• ETRUSCAN GIRL

    It is a moving thing
    to see in this figure
    how the maker
    has shown the girl
    or young woman
    plaiting her hair
    so that the arm and fingers
    as they move,
    the tress itself,
    are one piece in the clay,
    fused, that no part
    of the model should crack
    in the oven,
    that no part of the moment
    be lost.

    Just two feet high -
    it might have been
    an image for her tomb:
    but who knows that
    or anything
    about this girl
    who has no name,
    no story? Even
    the tongue she spoke
    is blocked, obscure:
    dust upon dust,
    twenty five centuries,
    annulling
    all memory.

    And the figure half turns,
    to stare at me,
    as though I
    could give a name:
    as though death did not
    repeal identity,
    as though there were
    a body there,
    a spirit that I must see,
    clearly.

    And I try to imagine
    those who called
    the craftsman in,
    the maker,
    saying to him:
    You knew, you knew her well,
    make her for us, make her
    as we knew her in this life.


    And it was
    as he had seen her last,
    sitting outside the house,
    debonair in the morning,
    plaiting her hair in the sun,
    the hands and fingers quickly
    pushing in and out
    so closely that
    the moment and the movement
    fused:
    and the maker saw
    that they were one.



    In memoriam S.B.C.... more »

  • FOR REBECCA, BORN AT MIDWINTER

    Cockcrow at midwinter dark, air moving,
    and then a slow
    incantation from each tree,
    as when the light comes slowly, crossing
    centuries of dark on dark moving, slowly
    the candour of the sun, as water
    almost pauses for the brim, waiting
    one slow moment, then goes beyond
    a hesitation not its own,
    steeping a new element,
    so the light, so the fire
    on water, earth and air: slow
    the genesis.

    Into each trick
    of your head,
    deft heiress, into
    each cry
    or reaching out
    your fingers make,
    each glance that blurs
    about our awe,
    come the centuries:
    the spirit and mortality,
    the virtue of our kind,
    come random through
    the strict inheritance,
    the wide
    deep ending of our past.

    I watch you now and watch
    how once a saint bent with your knee,
    ghost-cosseted: and I may feel
    the mad or innocent
    throbbing in your pulse
    or think that one who paints
    an orange beast upon a rock
    lingers in your smile. Newly-born,
    here are those they hanged
    and those who brought the harvest in:
    the men at battle, grinning,
    who learned the dialect of death,
    who now lie buried, blank,
    beneath the peat or bush.

    It was for you the women died,
    who, starved, and sick with hate,
    have you for triumph now, you
    once more their birth. Here
    is ghostly policy and rage,
    the labour and the knowledge.
    O small thing, made, that lies
    within your mother's arms,
    you are the coming from, and all
    that is to be.

    Small and yet
    a thing that bubbles
    in itself, considering
    itself: is godly
    in its way, its
    knowledge of the path
    to take, the openings
    of fate: and it will lose
    that blest
    and vague
    perfection,
    that impotent serenity,
    will, in itself
    and as itself, choose
    just what to know,
    at what
    expense,
    will find
    the posture fit
    for day and night,
    a fresh dexterity
    of hand and heart, new
    reachings of the will, within,
    without.

    This shortest day in which
    we saw you first
    will send its light and shadow
    through long seasons
    of your own. Sleep now,
    granddaughter, sleep
    in the sanctity of birth:
    you hold within your fist
    the blessing and the curse,

    all growing and all blight.
    Hold your testament,
    hold it as you must
    within a fist
    as blind and potent as a nut,
    hold us,
    all those whom Adam
    or the older gods begat.... more »

  • MIMESIS

    All afternoon across the next-door garden
    two men are calling to each other,
    imitating birds (first the doves).
    I am recuperating. One of them,
    I imagine from the sound, is raking leaves
    while the other
    clips an ornamental shrub or rosebush.

    I narcotise myself in sun,
    absorbing all the bubble of their noise,
    the cooing, whistle and odd chirrups,
    and cannot tell what man is bird
    or bird is man, only that here is life,
    a casual, pleasing thing
    that takes its quality from wit.
    Lazily, I glory in the noise,
    half-smiling fall asleep
    or fall into a hush or daydream
    where all at once there is no sound,
    a silence so acute the garden quivers.


    Intensive Care:
    I woke one night and saw a man
    explode with death, a snorting arch of agony:
    around his bed the nurses
    tried to beat him back to life.
    There was such silence in the ward,
    blue neon-lit:
    drugged, I fell asleep
    and when I woke the bed was vacant,
    neatly made.


    I wake and hear the double calls once more:
    sunbirds in a bush
    and then the cry of starlings -
    surely they are real this time
    or do I long for imitation,
    a greed of mimicry,
    humour that makes art?

    The lawns unblur in sun,
    the trees become clear-cut:
    I hear each sound give way to sound
    and then once more a bubbling laugh
    that only just could be a dove,
    is human only by its fun and craft.

    From the street I hear them shout goodbye.
    A shadow crawls across my chair,
    a touch of cold,
    and yet the green is now so vivid, quickly bright,
    amid the smoke of dusk.


    Suddenly intense the silence floods the colour
    And nothing sings in the hush.... more »

  • MY PREDAWN OWL

    Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit



    The scent of God, redolent and tart,
    Who lies within a winter dream,
    Hovers in the reek of guavas
    Contained within the wooden bowl.

    Tonight the owl who glides between
    Dream and waking, dark and light,
    The owl who guides the soul of all
    Who sleep within this house,

    Now glides along its aerial
    Labyrinth, from east to south
    From north to west,
    Above and through the leafless boughs.

    O ancient wing, O sacred ghost,
    Hoo-hooing through my open door,
    O anti-Sun that calls and dips
    Below the False Cross summoning

    The distant years, you tell me, tell me:
    The past is all the fact I have,
    Memory my only fiction,
    Below the silent sanction of the stars.... more »

  • NORTH

    This morning we moved North again
    Through strange bush.
    We know the enemy still follows:
    By night we see their fires,
    By day their dust.

    The old men talk, still,
    Of our ancestors from North:
    About the rich forests
    And swarming game,
    And of our return
    Which is ordained
    In the stars.
    I see no sign of this North.
    There are smaller trees
    And unknown roots, more snakes
    And fewer birds.
    On a long journey
    The land must change.

    I think they will cut us off tomorrow.
    There was dust this evening
    On our right flank. Is it because
    They do not want to fight
    Among the hills ahead?
    Mountains were our country:
    They fear ambush and they are right.
    There is no mercy between us:
    They are so many.

    On watch tonight I stare
    At one point in the blank sky.
    A star glitters. At once
    It is there, as though my staring
    Brought it out.
    Was it ordained?
    This star is in the South.

    The women and the children sleep
    In the warm heart of the camp.
    It is not death I fear
    But the thought that birth will stop.
    I fear the end of my people.... more »

  • THE BILLIARD ROOM

    The play of his power,
    the living, you can smell
    it in this room: the cues glitter like weapons,
    the green nap of the table
    was a battle ground for him where conflicts broke
    in the strategy of a game.

    And I remember hearing,
    at night above my head,
    the sound of a glass breaking and a burst
    of rich laughter: then silence,
    except for the powerful tread, the pacing
    from angle to angle,
    and the crack of a cannon
    as the white slammed into the red. It's
    all snuffed out now of course, like a long
    Havana cigar, a Hoyo de Monterey perhaps,
    smoked down for an inch or two, and never
    much more. The act has gone, his gesture,
    casual on an evening thirty years ago,
    is obsolete: now
    only a sense of ritual
    pervades the room and feeds
    familiar on the tokens of his power:

    a German ceremonial sword,
    he captured in South West, stands rigid
    in a shell case: against one wall an old
    propeller rots (and somewhere stuck in a drawer
    there's an album showing photographs of the crash)
    so that objects of steel and brass, records
    of dead encounter, have made this room
    a potent place, the temple of my caste
    where I must pay homage, the sour pietas
    of son to father, the unforgiving
    love that looks for only one thing in the past:
    conflict as barren as dust. I have no God
    but a giant who paces above my head,
    who blusters nightly that in his turn
    my son shall have his saga of Fee, Fie, Fum,
    to grind my bones to make his bread.

    Though I stand by a half opened window
    and breathe in the air,
    the dust still stirs about me,
    raised by a step on the floor,
    and the smell that comes up is the smell of old power,
    unbreaking love, unfinished war.... more »

  • THE HOUSE ON THE FRONTIER

    From the Italian of Eugenio Montale




    Forget. You have forgotten
    that house on the frontier,
    the cliff that waits for you,
    desolate, sheer above rocks.
    You do not remember
    the night your thoughts
    swarmed about the house,
    immortal, uneasy.

    For years a gale has lashed the walls.
    When you laugh you are unhappy.
    For no reason the compass
    swings crazily. You cannot guess
    what way the dice will fall.
    You have forgotten. Another time
    distracts your memory. The thread
    winds round and I . . .

    I hold one end, but the house
    goes back and back and the cock
    on the roof is dark with smoke:
    it spins and has no pity.
    I hold one end
    but you are alone.
    At night I cannot hear
    the sound of your breathing.

    Yes, here is the horizon -
    and once or twice I have seen
    the lights of a passing tanker.
    Is this where we cross? (And always
    the breakers that swarm on the rocks,

    the crumbling away.) You
    do not remember the house, all night
    it has been my own.

    I do not know who has entered it
    or who it is that has left.... more »

  • TO HAVE LOVE

    To have love and then lose it:
    the white hail in the orchard
    lying with leaves it has stripped
    and the storm moving away.... more »