV, DAW to DOD, DOH to DYS.
You just go blonde, you’ll get there.
We’re running late; there are whispers,
shufflings as bodies are rearranged,
timetables changed. The goldfish,
refracted in angles of glass,
wind and weave in their element,
while we, with a weather eye,
we sit on, stare at the floor:
blue linoleum, like a big sky.
We cross the garden: late sun, evening’s slack tide.
He is remembering woods below San Pietro, the ragged end of a war.
Soldier and red-cloaked shepherd meeting on the road,
the old man calling his dog, waiting in the white road.
He watches how it goes on happening, the time it takes
to wade knee-deep in dazzle
towards the soft chalk curve between the trees.
The red cloak burned in his eyes. His hand, unsure.
He says, If a person walking raises his hand
he sees the shadow of each finger doubled.
Trees slide down to lap us, attentive to our solitudes
until the hollow dark is filled with memory of light –
fluorescence, phosphor glow, poppies’ slow burn.
Ghostlights to guide our double-going.
Not in hospital; nobody wants that.
Nor the pale-blue rooms and communal eating-spaces
of the hospice, however kindly. Not alone
on an industrial estate in Switzerland,
being filmed stating Yes I understand
if I drink this liquid… Not even in bed at home
surrounded by sobbing family, Victorian
fantasy of reunion and forgiveness.
Since it’s going to happen and won’t be dignified,
you could do a lot worse than a railway station
waiting room. Say Barnham, where after class
with the boys from the boys’ school we dawdled for the connection:
coal fire, view of the station pub, a playground,
mourners hurrying up from the underpass.
I’ve certainly known some beautiful railway stations.
St Pancras before it became a shopping-mall
and they hid the trains: wood-panelled ticket-office,
six empty tracks leading the mind north
past the gasometers to an improbable
state of grace; or Milan with its Day Hotel,
where you could have a shower and a change of clothes
in time for your Last Supper with Leonardo.
But the number one station for dying in
must be Ljubljana: the driving snow, the boys
off to art college in Venice, the gun-metal
socialist-realist trains, their sides announcing
the life beyond: Budapest, Bucharest,
Prague, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Athens.
You’re not taking this seriously. It’s not about
childhood or tourism or the early years
of your marriage. You are deciding where to die,
assuming you have a choice and aren’t knocked down
by a single-decker bus at Turnpike Lane,
or a heart attack in the Parkway ladies’ toilets.
It’s losing control of your body, shamefully,
and your mind, which will stop writing poetry forever.
So what you need is less the architecture
(though a final view of a vaulted wrought-iron roof
would do for transcendence) than the sound of trains
leaving for cities you can dream about
in the final minutes, and busy humanity
with its suitcases and phones and sudden weeping.
The man who thinks to woo me by explaining
how to shoot a deer strips by the fire
peeling clothes off his blue patterned skin
in his kitchen with the back door wide open
to the windy night he’s come in from
wet through after standing for hours
waiting for his doe to show herself
waiting for the heart shot.
While in his shed ten grey rabbits hang from a pole
one hind leg slotted neatly through the other,
his muddy graft hangs from a hook,
and the doe he has shot and gralloched,
turns and cools, waiting quietly for him
to return and undress her.
Alice tramps along the Pennine Way all summer and remote, Cumbrian sheep farms in the winter; lying in wait for ramblers, vagabonds, genuine Romanies, long distance walkers, locals out for a stroll and fair-weather campers. She loves them all in different ways. Legendary throughout the north, she can negotiate any kind of five bar, kissing or latch-key gate; unlocks padlocks with a hairpin that she keeps in her knickers; always shuts and secures each field after strangers.
She collects all the smiles, nods, pecks on the cheek and cheery thanks like bunches of wild flowers. One bright evening, Alice meets a man who has walked in solitude for miles and wants to tell another human being of the boggy moors, sodden clothes, the way the mist came down, his pedometer readings. The exact number of miles traversed.
The three wise men
To cap it all it was cold. Really cold,
and rough terrain, and all of us old,
and nearly coming to blows over the route
through those dark dunes to get to the bairn,
and we were loaded up. So heavily loaded
and the camels weren’t good. How they groaned
under all that gold. But we had a role,
and there is no record of us moaning,
nothing of three wise men with frost-bitten toes
missing strong brown Yorkshire tea
in that strong-brown-tea-forsaken desert
and nobbut camels’ milk, no cows,
and no really boiling water, nor proper pot,
and blaming each other for who’d forgotten it
and as we plodded, read in the stars the laddie’s fate –
what we each thought we could well foresee –
but disagreed on every time and every date,
and finally had to agree to disagree.
Though it seems so dark
and the ceiling of the world’s a wound
and so many hours have been bruised,
and so many lives have been broken,
there are stars up there tonight
and we must name them,
we must love them,
we must whistle them down like dogs
in faith of their shine
and they will be loyal.
They will show us where their bones are.
They will teach us
their soft, bright tricks of devotion.
And even on the blackest nights,
when hope and protest
are knotted in our throats,
when our smiles have been tarred
and buckled with the weight and stain
we have to remember they are there,
those glittering sky-hooked prayers,
prickling and humming,
embedded in that thick and lovely blue,
guarding us from spite,
keeping the moon from slipping,
herding the pale lamb-like dawns
into our sleeping houses
where they flow
through all our rooms
fluent and loving as milk.
Wigmakers, jewellers and blacksmiths
all dabbled as dentists, wrenching surrogates
from the jaws of the sugarless poor, fixing rotten grins
with ivory, tacks, and piano wire.
Grave robbers bolstered the enamel supply
until a windfall arrived; Tobacco stained, cracked
or drummer-boy smooth, a harvest from Belgian fields
where soldiers flapped like rooks,
knelt or crouched with string and pliers, moved
from head to head, filling pockets and purses, noses pegged.
Handfuls of nuggets, sorted and sized, tipped
into boiling vats, the ends chopped, each set matched
for colour and shape as if sprung from the gums of a child;
enough, if a cart overturned and spilt its load, to make
a sewer-cleaved street into an ivory road, or turn
parliament’s blackened smiles off-white.
Right. I’ve one extra-special post coming up before 2018. But I’d not forgive myself if I forgot to say an extra special THANK YOU to
Small Poetry Presses and the Publishers, and in particular, to Brett Evans of PROLE, Bob Horne of CALDER VALLEY POETRY, Martin Malone of THE INTERPRETER’S HOUSE and Sarah Miles of PAPER SWANS.
Check out their stories in the Archives
A huge thank you to Laura Potts, Steve Ely, Keith Hutson and Pascale Petit for writing about SEQUENCES
Thanks to all of you who follow the cobweb. Have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you all for the final post of 2017