Poems written throughout this turbulent year
Once upon a time a fair number of poems of mine were published, in poetry magazines, newspapers and so on, but I last wrote a poem in 2001. Suddenly, however, all these years later, I find myself once again writing poems with some enthusiasm. While these are written for no one but myself, I thought I would show some of them on this page, adding to them every so often. For older poems see my collection Nudes & Victims.
Sitting here, head overheated
in spite of the NY cap, dazzled
by sun. It's rare for me to sit out,
away from the things I do indoors,
at desk, easel, worktable. I screw
my eyes up, pain behind them,
bright, bright, bright, but too idle
to move – soporific, this garden
lazing – until at last it can be
resisted no longer, and I get up,
out of this rarely-used garden chair,
go to the car for sunglasses, put
them on with some relief, then sit
again, and… the sun goes in.
It's hard to say what nudges the mind
this way or that. I wasn't thinking
anything much, just sitting, drifting
my life away, and within this drift I stood
once again in the ruins of ancient Carthage,
apart from the others on the tourist bus,
amid old stone blocks and history,
hearing the howl and thud and screech
of battle, destruction, the death of many,
both sexes, all ages, very brief, all of it,
but distinct enough, vivid enough,
to stir me to write this, withdrawing
from those old ruins to today's.
They raved about it, the young
Americans on tall ladders, picking
apples, placing them gently in
cloth baskets around their necks.
'You gotta read it, man, it's like
nothing else, ever.' In Tel Aviv
one day Penny from I forget where
bought the trilogy in paperback,
and gave it to me. 'You'll love this,'
she said. I kept those books for years,
but never got into them, not even
the first volume. I was put off by
the font used, and the tiny size of it,
cramped, and running too close to the
inner fold. There was no breathing
room on the pages to ease yourself into
the story, admire the flow of the words,
connect with the characters. And I've
never tried since, even with other
printings, better quality productions.
If the loss is mine I can live with that.
However popular they are, however
famous, they're only books after all.
Just shelf litter, like my own.
ON THE JETTY
Directly out from the jetty,
between ten o'clock and two,
you'll find clear ground,
or so it says here. My memory
is less specific. For me,
from this sitpoint, the grey
stone jetty is all windy nights
and dark surrounds, a world enclosed,
The small fishing craft, well secured
on the stoniest part of the beach,
the sky, cloud-rich, sneaking sly hints
of other worlds than ours as the wind
ruffled coats and hair, and hands
were clasped, then unclasped,
our selected enclosure tightening
with a wince, a laugh, a shiver.
Too soon by far to think ahead,
imagine, dread. Too early to not-plan,
too out-of-phase for negative
speculation. All seemed possible
yet nothing was foreseen. The cruelties
of one, which would force undreamt-of
transitions, in the course of which,
inside of which, anything might happen,
was not so much as hinted at.
The wind, the night wind, whipping
around us, cutting into us, jostled
the beach-boats but gave nothing away;
nothing beyond unease interspersed
with the bright pin-holes of other worlds,
unimagined worlds, on the jetty.
23rd April 2020
At the tail end of the day, I feel
mildly satisfied. Nothing much
has been done, just little things
in this room where 'stuff' is made,
mostly for no one's eyes or ears
but mine. I repaired an old painting
on hardboard, battered by years
and carelessness; I made a pencil
drawing in outline, of two women,
loosely based on someone else's
painting from ninety years ago;
and I wrote two poems to end the day,
three with this, to end the night. Small
things, no great accomplishments,
but conjurings nevertheless,
where there'd been nothing before.
A book falls to the floor.
What book? He looks.
No book. But the sound of it
falling was there. He heard it,
a single sound of paper
Like an invisible book,
it all falls, somewhere
in the back of consciousness,
or conscience. He's riddled
with unspoken guilt for that
thing he did, which contained
so many sub-things
simultaneously left undone;
that yesteryear which,
the news and calendars
inform him, was an unbelievable
time ago for one who lives
in all his times concurrently.
There might be another who
relives that year from the other
side of things, the sad reversal
of events – but surely not.
Surely all's well there after such
a while, outside the head, where
memory has no place to hide
worth speaking of, where
today's kettle must be boiled,
today's meals consumed,
today's air breathed, where
falling books are easily identified,
and picked up, put back
on the pile, or opened, for one
to continue reading lines written
by someone else, in real time,
whatever that is.
The view is less sharp than it ought to be.
My right eye sees nothing that isn't blurred
– laser treatment required, I'm told – but we're
in Lockdown: a situation, worldwide dilemma,
this year which, with its perfect configuration
(an echo of itself), will be one for future history
books, in schools, exams, in memory.
The left eye, too, abandoned to its solitary
devices, isn't up to the job any more. A new lens
would be handy for that one. But there's no lens
to be had right now, no optician willing to oblige,
even if I could get to him or her, this month
or next, or for many more, I think.
Still, even with the blur and the not-quite-right,
the pink blossom at my workroom window glows
and shifts and lilts in April sunlight, and silence,
all the way out here, far from worlds of people,
infected or not, doomed or not. People and other
moving things, other light and colour.
28th May 2020
To pinpoint the time in which this is written,
there are two main themes occupying
the commentators of the day. One concerns
the worldwide pandemic from which few are
entirely immune, the other the bizarre antics
and garblings of the self-centred thin-skinned
bully who struts around under the banner
'Most Powerful Man in the World'.
But as these are being covered internationally
by countless pens and voices, I'll just say
that the sky is blue today, and cloudless,
and birds are in the trees, along with new
leaves, and I have taken his breakfast
to the nameless cat that lives in the outhouse
that until two years ago was the make-do
studio in which I made abstract paintings.
But Nameless isn't there. Not there and could
be anywhere. He'll probably wander back later,
though, to munch his kibbles and sip from
his bowl of fresh water before strolling off again.
There. That's better. Little things in small days.
So much sweeter than adding further wordage
to bigger, more worrying subjects.
4th June 2020
AND HERE WE ARE
A week on from the last pinpointing
the focus of the world has shifted.
The pandemic is still rife, people are
still dying in the hundreds, thousands,
but ten days ago, in Minneapolis,
a thug in police uniform knelt on a
man's neck until he ceased breathing,
and protestors took to the Minneapolis
streets, then to the streets of other cities,
and the violence began, and the looting,
and the clown in the oval office, all stern
and 'I'm in charge', issued threats
of retribution, and shots were fired,
tear gas canisters lobbed, and the news
channels refocused, and people who'd
socially distanced themselves rubbed
shoulders with strangers, breathed on
them, inhaled as if there'd been no virus,
no pandemic. And here we are today.
A STATUE OF A DANCER IN A COUNTRY GARDEN
There's nothing much here now.
There's very little to see.
Where she once span and whirled around,
people sit to chat and eat. In this plain space
you and I laugh and joke and reminisce,
While she who span and whirled around
Today spins underground.
A word sneaks in,
then a meaning.
The meaning expands,
fluffing up speculation,
which in turn points the way
to a question that triggers
a memory which fills out
to become a scenario,
a full-bloodied act, cruel act,
and all is laid bare where
before it was beyond
the present realm, and
the one to whom the word
presented itself falls to his
covering his head.
THE FAMOUS POET
I once sat beside a famous poet
At a dinner. His smiling French
Girlfriend sat opposite him.
We shared an editor, he and I,
Her only two authors, her Chosen Ones,
But he hadn't heard of me.
We chatted casually, the two of us,
Until I made a big mistake.
'I write poems too,' I said.
'Oh,' said he, and turned away.
He must have heard that line
So many times from strangers.
10th March 2020
Early March, the farm next door.
We watched a ewe drop her firstborn
on the ground. The little one lay confused,
eyes closed, as if wondering what
was going on. The mother began to lick
her infant, with her brisk black tongue,
all over, every part. Little one's eyes
began to open. In a minute, still licked,
he tried to stand, and failed. He tried
again, and again, leg by leg, falling
each time, until he was up at last,
if shaky, still being licked all over, bullied
a little. Then he was taken away, roughly
stretched, this way, that, while a symbol
was painted on him. Mark of ownership.
There were many pens, many sheep, new
lambs. In one, a ewe without a lamb made
a racket that sounded much like grief –
'Hers was stillborn; she'll be culled now.'
Culled. Killed. For failing to deliver a life.
I could no longer enjoy the new lambs
finding their feet, stretching their legs,
bleating. Could only hear the heartfelt wails
of the unsuccessful ewe. The one doomed
for not delivering. By the following day
she was no more. Only the memory remains.
And these lines, which feel so empty.