Craig Raine |
On my desk, a set of labels
or a synopsis of leeks,
blanched by the sun
and trailing their roots
like a watering can.
Beyond and below,
diminished by distance,
a taxi shivers at the lights:
a shining moorhen
with an orange nodule
set over the beak,
taking a passenger
under its wing.
I turn away, confront
the cuckold hatstand
at bay in the corner,
and eavesdrop (bless you!)
on a hay-fever of brakes.
My Caran d'Ache are sharp
as the tips of an iris
and the four-tier file
is spotted with rust:
a study of plaice
by a Japanese master,
ochres exquisitely bled.
Instead of office work,
I fish for complements
and sport a pencil
behind each ear,
a bit of a devil,
or trap the telephone
awkwardly under my chin
like Richard Crookback,
crying, A horse! A horse!
My kingdom for a horse!
but only to myself,
ironically: the tube
is semi-stiff with stallion whangs,
the chairman's Mercedes
has windscreen wipers
like a bird's broken tongue,
and I am perfectly happy
to see your head, quick
round the door like a dryad,
as I pretend to be Ovid
in exile, composing Tristia
and sad for the shining,
the missed, the muscular beach.
Craig Raine |
A pair of blackbirds
warring in the roses,
one or two poppies
losing their heads,
the trampled lawn
a battlefield of dolls.
Branch by pruned branch,
a child has climbed
the family tree
to queen it over us:
we groundlings search
the flowering cherry
till we find her face,
its pale prerogative
to rule our hearts.
Sir Walter Raleigh
trails his comforter
about the muddy garden,
a full-length Hilliard
in miniature hose
and padded pants.
How rakishly upturned
his fine moustache
of oxtail soup,
some future time
of altered favour,
stuck in the high chair
like a pillory, features
pelted with food.
So many expeditions
to learn the history
of this little world:
I watch him grub
in the vegetable patch
and ponder the potato
in its natural state
for the very first time,
or found a settlement
of leaves and sticks,
by a circle of stones.
But where on earth
did he manage to find
that cigarette end?
Rain and wind.
The day disintegrates.
I observe the lengthy
inquisition of a worm
then go indoors to face
a scattered armada
of picture hooks
on the dining room floor,
the remains of a ruff
on my glass of beer,
Sylvia Plath's Ariel
drowned in the bath.
Washing hair, I kneel
to supervise a second rinse
and act the courtier:
tiny seed pearls,
tingling into sight,
confer a kind of majesty.
And I am author
of this toga'd tribune
on my aproned lap,
who plays his part
to an audience of two,
repeating my words.
Craig Raine |
Divorced, but friends again at last,
we walk old ground together
in bright blue uncomplicated weather.
We laugh and pause
to hack to bits these tiny dinosaurs,
prehistoric, crenelated, cast
between the tractor ruts in mud.
On the green, a junior Douglas Fairbanks,
swinging on the chestnut's unlit chandelier,
defies the corporation spears--
a single rank around the bole,
rusty with blood.
Green, tacky phalluses curve up, romance
A gust--the old flag blazes on its pole.
In the village bakery
the pastry babies pass
from milky slump to crusty cadaver,
from crib to coffin--without palaver.
All's over in a flash,
Tonight the arum lilies fold
back napkins monogrammed in gold,
crisp and laundered fresh.
Those crustaceous gladioli, on the sly,
reveal the crimson flower-flesh
inside their emerald armor plate.
The uncooked herrings blink a tearful eye.
The candles palpitate.
The Oistrakhs bow and scrape
in evening dress, on Emi-tape.
Outside the trees are bending over backwards
to please the wind : the shining sword
grass flattens on its belly.
The white-thorn's frillies offer no resistance.
In the fridge, a heart-shaped jelly
strives to keep a sense of balance.
I slice up the onions. You sew up a dress.
This is the quiet echo--flesh--
white muscle on white muscle,
intimately folded skin,
finished with a satin rustle.
One button only to undo, sewn up with shabby thread.
It is the onion, memory,
that makes me cry.
Because there's everything and nothing to be said,
the clock with hands held up before its face,
stammers softly on, trying to complete a phrase--
while we, together and apart,
repeat unfinished festures got by heart.
And afterwards, I blunder with the washing on the line--
headless torsos, faceless lovers, friends of mine.
Craig Raine |
So how is life with your new bloke?
Simpler, I bet. Just one stroke
of his quivering oar and the skin
of the Thames goes into a spin,
eh? How is life with an oarsman? Better?
More in--out? Athletic? Wetter?
When you hear the moan of the rowlocks,
do you urge him on like a cox?
Tell me, is he bright enough to find
that memo-pad you call a mind?
Or has he contrived to bring you out--
given you an in-tray and an out?
How did I ever fall for a paper-clip?
How could I ever listen to office gossip
even in bed and find it so intelligent?
Was is straight biological bent?
I suppose you go jogging together?
Tackle the Ridgeway in nasty weather?
Face force 55 gales and chat about prep
or how you bested that Birmingham rep?
He must be mad with excitement.
So must you. What an incitement
to lust all those press-ups must be.
Or is it just the same? PE?
Tell me, I'm curious. Is it fun
being in love with just anyone?
How do you remember his face
if you meet in a public place?
Perhaps you know him by his shoes?
Or do you sometimes choose
another pinstriped clone
by accident and drag that home
instead? From what you say,
he's perfect. For a Chekhov play.
Tall and dark and brightly dim,
Kulygin's part was made for him.
Imagine your life with a 'beak'.
Week after week after week
like homework or detention;
all that standing to attention
whenever his colleagues drop in
for a spot of what's-your-toxin.
Speech Day, matron, tuck-shop, Christ,
you'll find school fees are over-priced
and leave, but not come back to me.
You've done your bit for poetry.
Words, or deeds? You'll stick to youth.
I'm a stickler for the truth--
which makes me wonder what it was
I loved you for. Tell me, because
now I feel nothing--except regret.
What is it, love, I need to forget?
Craig Raine |
'and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence'
-- George Eliot, Middlemarch
Dead dandelions, bald as drumsticks,
swaying by the roadside
like Hare Krishna pilgrims
bowing to the Juggernaut.
They have given up everything.
Gold gone and their silver gone,
humbled with dust, hollow,
their milky bodies tan
to the colour of annas.
The wind changes their identity:
slender Giacomettis, Doré's convicts,
Rodin's burghers of Calais
with five bowed heads
and the weight of serrated keys . . .
They wither into mystery, waiting
to find out why they are,
patiently, before nirvana
when the rain comes down like vitriol.
Craig Raine |
(for Rona, Jeremy, Sam & Grace)
All the lizards are asleep--
perched pagodas with tiny triangular tiles,
each milky lid a steamed-up window.
Inside, the heart repeats itself like a sleepy gong,
summoning nothing to nothing.
In winter time, the zoo reverts to metaphor,
God's poetry of boredom:
the cobra knits her Fair-Isle skin,
rattlers titter over the same joke.
All of them endlessly finish spaghetti.
The python runs down like a spring,
and time stops on some ancient Sabbath.
Pythagorean bees are shut inside the hive,
which hymns and hums like Sunday chapel--
drowsy thoughts in a wrinkled brain.
The fire's gone out--
crocodiles lie like wet beams,
cross-hatched by flames that no one can remember.
Grasshoppers shiver, chafe their limbs
and try to keep warm,
crouching on their marks perpetually.
The African cricket is trussed like a cold chicken:
the sneeze of movement returns it to the same position,
in the same body. There is no change.
The rumple-headed lion has nowhere to go
and snoozes in his grimy combinations.
A chaise lounge with missing castors,
the walrus is stuck forever on his rock.
Sleepily, the seals play crib,
scoring on their upper lips.
The chimps kill fleas and time,
sewing nothing to nothing
Vultures in their shabby Sunday suits
fidget with broken umbrellas,
while the ape beats his breast
and yodels out repentance.
Their feet are an awful dream of bunions--
but the buffalo's brazil nut bugle-horns
can never sound reveille.
Craig Raine |
Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings --
they cause the eyes to melt
or the body to shriek without pain.
I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.
Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:
then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.
Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.
Model T is a room with the lock inside --
a key is turned to free the world
for movement, so quick there is a film
to watch for anything missed.
But time is tied to the wrist
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.
In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,
that snores when you pick it up.
If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep
with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.
Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room
with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises
alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.
At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs
and read about themselves --
in colour, with their eyelids shut.
Craig Raine |
The sun rose like a tarnished
looking-glass to catch the sun
and flash His hot message
at the missionaries below--
Isabella and the Rev. Roger Price,
and the Helmores with a broken axle
left, two days behind, at Fever Ponds.
The wilderness was full of home:
a glinting beetle on its back
struggled like an orchestra
with Beethoven. The Hallé,
Isabella thought and hummed.
Makololo, their Zulu guide,
puzzled out the Bible, replacing
words he didn't know with Manchester.
Spikenard, alabaster, Leviticus,
were Manchester and Manchester.
His head reminded Mrs. Price
of her old pomander stuck with cloves,
forgotten in some pungent tallboy.
The dogs drank under the wagon
with a far away clip-clopping sound,
and Roger spat into the fire,
leaned back and watched his phlegm
like a Welsh rarebit
bubbling on the brands. . .
When Baby died, they sewed her
in a scrap of carpet and prayed,
with milk still darkening
Isabella's grubby button-through.
Makololo was sick next day
and still the Helmores didn't come.
The outspanned oxen moved away
at night in search of water,
were caught and goaded on
to Matabele water-hole--
nothing but a dark stain on the sand.
Makololo drank vinegar and died.
Back they turned for Fever Ponds
and found the Helmores on the way. . .
Until they got within a hundred yards,
the vultures bobbed and trampolined
around the bodies, then swirled
a mile above their heads
like scalded tea leaves.
The Prices buried everything--
all the tattered clothes and flesh,
Mrs. Helmore's bright chains of hair,
were wrapped in bits of calico
then given to the sliding sand.
'In the beginning was the Word'--
Roger read from Helmore's Bible
found open at St. John.
Isabella moved her lips,
'The Word was Manchester.'
Shhh, shhh, the shovel said. Shhh. . .