Ruth Padel |
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.
Who says what he doesn't mean.
(That's not how you come across
) Who couldn't give a toss for domestic peace -
Only for celebrity and showing off -
And won't hang round in a provincial zone
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
I might have been a faithful wife; a mother.
But that's all done with.
This is Fate.
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
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?
My soul has made its home
I'm here and bare before you: shy,
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.
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.
I'm scared to read it back.
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.
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.
Are simmering fire.
We're talking iridescence, a Red Admiral's last tremble
Before the avid schoolboy plunks his net.
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.
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.
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
Her letter was a gate to the inferno.
(This poem appeared in Pushkin: An Anthology, ed.
Feinstein, Carcanet 1999)
James Henry Leigh Hunt |
I have been reading Pomfret's "Choice" this spring,
A pretty kind of--sort of--kind of thing,
Not much a verse, and poem none at all,
Yet, as they say, extremely natural.
And yet I know not.
There's an art in pies,
In raising crusts as well as galleries;
And he's the poet, more or less, who knows
The charm that hallows the least truth from prose,
And dresses it in its mild singing clothes.
Not oaks alone are trees, nor roses flowers;
Much humble wealth makes rich this world of ours.
Nature from some sweet energy throws up
Alike the pine-mount and the buttercup;
And truth she makes so precious, that to paint
Either, shall shrine an artist like a saint,
And bring him in his turn the crowds that press
Round Guido's saints or Titian's goddesses.
Our trivial poet hit upon a theme
Which all men love, an old, sweet household dream:--
Pray, reader, what is yours?--I know full well
What sort of home should grace my garden-bell,--
No tall, half-furnish'd, gloomy, shivering house,
That worst of mountains labouring with a mouse;
Nor should I choose to fill a tawdry niche in
A Grecian temple, opening to a kitchen.
The frogs in Homer should have had such boxes,
Or Aesop's frog, whose heart was like the ox's.
Such puff about high roads, so grand, so small,
With wings and what not, portico and all,
And poor drench'd pillars, which it seems a sin
Not to mat up at night-time, or take in.
I'd live in none of those.
Nor would I have
Veranda'd windows to forestall my grave;
Veranda'd truly, from the northern heat!
And cut down to the floor to comfort one's cold feet!
My house should be of brick, more wide than high,
With sward up to the path, and elm-trees nigh;
A good old country lodge, half hid with blooms
Of honied green, and quaint with straggling rooms,
A few of which, white-bedded and well swept,
For friends, whose name endear'd them, should be kept.
The tip-toe traveller, peeping through the boughs
O'er my low wall, should bless the pleasant house:
And that my luck might not seem ill-bestow'd,
A bench and spring should greet him on the road.
My grounds should not be large.
I like to go
To Nature for a range, and prospect too,
And cannot fancy she'd comprise for me,
Even in a park, her all-sufficiency.
Besides, my thoughts fly far, and when at rest
Love not a watch-tow'r but a lulling nest.
A Chiswick or a Chatsworth might, I grant,
Visit my dreams with an ambitious want;
But then I should be forc'd to know the weight
Of splendid cares, new to my former state;
And these 'twould far more fit me to admire,
Borne by the graceful ease of noblest Devonshire.
Such grounds, however, as I had should look
Like "something" still; have seats, and walks, and brook;
One spot for flowers, the rest all turf and trees;
For I'd not grow my own bad lettuces.
I'd build a cover'd path too against rain,
Long, peradventure, as my whole domain,
And so be sure of generous exercise,
The youth of age and med'cine of the wise.
And this reminds me, that behind some screen
About my grounds, I'd have a bowling-green;
Such as in wits' and merry women's days
Suckling preferr'd before his walk of bays.
You may still see them, dead as haunts of fairies,
By the old seats of Killigrews and Careys,
Where all, alas! is vanish'd from the ring,
Wits and black eyes, the skittles and the king!
Fishing I hate, because I think about it,
Which makes it right that I should do without it.
A dinner, or a death, might not be much,
But cruelty's a rod I dare not touch.
I own I cannot see my right to feel
For my own jaws, and tear a trout's with steel;
To troll him here and there, and spike, and strain,
And let him loose to jerk him back again.
Fancy a preacher at this sort of work,
Not with his trout or gudgeon, but his clerk:
The clerk leaps gaping at a tempting bit,
And, hah! an ear-ache with a knife in it!
That there is pain and evil is no rule
That I should make it greater, like a fool;
Or rid me of my rust so vile a way,
As long as there's a single manly play.
Nay, "fool"'s a word my pen unjustly writes,
Knowing what hearts and brains have dozed o'er "bites";
But the next inference to be drawn might be,
That higher beings made a trout of me;
Which I would rather should not be the case,
Though Isaak were the saint to tear my face,
And, stooping from his heaven with rod and line,
Made the fell sport, with his old dreams divine,
As pleasant to his taste, as rough to mine.
Such sophistry, no doubt, saves half the hell,
But fish would have preferr'd his reasoning well,
And, if my gills concern'd him, so should I.
The dog, I grant, is in that "equal sky,"
But, heaven be prais'd, he's not my deity.
All manly games I'd play at,--golf and quoits,
And cricket, to set lungs and limbs to rights,
And make me conscious, with a due respect,
Of muscles one forgets by long neglect.
With these, or bowls aforesaid, and a ride,
Books, music, friends, the day I would divide,
Most with my family, but when alone,
Absorb'd in some new poem of my own,
A task which makes my time so richly pass,
So like a sunshine cast through painted glass
(Save where poor Captain Sword crashes the panes),
That cold my friends live too, and were the gains
Of toiling men but freed from sordid fears,
Well could I walk this earth a thousand years.