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)
Robert Frost |
Nothing to say to all those marriages!
She had made three herself to three of his.
The score was even for them, three to three.
But come to die she found she cared so much:
She thought of children in a burial row;
Three children in a burial row were sad.
One man's three women in a burial row
Somehow made her impatient with the man.
And so she said to Laban, "You have done
A good deal right; don't do the last thing wrong.
Don't make me lie with those two other women.
Laban said, No, he would not make her lie
With anyone but that she had a mind to,
If that was how she felt, of course, he said.
She went her way.
But Laban having caught
This glimpse of lingering person in Eliza,
And anxious to make all he could of it
With something he remembered in himself,
Tried to think how he could exceed his promise,
And give good measure to the dead, though thankless.
If that was how she felt, he kept repeating.
His first thought under pressure was a grave
In a new boughten grave plot by herself,
Under he didn't care how great a stone:
He'd sell a yoke of steers to pay for it.
And weren't there special cemetery flowers,
That, once grief sets to growing, grief may rest;
The flowers will go on with grief awhile,
And no one seem neglecting or neglected?
A prudent grief will not despise such aids.
He thought of evergreen and everlasting.
And then he had a thought worth many of these.
Somewhere must be the grave of the young boy
Who married her for playmate more than helpmate,
And sometimes laughed at what it was between them.
How would she like to sleep her last with him?
Where was his grave? Did Laban know his name?
He found the grave a town or two away,
The headstone cut with John, Beloved Husband,
Beside it room reserved; the say a sister's;
A never-married sister's of that husband,
Whether Eliza would be welcome there.
The dead was bound to silence: ask the sister.
So Laban saw the sister, and, saying nothing
Of where Eliza wanted not to lie,
And who had thought to lay her with her first love,
Begged simply for the grave.
The sister's face
Fell all in wrinkles of responsibility.
She wanted to do right.
She'd have to think.
Laban was old and poor, yet seemed to care;
And she was old and poor-but she cared, too.
She cast one dull, old look at him,
Then turned him out to go on other errands
She said he might attend to in the village,
While she made up her mind how much she cared-
And how much Laban cared-and why he cared,
(She made shrewd eyes to see where he came in.
She'd looked Eliza up her second time,
A widow at her second husband's grave,
And offered her a home to rest awhile
Before she went the poor man's widow's way,
Housekeeping for the next man out of wedlock.
She and Eliza had been friends through all.
Who was she to judge marriage in a world
Whose Bible's so confused up in marriage counsel?
The sister had not come across this Laban;
A decent product of life's ironing-out;
She must not keep him waiting.
Time would press
Between the death day and the funeral day.
So when she saw him coming in the street
She hurried her decision to be ready
To meet him with his answer at the door.
Laban had known about what it would be
From the way she had set her poor old mouth,
To do, as she had put it, what was right.
She gave it through the screen door closed between them:
"No, not with John.
There wouldn't be no sense.
Eliza's had too many other men.
Laban was forced to fall back on his plan
To buy Eliza a plot to lie alone in:
Which gives him for himself a choice of lots
When his time comes to die and settle down.
Eugene Field |
Full many a sinful notion
Conceived of foreign powers
Has come across the ocean
To harm this land of ours;
And heresies called fashions
Have modesty effaced,
And baleful, morbid passions
Corrupt our native taste.
O tempora! O mores!
What profanations these
That seek to dim the glories
Of apple-pie and cheese!
I'm glad my education
Enables me to stand
Against the vile temptation
Held out on every hand;
Eschewing all the tittles
With vanity replete,
I'm loyal to the victuals
Our grandsires used to eat!
I'm glad I've got three willing boys
To hang around and tease
Their mother for the filling joys
Of apple-pie and cheese!
Your flavored creams and ices
And your dainty angel-food
Are mighty fine devices
To regale the dainty dude;
Your terrapin and oysters,
With wine to wash 'em down,
Are just the thing for roisters
When painting of the town;
No flippant, sugared notion
Shall my appetite appease,
Or bate my soul's devotion
To apple-pie and cheese!
The pie my Julia makes me
(God bless her Yankee ways!)
On memory's pinions takes me
To dear Green Mountain days;
And seems like I see Mother
Lean on the window-sill,
A-handin' me and brother
What she knows 'll keep us still;
And these feelings are so grateful,
Says I, "Julia, if you please,
I'll take another plateful
Of that apple-pie and cheese!"
And cheese! No alien it, sir,
That's brought across the sea,--
No Dutch antique, nor Switzer,
Nor glutinous de Brie;
There's nothing I abhor so
As mawmets of this ilk--
Give me the harmless morceau
That's made of true-blue milk!
No matter what conditions
Dyspeptic come to feaze,
The best of all physicians
Is apple-pie and cheese!
Though ribalds may decry 'em,
For these twin boons we stand,
Partaking thrice per diem
Of their fulness out of hand;
No enervating fashion
Shall cheat us of our right
To gratify our passion
With a mouthful at a bite!
We'll cut it square or bias,
Or any way we please,
And faith shall justify us
When we carve our pie and cheese!
De gustibus, 't is stated,
Non disputandum est.
Which meaneth, when translated,
That all is for the best.
So let the foolish choose 'em
The vapid sweets of sin,
I will not disabuse 'em
Of the heresy they're in;
But I, when I undress me
Each night, upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me
With apple-pie and cheese!
C K Williams |
The first morning of Three Mile Island: those first disquieting, uncertain,
All morning a crew of workmen have been tearing the old decrepit roof
off our building,
and all morning, trying to distract myself, I've been wandering out to
as they hack away the leaden layers of asbestos paper and disassemble
the disintegrating drains.
After half a night of listening to the news, wondering how to know a
hundred miles downwind
if and when to make a run for it and where, then a coming bolt awake
when the roofers we've been waiting for since winter sent their ladders
shrieking up our wall,
we still know less than nothing: the utility company continues making
little of the accident,
the slick federal spokesmen still have their evasions in some semblance
Surely we suspect now we're being lied to, but in the meantime, there
are the roofers,
setting winch-frames, sledging rounds of tar apart, and there I am, on
the curb across, gawking.
I never realized what brutal work it is, how matter-of-factly and harrow-
The ladders flex and quiver, things skid from the edge, the materials are
bulky and recalcitrant.
When the rusty, antique nails are levered out, their heads pull off; the
Even the battered little furnace, roaring along as patient as a donkey,
chokes and clogs,
a dense, malignant smoke shoots up, and someone has to fiddle with a
cock, then hammer it,
before the gush and stench will deintensify, the dark, Dantean broth
In its crucible, the stuff looks bland, like licorice, spill it, though, on
your boots or coveralls,
it sears, and everything is permeated with it, the furnace gunked with
burst and half-burst bubbles,
the men themselves so completely slashed and mucked they seem almost
from another realm, like trolls.
When they take their break, they leave their brooms standing at attention
in the asphalt pails,
work gloves clinging like Br'er Rabbit to the bitten shafts, and they slouch
along the precipitous lip,
the enormous sky behind them, the heavy noontime air alive with shim-
mers and mirages.
Sometime in the afternoon I had to go inside: the advent of our vigil was
However much we didn't want to, however little we would do about it,
we were going to perish of all this, if not now, then soon, if not soon,
Someday, some final generation, hysterically aswarm beneath an at-
mosphere as unrelenting as rock,
would rue us all, anathematize our earthly comforts, curse our surfeits
I think I know, though I might rather not, why my roofers stay so clear
to me and why the rest,
the terror of that time, the reflexive disbelief and distancing, all we should
hold on to, dims so.
I remember the president in his absurd protective booties, looking
absolutely unafraid, the fool.
I remember a woman on the front page glaring across the misty Sus-
quehanna at those looming stacks.
But, more vividly, the men, silvered with glitter from the shingles, cling-
ing like starlings beneath the eaves.
Even the leftover carats of tar in the gutter, so black they seemed to suck
the light out of the air.
By nightfall kids had come across them: every sidewalk on the block was
scribbled with obscenities and hearts.
Eugene Field |
I'd like to be a cowboy an' ride a fiery hoss
Way out into the big an' boundless west;
I'd kill the bears an' catamounts an' wolves I come across,
An' I'd pluck the bal' head eagle from his nest!
With my pistols at my side,
I would roam the prarers wide,
An' to scalp the savage Injun in his wigwam would I ride--
If I darst; but I darsen't!
I'd like to go to Afriky an' hunt the lions there,
An' the biggest ollyfunts you ever saw!
I would track the fierce gorilla to his equatorial lair,
An' beard the cannybull that eats folks raw!
I'd chase the pizen snakes
An' the 'pottimus that makes
His nest down at the bottom of unfathomable lakes--
If I darst; but I darsen't!
I would I were a pirut to sail the ocean blue,
With a big black flag aflyin' overhead;
I would scour the billowy main with my gallant pirut crew
An' dye the sea a gouty, gory red!
With my cutlass in my hand
On the quarterdeck I'd stand
And to deeds of heroism I'd incite my pirut band--
If I darst; but I darsen't!
And, if I darst, I'd lick my pa for the times that he's licked me!
I'd lick my brother an' my teacher, too!
I'd lick the fellers that call round on sister after tea,
An' I'd keep on lickin' folks till I got through!
You bet! I'd run away
From my lessons to my play,
An' I'd shoo the hens, an' tease the cat, an' kiss the girls all day--
If I darst; but I darsen't!
Andrew Barton Paterson |
'Twas the horse thief, Andy Regan, that was hunted like a dog
By the troopers of the upper Murray side,
They had searched in every gully -- they had looked in every log,
But never sight or track of him they spied,
Till the priest at Kiley's Crossing heard a knocking very late
And a whisper "Father Riley -- come across!"
So his Rev'rence in pyjamas trotted softly to the gate
And admitted Andy Regan -- and a horse!
"Now, it's listen, Father Riley, to the words I've got to say,
For it's close upon my death I am tonight.
With the troopers hard behind me I've been hiding all the day
In the gullies keeping close and out of sight.
But they're watching all the ranges till there's not a bird could fly,
And I'm fairly worn to pieces with the strife,
So I'm taking no more trouble, but I'm going home to die,
'Tis the only way I see to save my life.
"Yes, I'm making home to mother's, and I'll die o' Tuesday next
An' be buried on the Thursday -- and, of course,
I'm prepared to meet my penance, but with one thing I'm perplexed
And it's -- Father, it's this jewel of a horse!
He was never bought nor paid for, and there's not a man can swear
To his owner or his breeder, but I know,
That his sire was by Pedantic from the Old Pretender mare
And his dam was close related to The Roe.
"And there's nothing in the district that can race him for a step,
He could canter while they're going at their top:
He's the king of all the leppers that was ever seen to lep,
A five-foot fence -- he'd clear it in a hop!
So I'll leave him with you, Father, till the dead shall rise again,
Tis yourself that knows a good 'un; and, of course,
You can say he's got by Moonlight out of Paddy Murphy's plain
If you're ever asked the breeding of the horse!
"But it's getting on to daylight and it's time to say goodbye,
For the stars above the east are growing pale.
And I'm making home to mother -- and it's hard for me to die!
But it's harder still, is keeping out of gaol!
You can ride the old horse over to my grave across the dip
Where the wattle bloom is waving overhead.
Sure he'll jump them fences easy -- you must never raise the whip
Or he'll rush 'em! -- now, goodbye!" and he had fled!
So they buried Andy Regan, and they buried him to rights,
In the graveyard at the back of Kiley's Hill;
There were five-and-twenty mourners who had five-and-twenty fights
Till the very boldest fighters had their fill.
There were fifty horses racing from the graveyard to the pub,
And their riders flogged each other all the while.
And the lashin's of the liquor! And the lavin's of the grub!
Oh, poor Andy went to rest in proper style.
Then the races came to Kiley's -- with a steeplechase and all,
For the folk were mostly Irish round about,
And it takes an Irish rider to be fearless of a fall,
They were training morning in and morning out.
But they never started training till the sun was on the course
For a superstitious story kept 'em back,
That the ghost of Andy Regan on a slashing chestnut horse,
Had been training by the starlight on the track.
And they read the nominations for the races with surprise
And amusement at the Father's little joke,
For a novice had been entered for the steeplechasing prize,
And they found it was Father Riley's moke!
He was neat enough to gallop, he was strong enough to stay!
But his owner's views of training were immense,
For the Reverend Father Riley used to ride him every day,
And he never saw a hurdle nor a fence.
And the priest would join the laughter: "Oh," said he, "I put him in,
For there's five-and-twenty sovereigns to be won.
And the poor would find it useful, if the chestnut chanced to win,
And he'll maybe win when all is said and done!"
He had called him Faugh-a-ballagh, which is French for 'Clear the course',
And his colours were a vivid shade of green:
All the Dooleys and O'Donnells were on Father Riley's horse,
While the Orangemen were backing Mandarin!
It was Hogan, the dog poisoner -- aged man and very wise,
Who was camping in the racecourse with his swag,
And who ventured the opinion, to the township's great surprise,
That the race would go to Father Riley's nag.
"You can talk about your riders -- and the horse has not been schooled,
And the fences is terrific, and the rest!
When the field is fairly going, then ye'll see ye've all been fooled,
And the chestnut horse will battle with the best.
"For there's some has got condition, and they think the race is sure,
And the chestnut horse will fall beneath the weight,
But the hopes of all the helpless, and the prayers of all the poor,
Will be running by his side to keep him straight.
And it's what's the need of schoolin' or of workin' on the track,
Whin the saints are there to guide him round the course!
I've prayed him over every fence -- I've prayed him out and back!
And I'll bet my cash on Father Riley's horse!"
Oh, the steeple was a caution! They went tearin' round and round,
And the fences rang and rattled where they struck.
There was some that cleared the water -- there was more fell in and drowned,
Some blamed the men and others blamed the luck!
But the whips were flying freely when the field came into view,
For the finish down the long green stretch of course,
And in front of all the flyers -- jumpin' like a kangaroo,
Came the rank outsider -- Father Riley's horse!
Oh, the shouting and the cheering as he rattled past the post!
For he left the others standing, in the straight;
And the rider -- well they reckoned it was Andy Regan's ghost,
And it beat 'em how a ghost would draw the weight!
But he weighed in, nine stone seven, then he laughed and disappeared,
Like a banshee (which is Spanish for an elf),
And old Hogan muttered sagely, "If it wasn't for the beard
They'd be thinking it was Andy Regan's self!"
And the poor of Kiley's Crossing drank the health at Christmastide
Of the chestnut and his rider dressed in green.
There was never such a rider, not since Andy Regan died,
And they wondered who on earth he could have been.
But they settled it among 'em, for the story got about,
'Mongst the bushmen and the people on the course,
That the Devil had been ordered to let Andy Regan out
For the steeplechase on Father Riley's horse!
Rupert Brooke |
"Oh! Love," they said, "is King of Kings,
And Triumph is his crown.
Earth fades in flame before his wings,
And Sun and Moon bow down.
But that, I knew, would never do;
And Heaven is all too high.
So whenever I meet a Queen, I said,
I will not catch her eye.
"Oh! Love," they said, and "Love," they said,
"The gift of Love is this;
A crown of thorns about thy head,
And vinegar to thy kiss!" --
But Tragedy is not for me;
And I'm content to be gay.
So whenever I spied a Tragic Lady,
I went another way.
And so I never feared to see
You wander down the street,
Or come across the fields to me
On ordinary feet.
For what they'd never told me of,
And what I never knew;
It was that all the time, my love,
Love would be merely you.
Vernon Scannell |
It is a curious experience
And one you"re bound to know, though probably
In other realms than that of literature,
Though I speak of poems now, assuming
That you are interested, otherwise,
Of course, you wouldn"t be reading this.
It is strange to come across a poem
In an old magazine, perhaps, and fail
At first to see that it"s your own.
Sometimes you think, grateful and surprised,
"That"s really not too bad", or gloomily:
"Many have done as well and far, far better".
Or, in despair, "My God that"s terrible.
What was I thinking of to publish it".
And then you start to wonder how the great
Poets felt, seeing, surprised, their poems
As strangers, beautiful.
And how do all the
Makers feel to see their creatures live:
The carpenter, the architect, the man who
Crochets intricate embroideries
Of steel across the sky.
And how does God
Feel, looking at his poems, his creatures?
The swelling inhalation of plump hills,
Plumage of poplars on the pale horizon,
Fishleap flashing in pools cool as silver,
Great horses haunched with glossy muscles
And birds who spray their song like apple juice
And the soft shock of snow.
He must feel good
Surprised again by these.
But what happens
When He takes a look at Man? Does He say,
"That"s really not too bad", Or does He, as I fear,
Wince ruefully and mutter to Himself:
"What was I thinking of publishing that one"?
Carl Sandburg |
THE BRIDGE says: Come across, try me; see how good I am.
The big rock in the river says: Look at me; learn how to stand up.
The white water says: I go on; around, under, over, I go on.
A kneeling, scraggly pine says: I am here yet; they nearly got me last year.
A sliver of moon slides by on a high wind calling: I know why; I’ll see you to-morrow; I’ll tell you everything to-morrow.
Carl Sandburg |
Over the dead line we have called to you
To come across with a word to us,
Some beaten whisper of what happens
Where you are over the dead line
Deaf to our calls and voiceless.
The flickering shadows have not answered
Nor your lips sent a signal
Whether love talks and roses grow
And the sun breaks at morning
Splattering the sea with crimson.