William Matthews |
"First, do no harm," the Hippocratic
Oath begins, but before she might enjoy
such balm, the docs had to harm her tumor.
It was large, rare, and so anomalous
in its behavior that at first they mis-
diagnosed it. "Your wife will die of it
within a year." But in ten days or so
I sat beside her bed with hot-and-sour
soup and heard an intern congratulate
her on her new diagnosis: a children's
cancer (doesn't that possessive break
your heart?) had possessed her. I couldn't stop
personifying it. Devious, dour,
it had a clouded heart, like Iago's.
It loved disguise. It was a garrison
in a captured city, a bad horror film
(The Blob), a stowaway, an inside job.
If I could make it be like something else,
I wouldn't have to think of it as what,
in fact, it was: part of my lovely wife.
Next, then, chemotherapy. Her hair fell
out in tufts, her color dulled, she sat laced
to bags of poison she endured somewhat
better than her cancer cells could, though not
by much. And indeed, the cancer cells waned
more slowly than the chemical "cocktails"
(one the bright color of Campari), as the chemo
nurses called them, dripped into her. There were
three hundred days of this: a week inside
the hospital and two weeks out, the fierce
elixirs percolating all the while.
She did five weeks of radiation, too,
Monday to Friday like a stupid job.
She wouldn't eat the food the hospital
wheeled in. "Pureed fish" and "minced fish" were worth,
I thought, a sharp surge of food snobbery,
but she'd grown averse to it all -- the nurses'
crepe soles' muffled squeaks along the hall,
the filtered air, the smothered urge to read,
the fear, the perky visitors, flowers
she'd not been sent when she was well, the room-
mate (what do "semiprivate" and "extra
virgin" have in common?) who died, the nights
she wept and sweated faster than the tubes
could moisten her with lurid poison.
One chemotherapy veteran, six
years in remission, chanced on her former
chemo nurse at a bus stop and threw up.
My wife's tumor has not come back.
I like to think of it in Tumor Hell
strapped to a dray, flat as a deflated
football, bleak and nubbled like a poorly
ironed truffle. There's one tense in Tumor Hell:
forever, or what we call the present.
For that long the flaccid tumor marinates
in lurid toxins. Tumor Hell Clinic
is, it turns out, a teaching hospital.
Every century or so, the way
we'd measure it, a chief doc brings a pack
of students round. They run some simple tests:
surge current through the tumor, batter it
with mallets, push a wood-plane across its
pebbled hide and watch a scurf of tumor-
pelt kink loose from it, impale it, strafe it
with lye and napalm. There might be nothing
left in there but a still space surrounded
by a carapace. "This one is nearly
dead," the chief doc says. "What's the cure for that?"
The students know: "Kill it slower, of course."
They sprinkle it with rock salt and move on.
Here on the aging earth the tumor's gone:
My wife is hale, though wary, and why not?
Once you've had cancer, you don't get headaches
anymore, you get brain tumors, at least
until the aspirin kicks in. Her hair's back,
her weight, her appetite. "And what about you?"
friends ask me. First the fear felt like sudden
weightlessness: I couldn't steer and couldn't stay.
I couldn't concentrate: surely my spit would
dry before I could slather a stamp.
I made a list of things to do next day
before I went to bed, slept like a cork,
woke to no more memory of last night's
list than smoke has of fire, made a new list,
began to do the things on it, wept, paced,
berated myself, drove to the hospital,
and brought my wife food from the takeout joints
that ring a hospital as surely as
brothels surround a gold strike. I drove home
rancid with anger at her luck and mine --
anger that filled me the same way nature
hates a vacuum. "This must be hell for you,"
some said. Hell's not other people: Sartre
was wrong about that, too. L'enfer, c'est moi?
I've not got the ego for it. There'd be
no hell if Dante hadn't built a model
of his rage so well, and he contrived to
get exiled from it, for it was Florence.
Why would I live in hell? I love New York.
Some even said the tumor and fierce cure
were harder on the care giver -- yes, they
said "care giver" -- than on the "sick person."
They were wrong who said those things. Of course
I hated it, but some of "it" was me --
the self-pity I allowed myself,
the brave poses I struck. The rest was dire
threat my wife met with moral stubbornness,
terror, rude jokes, nausea, you name it.
No, let her think of its name and never
say it, as if it were the name of God.
Philip Larkin |
In this dream that dogs me I am part
Of a silent crowd walking under a wall,
Leaving a football match, perhaps, or a pit,
All moving the same way. After a while
A second wall closes on our right,
Pressing us tighter. We are now shut in
Like pigs down a concrete passage. When I lift
My head, I see the walls have killed the sun,
And light is cold. Now a giant whitewashed D
Comes on the second wall, but much too high
For them to recognise: I await the E,
Watch it approach and pass. By now
We have ceased walking and travel
Like water through sewers, steeply, despite
The tread that goes on ringing like an anvil
Under the striding A. I crook
My arm to shield my face, for we must pass
Beneath the huge, decapitated cross,
White on the wall, the T, and I cannot halt
The tread, the beat of it, it is my own heart,
The walls of my room rise, it is still night,
I have woken again before the word was spelt.
Tony Harrison |
'My father still reads the dictionary every day.
He says your life depends on your power to master words.'
Sunday Times, 10 January 1982
Next millennium you'll have to search quite hard
to find my slab behind the family dead,
butcher, publican, and baker, now me, bard
adding poetry to their beef, beer and bread.
With Byron three graves on I'll not go short
of company, and Wordsworth's opposite.
That's two peers already, of a sort,
and we'll all be thrown together if the pit,
whose galleries once ran beneath this plot,
causes the distinguished dead to drop
into the rabblement of bone and rot,
shored slack, crushed shale, smashed prop.
Wordsworth built church organs, Byron tanned
luggage cowhide in the age of steam,
and knew their place of rest before the land
caves in on the lowest worked-out seam.
This graveyard on the brink of Beeston Hill's
the place I may well rest if there's a spot
under the rose roots and the daffodils
by which dad dignified the family plot.
If buried ashes saw then I'd survey
the places I learned Latin, and learned Greek,
and left, the ground where Leeds United play
but disappoint their fans week after week,
which makes them lose their sense of self-esteem
and taking a short cut home through these graves here
they reassert the glory of their team
by spraying words on tombstones, pissed on beer.
This graveyard stands above a worked-out pit.
Subsidence makes the obelisks all list.
One leaning left's marked FUCK, one right's marked SHIT
sprayed by some peeved supporter who was pissed.
Far-sighted for his family's future dead,
but for his wife, this banker's still alone
on his long obelisk, and doomed to head
a blackened dynasty of unclaimed stone,
now graffitied with a crude four-letter word.
His children and grandchildren went away
and never came back home to be interred,
so left a lot of space for skins to spray.
The language of this graveyard ranges from
a bit of Latin for a former Mayor
or those who laid their lives down at the Somme,
the hymnal fragments and the gilded prayer,
how people 'fell asleep in the Good Lord',
brief chisellable bits from the good book
and rhymes whatever length they could afford,
to CUNT, PISS, SHIT and (mostly) FUCK!
Or, more expansively, there's LEEDS v.
the opponent of last week, this week, or next,
and a repertoire of blunt four-letter curses
on the team or race that makes the sprayer vexed.
Then, pushed for time, or fleeing some observer,
dodging between tall family vaults and trees
like his team's best ever winger, dribbler, swerver,
fills every space he finds with versus Vs.
Vs sprayed on the run at such a lick,
the sprayer master of his flourished tool,
get short-armed on the left like that red tick
they never marked his work with much at school.
Half this skinhead's age but with approval
I helped whitewash a V on a brick wall.
No one clamoured in the press for its removal
or thought the sign, in wartime, rude at all.
These Vs are all the versuses of life
From LEEDS v. DERBY, Black/White
and (as I've known to my cost) man v. wife,
Communist v. Fascist, Left v. Right,
Class v. class as bitter as before,
the unending violence of US and THEM,
personified in 1984
by Coal Board MacGregor and the NUM,
Hindu/Sikh, soul/body, heart v. mind,
East/West, male/female, and the ground
these fixtures are fought on's Man, resigned
to hope from his future what his past never found.
The prospects for the present aren't too grand
when a swastika with NF (National Front)'s
sprayed on a grave, to which another hand
has added, in a reddish colour, CUNTS.
Which is, I grant, the word that springs to mind,
when going to clear the weeds and rubbish thrown
on the family plot by football fans, I find
UNITED graffitied on my parents' stone.
How many British graveyards now this May
are strewn with rubbish and choked up with weeds
since families and friends have gone away
for work or fuller lives, like me from Leeds?
When I first came here 40 years ago
with my dad to 'see my grandma' I was 7.
I helped dad with the flowers. He let me know
she'd gone to join my grandad up in Heaven.
My dad who came each week to bring fresh flowers
came home with clay stains on his trouser knees.
Since my parents' deaths I've spent 2 hours
made up of odd 10 minutes such as these.
Flying visits once or twice a year,
And though I'm horrified just who's to blame
that I find instead of flowers cans of beer
and more than one grave sprayed with some skin's name?
Where there were flower urns and troughs of water
And mesh receptacles for withered flowers
are the HARP tins of some skinhead Leeds supporter.
It isn't all his fault though. Much is ours.
5 kids, with one in goal, play 2-a-side.
When the ball bangs on the hawthorn that's one post
and petals fall they hum Here Comes the Bride
though not so loud they'd want to rouse a ghost.
They boot the ball on purpose at the trunk
and make the tree shed showers of shrivelled may.
I look at this word graffitied by some drunk
and I'm in half a mind to let it stay.
(Though honesty demands that I say if
I'd wanted to take the necessary pains
to scrub the skin's inscription off
I only had an hour between trains.
So the feelings that I had as I stood gazing
and the significance I saw could be a sham,
mere excuses for not patiently erasing
the word sprayed on the grave of dad and mam.)
This pen's all I have of magic wand.
I know this world's so torn but want no other
except for dad who'd hoped from 'the beyond'
a better life than this one, with my mother.
Though I don't believe in afterlife at all
and know it's cheating it's hard not to make
a sort of furtive prayer from this skin's scrawl,
his UNITED mean 'in Heaven' for their sake,
an accident of meaning to redeem
an act intended as mere desecration
and make the thoughtless spraying of his team
apply to higher things, and to the nation.
Some, where kids use aerosols, use giant signs
to let the people know who's forged their fetters
Like PRI CE O WALES above West Yorkshire mines
(no prizes for who nicked the missing letters!)
The big blue star for booze, tobacco ads,
the magnet's monogram, the royal crest,
insignia in neon dwarf the lads
who spray a few odd FUCKS when they're depressed.
Letters of transparent tubes and gas
in Düsseldorf are blue and flash out KRUPP.
Arms are hoisted for the British ruling class
and clandestine, genteel aggro keeps them up.
And there's HARRISON on some Leeds building sites
I've taken in fun as blazoning my name,
which I've also seen on books, in Broadway lights,
so why can't skins with spraycans do the same?
But why inscribe these graves with CUNT and SHIT?
Why choose neglected tombstones to disfigure?
This pitman's of last century daubed PAKI GIT,
this grocer Broadbent's aerosolled with NIGGER?
They're there to shock the living, not arouse
the dead from their deep peace to lend support
for the causes skinhead spraycans could espouse.
The dead would want their desecrators caught!
Jobless though they are how can these kids,
even though their team's lost one more game,
believe that the 'Pakis', 'Niggers', even 'Yids'
sprayed on the tombstones here should bear the blame?
What is it that these crude words are revealing?
What is it that this aggro act implies?
Giving the dead their xenophobic feeling
or just a cri-de-coeur because man dies?
So what's a cri-de-coeur, cunt? Can't you speak
the language that yer mam spoke. Think of 'er!
Can yer only get yer tongue round fucking Greek?
Go and fuck yourself with cri-de-coeur!
'She didn't talk like you do for a start!'
I shouted, turning where I thought the voice had been.
She didn't understand yer fucking 'art'!
She thought yer fucking poetry obscene!
I wish on this skin's words deep aspirations,
first the prayer for my parents I can't make,
then a call to Britain and to all nations
made in the name of love for peace's sake.
Aspirations, cunt! Folk on t'fucking dole
'ave got about as much scope to aspire
above the shit they're dumped in, cunt, as coal
aspires to be chucked on t'fucking fire.
'OK, forget the aspirations. Look, I know
United's losing gets you fans incensed
and how far the HARP inside you makes you go
but all these Vs: against! against! against!
Ah'll tell yer then what really riles a bloke.
It's reading on their graves the jobs they did –
Butcher, publican and baker. Me, I'll croak
doing t'same nowt ah do now as a kid.
'ard birth ah wor, mi mam says, almost killed 'er.
Death after life on t'dole won't seem as 'ard!
Look at this cunt, Wordsworth, organ builder,
This fucking 'aberdasher Appleyard!
If mi mam's up there, don't want to meet 'er
listening to me list mi dirty deeds,
and 'ave to pipe up to St fucking Peter
ah've been on t'dole all mi life in fucking Leeds!
Then t'Alleluias stick in t'angels' gobs.
When dole-wallahs fuck off to the void
What'll t'mason carve up for their jobs?
The cunts who lieth 'ere wor unemployed?
This lot worked at one job all life through.
Byron, 'Tanner', 'Lieth 'ere interred'.
They'll chisel fucking poet when they do you
and that, yer cunt, 's a crude four-letter word.
'Listen, cunt!' I said, 'before you start your jeering
the reason why I want this in a book
's to give ungrateful cunts like you a hearing!'
A book, yer stupid cunt, 's not worth a fuck!
'The only reason why I write this poem at all
on yobs like you who do the dirt on death
's to give some higher meaning to your scrawl.'
Don't fucking bother, cunt! Don't waste your breath!
'You piss-artist skinhead cunt, you wouldn't know
and it doesn't fucking matter if you do,
the skin and poet united fucking Rimbaud
but the autre that je est is fucking you.'
Ah've told yer, no more Greek...That's yer last warning!
Ah'll boot yer fucking balls to Kingdom Come.
They'll find yer cold on t'grave tomorrer morning.
So don't speak Greek. Don't treat me like I'm dumb.
'I've done my bits of mindless aggro too
not half a mile from where we're standing now.'
Yeah, ah bet yer wrote a poem, yer wanker you!
'No, shut yer gob a while. Ah'll tell yer 'ow...'
'Herman Darewski's band played operetta
with a wobbly soprano warbling. Just why
I made my mind up that I'd got to get her
with the fire hose I can't say, but I'll try.
It wasn't just the singing angered me.
At the same time half a crowd was jeering
as the smooth Hugh Gaitskill, our MP,
made promises the other half were cheering.
What I hated in those high soprano ranges
was uplift beyond all reason and control
and in a world where you say nothing changes
it seemed a sort of prick-tease of the soul.
I tell you when I heard high notes that rose
above Hugh Gaitskill's cool electioneering
straight from the warbling throat right up my nose
I had all your aggro in my jeering.
And I hit the fire extinguisher ON knob
and covered orchestra and audience with spray.
I could run as fast as you then. A good job!
They yelled 'damned vandal' after me that day...'
And then yer saw the light and up 'eavy!
And knew a man's not how much he can sup...
Yer reward for growing up's this super-bevvy,
a meths and champagne punch ini t'FA Cup.
Ah've 'eard all that from old farts past their prime.
'ow now yer live wi' all yer once detested...
Old farts with not much left'll give me time.
Fuckers like that get folk like me arrested.
Covet not thy neighbour's wife, thy neighbour's riches.
Vicar and cop who say, to save our souls,
Get thee beHind me, Satan, drop their breeches
and get the Devil's dick right up their 'oles!
It was more a working marriage that I'd meant,
a blend of masculine and feminine.
Ignoring me, he started looking, bent
on some more aerosolling, for his tin.
'It was more a working marriage that I mean!'
Fuck, and save mi soul, eh? That suits me.
Then as if I'd egged him on to be obscene
he added a middle slit to one daubed V.
Don't talk to me of fucking representing
the class yer were born into any more.
Yer going to get 'urt and start resenting
it's not poetry we need in this class war.
Yer've given yerself toffee, cunt. Who needs
yer fucking poufy words. Ah write mi own.
Ah've got mi work on show all ovver Leeds
like this UNITED 'ere on some sod's stone.
'OK!' (thinking I had him trapped) 'OK!'
'If you're so proud of it, then sign your name
when next you're full of HARP and armed with spray,
next time you take this short cut from the game.'
He took the can, contemptuous, unhurried
and cleared the nozzle and prepared to sign
the UNITED sprayed where mam and dad were buried.
He aerosolled his name. And it was mine.
The boy footballers bawl Here Comes the Bride
and drifting blossoms fall onto my head.
One half of me's alive but one half died
when the skin half sprayed my name among the dead.
Half versus half, the enemies within
the heart that can't be whole till they unite.
As I stoop to grab the crushed HARP lager tin
the day's already dusk, half dark, half light.
That UNITED that I'd wished onto the nation
or as reunion for dead parents soon recedes.
The word's once more a mindless desecration
by some HARPoholic yob supporting Leeds.
Almost the time for ghosts I'd better scram.
Though not given much to fears of spooky scaring
I don't fancy an encounter with mi mam
playing Hamlet with me for this swearing.
Though I've a train to catch my step is slow.
I walk on the grass and graves with wary tread
over these subsidences, these shifts below
the life of Leeds supported by the dead.
Further underneath's that cavernous hollow
that makes the gravestones lean towards the town.
A matter of mere time and it will swallow
this place of rest and all the resters down.
I tell myself I've got, say, 30 years.
At 75 this place will suit me fine.
I've never feared the grave but what I fear's
that great worked-out black hollow under mine.
Not train departure time, and not Town Hall
with the great white clock face I can see,
coal, that began, with no man here at all,
as 300 million-year-old plant debris.
5 kids still play at making blossoms fall
and humming as they do Here Comes the Bride.
They never seem to tire of their ball
though I hear a woman's voice call one inside.
2 larking boys play bawdy bride and groom.
3 boys in Leeds strip la-la Lohengrin.
I hear them as I go through growing gloom
still years away from being skald or skin.
The ground's carpeted with petals as I throw
the aerosol, the HARP can, the cleared weeds
on top of dad's dead daffodils, then go,
with not one glance behind, away from Leeds.
The bus to the station's still the No. 1
but goes by routes that I don't recognise.
I look out for known landmarks as the sun
reddens the swabs of cloud in darkening skies.
Home, home, home, to my woman as the red
darkens from a fresh blood to a dried.
Home, home to my woman, home to bed
where opposites seem sometimes unified.
A pensioner in turban taps his stick
along the pavement past the corner shop,
that sells samosas now, not beer on tick,
to the Kashmir Muslim Club that was the Co-op.
House after house FOR SALE where we'd played cricket
with white roses cut from flour-sacks on our caps,
with stumps chalked on the coal-grate for our wicket,
and every one bought now by 'coloured chaps',
dad's most liberal label as he felt
squeezed by the unfamiliar, and fear
of foreign food and faces, when he smelt
curry in the shop where he'd bought beer.
And growing frailer, 'wobbly on his pins',
the shops he felt familiar with withdrew
which meant much longer tiring treks for tins
that had a label on them that he knew.
And as the shops that stocked his favourites receded
whereas he'd fancied beans and popped next door,
he found that four long treks a week were needed
till he wondered what he bothered eating for.
The supermarket made him feel embarrassed.
Where people bought whole lambs for family freezers
he bought baked beans from check-out girls too harassed
to smile or swap a joke with sad old geezers.
But when he bought his cigs he'd have a chat,
his week's one conversation, truth to tell,
but time also came and put a stop to that
when old Wattsy got bought out by M. Patel.
And there, 'Time like an ever rolling stream''s
What I once trilled behind that boarded front.
A 1000 ages made coal-bearing seams
and even more the hand that sprayed this CUNT
on both Methodist and C of E billboards
once divided in their fight for local souls.
Whichever house more truly was the Lord's
both's pews are filled with cut-price toilet rolls.
Home, home to my woman, never to return
till sexton or survivor has to cram
the bits of clinker scooped out of my urn
down through the rose-roots to my dad and mam.
Home, home to my woman, where the fire's lit
these still chilly mid-May evenings, home to you,
and perished vegetation from the pit
escaping insubstantial up the flue.
Listening to Lulu, in our hearth we burn,
As we hear the high Cs rise in stereo,
what was lush swamp club-moss and tree-fern
at least 300 million years ago.
Shilbottle cobbles, Alban Berg high D
lifted from a source that bears your name,
the one we hear decay, the one we see,
the fern from the foetid forest, as brief flame.
This world, with far too many people in,
starts on the TV logo as a taw,
then ping-pong, tennis, football; then one spin
to show us all, then shots of the Gulf War.
As the coal with reddish dust cools in the grate
on the late-night national news we see
police v. pickets at a coke-plant grate,
old violence and old disunity.
The map that's colour-coded Ulster/Eire's
flashed on again as almost every night.
Behind a tiny coffin with two bearers
men in masks with arms show off their might.
The day's last images recede to first a glow
and then a ball that shrinks back to a blank screen.
Turning to love, and sleep's oblivion, I know
what the UNITED that the skin sprayed has to mean.
Hanging my clothes up, from my parka hood
may and apple petals, browned and creased,
fall onto the carpet and bring back the flood
of feelings their first falling had released.
I hear like ghosts from all Leeds matches humming
with one concerted voice the bride, the bride
I feel united to, my bride is coming
into the bedroom, naked, to my side.
The ones we choose to love become our anchor
when the hawser of the blood-tie's hacked, or frays.
But a voice that scorns chorales is yelling: Wanker!
It's the aerosolling skin I met today's.
My alter ego wouldn't want to know it,
His aerosol vocab would baulk at LOVE,
the skin's UNITED underwrites the poet,
the measures carved below the ones above.
I doubt if 30 years of bleak Leeds weather
and 30 falls of apple and of may
will erode the UNITED binding us together.
And now it's your decision: does it stay?
Next millennium you'll have to search quite hard
to find out where I'm buried but I'm near
the grave of haberdasher Appleyard,
the pile of HARPs, or some new neonned beer.
Find Byron, Wordsworth, or turn left between
one grave marked Broadbent, one marked Richardson.
Bring some solution with you that can clean
whatever new crude words have been sprayed on.
If love of art, or love, gives you affront
that the grave I'm in 's graffitied then, maybe,
erase the more offensive FUCK and CUNT
but leave, with the worn UNITED, one small v.
Victory? For vast, slow, coal-creating forces
that hew the body's seams to get the soul.
Will earth run out of her 'diurnal courses'
before repeating her creation of black coal?
If, having come this far, somebody reads
these verses, and he/she wants to understand,
face this grave on Beeston Hill, your back to Leeds,
and read the chiselled epitaph I've planned:
Beneath your feet's a poet, then a pit.
Poetry supporter, if you're here to find
How poems can grow from (beat you to it!) SHIT
find the beef, the beer, the bread, then look behind.
Marriott Edgar |
It were after the Battle of Crecy-
The foe all lay dead on the ground-
And King Edward went out with his soldiers
To clean up the places around.
The first place they came to were Calais,
Where t' burghers all stood in a row,
And when Edward told them to surrender
They told Edward where he could go.
Said he, " I'll beleaguer this city,
I'll teach them to flout their new King -
Then he told all his lads to get camp-stools
And sit round the place in a ring.
Now the burghers knew nowt about Crecy-
They laughed when they saw Edward's plan-
And thinking their side were still winning,
They shrugged and said- " San fairy Ann."
But they found at the end of a fortnight
That things wasn't looking so nice,
With nowt going out but the pigeons,
And nowt coming in but the mice.
For the soldiers sat round on their camp-stools,
And never a foot did they stir,
But passed their time doing their knitting,
And crosswords, and things like that there.
The burghers began to get desperate
Wi' t' food supply sinking so low,
For they'd nowt left but dry bread and water,
Or what they called in French "pang" and "oh"
They stuck it all autumn and winter,
But when at last spring came around
They was bothered, bewitched and beleaguered,
And cods' heads was tenpence a pound.
So they hung a white flag on the ramparts
To show they was sick of this 'ere-
And the soldiers, who'd finished their knitting,
All stood up and gave them a cheer.
When King Edward heard they had surrendered
He said to them, in their own tongue,
"You've kept me here all football season,
And twelve of you's got to be hung."
Then up stood the Lord Mayor of Calais,
"I'll make one" he gallantly cried-
Then he called to his friends on the Council
To make up the rest of the side.
When the townspeople heard of the hanging
They rushed in a crowd through the gate-
They was all weeping tears of compassion,
And hoping they wasn't too late.
With ropes round their necks the twelve heroes
Stood proudly awaiting their doom,
Till the hangman at last crooked his finger
And coaxingly said to them-" Come.
At that moment good Queen Phillippa
Ran out of her bower and said-
Oh, do have some mercy, my husband;
Oh don't be so spiteful, dear Ted."
Then down on her knee-joints before them
She flopped, and in accents that rang,
Said, "Please, Edward, just to oblige me,
You can't let these poor burghers hang.
The King was so touched with her pleading,
He lifted his wife by the hand
And he gave her all twelve as a keepsake
And peace once again reigned in the land.
Marriott Edgar |
Joe Dunn were a bobby for football
He gave all his time to that sport,
He played for the West Wigan Whippets,
On days when they turned out one short.
He’d been member of club for three seasons
And had grumbled again and again,
Cos he found only time that they’d used him,
Were when it were pouring with rain!
He felt as his talents were wasted
When each week his job seemed to be
No but minding the clothes for the others
And chucking clods at referee!
So next time selection committee
Came round to ask him for his sub
He told them if they didn’t play him,
He’d transfer to some other club.
Committee they coaxed and cudgelled him
But found he’d have none of their shifts
So they promised to play him next weekend
In match against Todmorden Swifts.
This match were the plum of the season
An annual fixture it stood,
‘T were reckoned as good as a cup tie
By them as liked plenty of blood!
The day of the match dawned in splendour
A beautiful morning it were
With a fog drifting up from the brick fields
And a drizzle of rain in the air.
The Whippets made Joe their goalkeeper
A thing as weren’t wanted at all
For they knew once battle had started
They’d have no time to mess with the ball!
Joe stood by the goal posts and shivered
While the fog round his legs seemed to creep
'Til feeling neglected and lonely
He leant back and went fast asleep.
He dreamt he were playing at Wembley
And t’roar of a thundering cheer
He were kicking a goal for the Whippets
When he woke with a clout in his ear!
He found 'twere the ball that had struck him
And inside the net there it lay
But as no one had seen this ‘ere ‘appen
He punted it back into play!
'Twere the first ball he’d punted in anger
His feelings he couldn’t restrain
Forgetting as he were goalkeeper
He ran out and kicked it again!
Then after the ball like a rabbit
He rushed down the field full of pride
He reckoned if nobody stopped him
Then ‘appen he’d score for his side.
‘Alf way down he bumped into his captain
Who weren’t going to let him go by
But Joe, like Horatio Nelson
Put a fist to the Captain’s blind eye!
On he went 'til the goal lay before him
Then stopping to get himself set
He steadied the ball, and then kicked it
And landed it right in the net!
The fog seemed to lift at that moment
And all eyes were turned on the lad
The Whippets seemed kind of dumbfounded
While the Swifts started cheering like mad!
'Twere his own goal as he’d kicked the ball through
He’d scored for his foes ‘gainst his friends
For he’d slept through the referee’s whistle
And at half time he hadn’t changed ends!
Joe was transferred from the West Wigan Whippets
To the Todmorden Swifts, where you’ll see
Still minding the clothes for the others
And chucking clods at referee!
Edgar Bowers |
The angel of self-discipline, her guardian
Since she first knew and had to go away
From home that spring to have her child with strangers,
Sustained her, till the vanished boy next door
And her ordeal seemed fiction, and the true
Her mother’s firm insistence she was the mother
And the neighbors’ acquiescence. So she taught school,
Walking a mile each way to ride the street car—
First books of the Aeneid known by heart,
French, and the French Club Wednesday afternoon;
Then summer replacement typist in an office,
Her sister’s family moving in with them,
Depression years and she the only earner.
Saturday, football game and opera broadcasts,
Sunday, staying at home to wash her hair,
The Business Women’s Circle Monday night,
And, for a treat, birthdays and holidays,
Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald.
The young blond sister long since gone to college,
Nephew and nieces gone, her mother dead,
Instead of Caesar, having to teach First Aid,
The students rowdy, she retired. The rent
For the empty rooms she gave to Thornwell Orphanage,
Unwed Mothers, Temperance, and Foster Parents
And never bought the car she meant to buy;
Too blind at last to do much more than sit
All day in the antique glider on the porch
Listening to cars pass up and down the street.
Each summer, on the grass behind the house—
Cape jasmine, with its scent of August nights
Humid and warm, the soft magnolia bloom
Marked lightly by a slow brown stain—she spread,
For airing, the same small intense collection,
Concert programs, worn trophies, years of yearbooks,
Letters from schoolgirl chums, bracelets of hair
And the same picture: black hair in a bun,
Puzzled eyes in an oval face as young
Or old as innocence, skirt to the ground,
And, seated on the high school steps, the class,
The ones to whom she would have said, “Seigneur,
Donnez-nous la force de supporter
La peine,” as an example easy to remember,
Formal imperative, object first person plural.
David Berman |
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.
I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here."
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise. Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but...
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.
I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I'm not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore. Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.
Billy Collins |
Tonight the moon is a cracker,
with a bite out of it
floating in the night,
and in a week or so
according to the calendar
it will probably look
like a silver football,
and nine, maybe ten days ago
it reminded me of a thin bright claw.
But eventually --
by the end of the month,
I reckon --
it will waste away
nothing but stars in the sky,
and I will have a few nights
a little time to rest my jittery pen.
Henry Lawson |
When the wars of the world seemed ended, and silent the distant drum,
Ten years ago in Australia, I wrote of a war to come:
And I pictured Australians fighting as their fathers fought of old
For the old things, pride or country, for God or the Devil or gold.
And they lounged on the rim of Australia in the peace that had come to last,
And they laughed at my "cavalry charges" for such things belonged to the past;
Then our wise men smiled with indulgence – ere the swift years proved me right –
Saying: "What shall Australia fight for? And whom shall Australia fight?"
I wrote of the unlocked rivers in the days when my heart was full,
And I pleaded for irrigation where they sacrifice all for wool.
I pictured Australia fighting when the coast had been lost and won –
With arsenals west of the mountains and every spur its gun.
And what shall Australia fight for? The reason may yet be found,
When strange shells scatter the wickets and burst on the football ground.
And "Who shall invade Australia?" let the wisdom of ages say
"The friend of a further future – or the ally of yesterday!"
Aye! What must Australia fight for? In the strife that never shall cease,
She must fight for her work unfinished: she must fight for her life and peace,
For the sins of the older nations. She must fight for her own reward.
She has taken the sword in her blindness and shall live or die by the sword.
But the statesman, the churchman, the scholar still peer through their glasses dim
And they see no cloud on the future as they roost on Australia's rim:
Where the farmer works with the lumpers and the drover drives a dray,
And the shearer on Garden Island is shifting a hill to-day.
Had we used the wealth we have squandered and the land that we kept from the plough,
A prosperous Federal City would be over the mountains now,
With farms that sweep to horizons and gardens where plains lay bare,
And the bulk of the population and the Heart of Australia there.
Had we used the time we have wasted and the gold we have thrown away,
The pick of the world's mechanics would be over the range to-day –
In the Valley of Coal and Iron where the breeze from the bush comes down,
And where thousands of makers of all things should be happy in Factory Town.
They droned on the rim of Australia, the wise men who never could learn;
Our substance we sent to the nations, and their shoddy we bought in return.
In the end, shall our soldiers fight naked, no help for them under the sun –
And never a cartridge to stick in the breech of a Brummagem gun?
With the Wars of the World coming near us the wise men are waking to-day.
Hurry out ammunition from England! Mount guns on the cliffs while you may!
And God pardon our sins as a people if Invasion's unmerciful hand
Should strike at the heart of Australia drought-cramped on the verge of the land.
Henry Lawson |
You ask me to be gay and glad
While lurid clouds of danger loom,
And vain and bad and gambling mad,
Australia races to her doom.
You bid me sing the light and fair,
The dance, the glance on pleasure's wings –
While you have wives who will not bear,
And beer to drown the fear of things.
A war with reason you would wage
To be amused for your short span,
Until your children's heritage
Is claimed for China by Japan.
The football match, the cricket score,
The "scraps", the tote, the mad'ning Cup –
You drunken fools that evermore
"To-morrow morning" sober up!
I see again with haggard eyes,
The thirsty land, the wasted flood;
Unpeopled plains beyond the skies,
And precious streams that run to mud;
The ruined health, the wasted wealth,
In our mad cities by the seas,
The black race suicide by stealth,
The starved and murdered industries!
You bid me make a farce of day,
And make a mockery of death;
While not five thousand miles away
The yellow millions pant for breath!
But heed me now, nor ask me this –
Lest you too late should wake to find
That hopeless patriotism is
The strongest passion in mankind!
You'd think the seer sees, perhaps,
While staring on from days like these,
Politeness in the conquering Japs,
Or mercy in the banned Chinese!
I mind the days when parents stood,
And spake no word, while children ran
From Christian lanes and deemed it good
To stone a helpless Chinaman.
I see the stricken city fall,
The fathers murdered at their doors,
The sack, the massacre of all
Save healthy slaves and paramours –
The wounded hero at the stake,
The pure girl to the leper's kiss –
God, give us faith, for Christ's own sake
To kill our womankind ere this.
I see the Bushman from Out Back,
From mountain range and rolling downs,
And carts race on each rough bush track
With food and rifles from the towns;
I see my Bushmen fight and die
Amongst the torn blood-spattered trees,
And hear all night the wounded cry
For men! More men and batteries!
I see the brown and yellow rule
The southern lands and southern waves,
White children in the heathen school,
And black and white together slaves;
I see the colour-line so drawn
(I see it plain and speak I must),
That our brown masters of the dawn
Might, aye, have fair girls for their lusts!
With land and life and race at stake –
No matter which race wronged, or how –
Let all and one Australia make
A superhuman effort now.
Clear out the blasting parasites,
The paid-for-one-thing manifold,
And curb the goggled "social-lights"
That "scorch" to nowhere with our gold.
Store guns and ammunition first,
Build forts and warlike factories,
Sink bores and tanks where drought is worst,
Give over time to industries.
The outpost of the white man's race,
Where next his flag shall be unfurled,
Make clean the place! Make strong the place!
Call white men in from all the world!