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by Ruth Padel |

Kiss

 He's gone.
She can't believe it, can't go on.
She's going to give up painting.
So she paints Her final canvas, total-turn-off Black.
One long Obsidian goodbye.
A charcoal-burner's Smirnoff, The mirror of Loch Ness Reflecting the monster back to its own eye.
But something's wrong.
Those mad Black-body particles don't sing Her story of despair, the steel and Garnet spindle Of the storm.
This black has everything its own sweet way, Where's the I'd-like-to-kill-You conflict? Try once more, but this time add A curve to all that straight.
And opposition White.
She paints black first.
A grindstone belly Hammering a smaller shape Beneath a snake Of in-betweening light.
"I feel like this.
I hope that you do, too, Black crater.
Screw you.
Kiss" And sees a voodoo flicker, where two worlds nearly touch And miss.
That flash, where white Lets black get close, that dagger of not-quite contact, Catspaw panic, quiver on the wheat Field before thunder - There.
That's it.
That's her own self, in paint, Splitting what she was from what she is.
As if everything that separates, unites.
Copyright from Voodoo Shop (Chatto, 2002), copyright © Ruth Padel 2002, used by permission of the author and the publisher


by Ruth Padel |

NIGHT

 (published on BLINKING EYE, http://www.
blinking-eye.
co.
uk/writer/padel2.
html ) Then spoke the thunder, shattering the looming blackness of our national life.
The rumble that breaks a spell of the dry season – Saro-Wiwa, "The Storm Breaks" Does a zebra foal dream? Head lower, lower under lenticular dark cloud, he drags harlequin fetlocks, porcelain quails' egg hooflets through pimpling dust, slower, slower through the silver rainbow night, this soot and fester cellar-lighting, electricity of the blue and evil eye.
Night ringed with eyes, gutter-glow of new-soused theatre, hyena, leopard, caracal (that caramel cat with ear tufts, anxious to feed her cubs) watching the lame foal weakened by drought.
All you know is, that you don't know, and are afraid.
Moonshadow where the big rocks laugh apart.
Predator-senses.
Cilia.
Heat detectors crowd this long auditorium, segment after segment of the midnight shuffle-plains.
They radar in on bodies, fluids, molecules of flesh that do not know they glow, they draw.
Let's give him one dream-memory, a zebra wish fulfilled in dazing plod, some sheer green wall of sugarcane.
And look - he's made it through into the bleach and blaze, rose curdling over indigo and lard, this granult scar of dawn.
One more dawn nearer the water.
Sky blood-taggled, blood-tufted, rushes over him like a white bowl at the end of things, the little safe horizon of a pilot's dial, an inventory of therapeutic gems.


by Ruth Padel |

WRITING TO ONEGIN

 (After Pushkin) 
Look at the bare wood hand-waxed floor and long 
White dressing-gown, the good child's writing-desk 
And passionate cold feet
Summoning music of the night - tumbrils, gongs
And gamelans - with one neat pen, one candle
Puttering its life out hour by hour.
Is "Tell Him I love him" never a good idea? You can't wish this Unlived - this world on fire, on storm Alert, till the shepherd's song Outside, some hyper-active yellowhammer, bulbul, Wren, amplified in hills and woods, tell her to bestow A spot of notice on the dawn.
* "I'm writing to you.
Well, that's it, that's everything.
You'll laugh, but you'll pity me too.
I'm ashamed of this.
I meant to keep it quiet.
You'd never have known, if - I wish - I could have seen you once a week.
To mull over, day And night, the things you say, or what we say together.
But word is, you're misogynist.
Laddish.
A philanderer Who says what he doesn't mean.
(That's not how you come across To me.
) Who couldn't give a toss for domestic peace - Only for celebrity and showing off - And won't hang round in a provincial zone Like this.
We don't glitter.
Though we do, Warmly, truly, welcome you.
* "Why did you come? I'd never have set eyes On a star like you, or blundered up against This crazed not-sleeping, hour after hour In the dark.
I might have got the better of My clumsy fury with constraint, my fret For things I lack all lexica and phrase-book art To say.
I might have been a faithful wife; a mother.
But that's all done with.
This is Fate.
God.
Sorted.
Here I am - yours, to the last breath.
I couldn't give my heart to anyone else.
My life till now has been a theorem, to demonstrate How right it is to love you.
This love is love to death.
* "I knew you anyway.
I loved you, I'm afraid, In my sleep.
Your eyes, that denim-lapis, grey-sea- Grey-green blue, that Chinese fold of skin At the inner corner, that shot look Bleeping "vulnerable" under the screensaver charm, Kept me alive.
Every cell, every last gold atom Of your body, was engraved in me Already.
Don't tell me that was dream! When you came in, Staring round in your stripey coat and brocade Vest, I nearly died! I fainted, I was flame! I recognized The you I'd always listened to alone, when I wrote Or tried to wrestle my scatty soul into calm.
* "Wasn't it you who slipped through the transparent Darkness to my bed and whispered love? Aren't you My guardian angel? Or is this arrant Seeming, hallucination, thrown Up by that fly engineering a novel does So beguilingly, or poems? Is this mad? Are there ways of dreaming I don't know? Too bad.
My soul has made its home In you.
I'm here and bare before you: shy, In tears.
But if I didn't heft my whole self up and hold it there - A crack-free mirror - loving you, or if I couldn't share It, set it out in words, I'd die.
* "I'll wait to hear from you.
I must.
Please let me hope.
Give me one look, from eyes I hardly dare To look back at.
Or scupper my dream By scolding me.
I've given you rope To hang me: tell me I'm mistaken.
You're so much in The world; while I just live here, bent on jam And harvest, songs and books.
That's not complaint.
We live such different lives.
So - this is the end.
It's taken All night.
I'm scared to read it back.
I'm faint With shame and fear.
But this is what I am.
My crumpled bed, My words, my open self.
All I can do is trust The whole damn lot of it to you.
" * She sighs.
The paper trembles as she presses down The pink wax seal.
Outside, a milk mist clears From the shimmering valley.
If I were her guardian Angel, I'd divide myself.
One half would holler Don't! Stay on an even keel! Don't dollop over All you are, to a man who'll go to town On his next little fling.
If he's entranced today By the way you finger your silk throat inside your collar, Tomorrow there'll be Olga, Sally, Jane.
But then I'd whisper Go for it, petal.
Nothing's as real as what you write.
His funeral, if he's not up to it.
What we feel Is mortal, and won't come again.
* So cut, weeks later, to an outside shot: the same girl Taking cover ("Dear God, he's here, he's come!") Under fat red gooseberries, glimmering hairy stars: The old, rude bushes she has hide-and-seeked in all Her life, where mother commands the serfs to sing While picking, so they can't hurl The odd gog into their mouths.
No one could spy Her here, not even the sun in its burn-time.
Her cheeks Are simmering fire.
We're talking iridescence, a Red Admiral's last tremble Before the avid schoolboy plunks his net.
Or imagine * A leveret - like the hare you shot, remember? Which ran round screaming like a baby? Only mine is shivering in papery winter corn, While the hunter (as it might be, you) stomps his Hush Puppies through dead brush.
Everything's quiet.
She's waited - how long? - ages: stoking pebbly embers Under the evening samovar, filling The Chinese teapot, sending coils of Lapsang Suchong Floating to the ceiling in the shadows, tracing O and E In the window's black reflection, one finger Tendrilling her own breath on the glass.
Like putting a shell to your ear to hear the sea * When it's really your own red little sparkle, the echo Of marching blood.
She's asking a phantom World of pearled-up mist for proof That her man exists: that gamelans and tumbrils Won't evade her.
But now, among The kitchen garden's rose-haws, mallow, Pernod- Coloured pears, she unhooks herself thorn by thorn For the exit aria.
For fade-out.
Suddenly there he is In the avenue, the man she's written to - Charon Gazing at her with blazing eyes! Darth Vader From Star Wars.
She's trapped, in a house she didn't realize Was burning.
Her letter was a gate to the inferno.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
(This poem appeared in Pushkin: An Anthology, ed.
E.
Feinstein, Carcanet 1999)


by Ruth Padel |

ICICLES ROUND A TREE IN DUMFRIESSHIRE

 We're talking different kinds of vulnerability here.
These icicles aren't going to last for ever Suspended in the ultra violet rays of a Dumfries sun.
But here they hang, a frozen whirligig of lightning, And the famous American sculptor Who scrambles the world with his tripod For strangeness au naturel, got sunset to fill them.
It's not comfortable, a double helix of opalescent fire * Wrapping round you, swishing your bark Down cotton you can't see, On which a sculptor planned his icicles, Working all day for that Mesopotamian magic Of last light before the dark In a suspended helter-skelter, lit By almost horizontal rays Making a mist-carousel from the House of Diamond, * A spiral of Pepsodent darkening to the shadowfrost Of cedars at the Great Gate of Kiev.
Why it makes me think of opening the door to you I can't imagine.
No one could be less Of an icicle.
But there it is - Having put me down in felt-tip In the mystical appointment book, You shoot that quick * Inquiry-glance, head tilted, when I open up, Like coming in's another country, A country you want but have to get used to, hot From your bal masqu?, making sure That what you found before's Still here: a spiral of touch and go, Lightning licking a tree Imagining itself Aretha Franklin * Singing "You make me feel like a natural woman" In basso profondo, Firing the bark with its otherworld ice The way you fire, lifting me Off my own floor, legs furled Round your trunk as that tree goes up At an angle inside the lightning, roots in The orange and silver of Dumfries.
* Now I'm the lightning now you, you are, As you pour yourself round me Entirely.
No who's doing what and to who, Just a tangle of spiral and tree.
You might wonder about sculptors who come all this way To make a mad thing that won't last.
You know how it is: you spend a day, a whole life.
Then the light's gone, you walk away * To the Galloway Paradise Hotel.
Pine-logs, Cutlery, champagne - OK, But the important thing was making it.
Hours, and you don't know how it'll be.
Then something like light Arrives last moment, at speed reckoned Only by horizons: completing, surprising With its three hundred thousand * Kilometres per second.
Still, even lightning has its moments of panic.
You don't get icicles catching the midwinter sun In a perfect double helix in Dumfriesshire every day.
And can they be good for each other, Lightning and tree? It'd make anyone, Wouldn't it, afraid? That rowan would adore To sleep and wake up in your arms * But's scared of getting burnt.
And the lightning might ask, touching wood, "What do you want of me, now we're in the same Atomic chain?" What can the tree say? "Being the centre of all that you are to yourself - That'd be OK.
Being my own body's fine But it needs yours to stay that way.
" No one could live for ever in * A suspended gleam-on-the-edge, As if sky might tear any minute.
Or not for ever for long.
Those icicles Won't be surprise any more.
The little snapped threads Blew away.
Glamour left that hill in Dumfries.
The sculptor went off with his black equipment.
Adzes, twine, leather gloves.
* What's left is a photo of A completely solitary sight In a book anyone might open.
But whether our touch at the door gets forgotten Or turned into other sights, light, form, I hope you'll be truthful To me.
At least as truthful as lightning, Skinning a tree.
THIS POEM WON THE 1996 National Poetry Prize


by Ruth Padel |

THE APPOINTMENT

 Flamingo silk.
New ruff, the ivory ghost of a halter.
Chestnut curls, * commas behind the ear.
"Taller, by half a head, than my Lord Walsingham.
" * His Devon-cream brogue, malt eyes.
New cloak mussed in her mud.
* The Queen leans forward, a rosy envelope of civet.
A cleavage * whispering seed pearls.
Her own sleeve rubs that speck of dirt * on his cheek.
Three thousand ornamental fruit baskets swing in the smoke.
* "It is our pleasure to have our servant trained some longer time * in Ireland.
" Stamp out marks of the Irish.
Their saffron smocks.
* All curroughs, bards and rhymers.
Desmonds and Fitzgeralds * stuck on low spikes, an avenue of heads to the war tent.
* Kerry timber sold to the Canaries.
Pregnant girls * hung in their own hair on city walls.
Plague crumpling gargoyles * through Munster.
"They spoke like ghosts crying out of their graves.
"


by Ruth Padel |

TRIAL

 I was with Special Force, blue-X-ing raids 
to OK surfing on the Colonel's birthday.
Operation Ariel: we sprayed Jimi Hendrix loud from helis to frighten the slopes before 'palming.
A turkey shoot.
* The Nang fogged up.
The men you need are moral and kill like angels.
Passionless.
No judgement.
Judgement defeats us.
You're choosing between nightmares all the time.
My first tour, we hissed into an encampment early afternoon, round two.
The new directive, polio.
Inoculating kids.
It took a while.
As we left, this old man came up, pulled on our back-lag jeep-hoods, yacking.
We went back.
They'd come behind us, hacked off all the inoculated arms.
There they were in a pile, a pile of little arms.
* Soon after, all us new recruits turned on to angel-dust like the rest.
You get it subsidized out there.
The snail can' t crawl on the straight razor and live.
I'm innocent.
(This poem was Commended in the 1992 National Poetry Competition)


by Ruth Padel |

TIGER DRINKING AT FOREST POOL

 Water, moonlight, danger, dream.
Bronze urn, angled on a tree root: one Slash of light, then gone.
A red moon Seen through clouds, or almost seen.
Treasure found but lost, flirting between The worlds of lost and found.
An unjust law Repealed, a wish come true, a lifelong Sadness healed.
Haven, in the mind, To anyone hurt by littleness.
A prayer For the moment, saved; treachery forgiven.
Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle, amber Reflected in grey milk-jade.
An old song Remembered, long debt paid.
A painting on silk, which may fade.


by Ruth Padel |

HERODOTUS IN EGYPT REMEMBERS DELOS

 The ground verdigris, fluffy with young mosquitoes.
Waters as sacred as these, as fatted with reeds.
Bronze palm planted to Sun.
Lizards, Nile alligators, hindquarters rolling on granite sphinx-chippings.
Air salted with confident brown larks, Travelling, you remember (mind upturning these foreign priests, finding the causes) that stamen-summit: white long unbloody altar, giddy blues under you, calyx of bronze flat islands unfolding, blind.