Lawrence Ferlinghetti |
And now our government
a bird with two right wings
flies on from zone to zone
while we go on having our little fun & games
at each election
as if it really mattered who the pilot is
of Air Force One
(They're interchangeable, stupid!)
While this bird with two right wings
flies right on with its corporate flight crew
And this year its the Great Movie Cowboy in the cockpit
And next year its the great Bush pilot
And now its the Chameleon Kid
and he keeps changing the logo on his captains cap
and now its a donkey and now an elephant
and now some kind of donkephant
And now we recognize two of the crew
who took out a contract on America
and one is a certain gringo wretch
who's busy monkeywrenching
crucial parts of the engine
and its life-support systems
and they got a big fat hose
to siphon off the fuel to privatized tanks
And all the while we just sit there
in the passenger seats
listening to all the news that's fit to air
over the one-way PA system
about how the contract on America
is really good for us etcetera
As all the while the plane lumbers on
into its postmodern
Anne Sexton |
"You speak to me of narcissism but I reply that it is
a matter of my life" - Artaud
"At this time let me somehow bequeath all the leftovers
to my daughters and their daughters" - Anonymous
despite the worms talking to
the mare's hoof in the field;
despite the season of young girls
dropping their blood;
to drop myself quickly
into an old room.
Better (someone said)
not to be born
and far better
not to be born twice
where the boardinghouse,
each year a bedroom,
I will have to sink with hundreds of others
on a dumbwaiter into hell.
I will be a light thing.
I will enter death
like someone's lost optical lens.
Life is half enlarged.
The fish and owls are fierce today.
Life tilts backward and forward.
Even the wasps cannot find my eyes.
eyes that were immediate once.
Eyes that have been truly awake,
eyes that told the whole story—
poor dumb animals.
Eyes that were pierced,
little nail heads,
light blue gunshots.
And once with
a mouth like a cup,
clay colored or blood colored,
open like the breakwater
for the lost ocean
and open like the noose
for the first head.
Once upon a time
my hunger was for Jesus.
O my hunger! My hunger!
Before he grew old
he rode calmly into Jerusalem
in search of death.
do not ask for understanding
and yet I hope everyone else
will turn their heads when an unrehearsed fish jumps
on the surface of Echo Lake;
its bass note turned up loud,
hurts some building in Boston,
when the truly beautiful lie together.
I think of this, surely,
and would think of it far longer
if I were not… if I were not
at that old fire.
I could admit
that I am only a coward
crying me me me
and not mention the little gnats, the moths,
forced by circumstance
to suck on the electric bulb.
But surely you know that everyone has a death,
his own death,
waiting for him.
So I will go now
without old age or disease,
wildly but accurately,
knowing my best route,
carried by that toy donkey I rode all these years,
never asking, “Where are we going?”
We were riding (if I'd only known)
please do not think
that I visualize guitars playing
or my father arching his bone.
I do not even expect my mother's mouth.
I know that I have died before—
once in November, once in June.
How strange to choose June again,
so concrete with its green breasts and bellies.
Of course guitars will not play!
The snakes will certainly not notice.
New York City will not mind.
At night the bats will beat on the trees,
knowing it all,
seeing what they sensed all day.
Anne Sexton |
Because there was no other place
to flee to,
I came back to the scene of the disordered senses,
came back last night at midnight,
arriving in the thick June night
without luggage or defenses,
giving up my car keys and my cash,
keeping only a pack of Salem cigarettes
the way a child holds on to a toy.
I signed myself in where a stranger
puts the inked-in X's—
for this is a mental hospital,
not a child's game.
Today an intern knocks my knees,
testing for reflexes.
Once I would have winked and begged for dope.
Today I am terribly patient.
Today crows play black-jack
on the stethoscope.
Everyone has left me
except my muse,
that good nurse.
She stays in my hand,
a mild white mouse.
The curtains, lazy and delicate,
billow and flutter and drop
like the Victorian skirts
of my two maiden aunts
who kept an antique shop.
Hornets have been sent.
They cluster like floral arrangements on the screen.
Hornets, dragging their thin stingers,
hover outside, all knowing,
hissing: the hornet knows.
I heard it as a child
but what was it that he meant?
The hornet knows!
What happened to Jack and Doc and Reggy?
Who remembers what lurks in the heart of man?
What did The Green Hornet mean, he knows?
Or have I got it wrong?
Is it The Shadow who had seen
me from my bedside radio?
Now it's Dinn, Dinn, Dinn!
while the ladies in the next room argue
and pick their teeth.
Upstairs a girl curls like a snail;
in another room someone tries to eat a shoe;
meanwhile an adolescent pads up and down
the hall in his white tennis socks.
A new doctor makes rounds
advertising tranquilizers, insulin, or shock
to the uninitiated.
Six years of such small preoccupations!
Six years of shuttling in and out of this place!
O my hunger! My hunger!
I could have gone around the world twice
or had new children - all boys.
It was a long trip with little days in it
and no new places.
it's the same old crowd,
the same ruined scene.
The alcoholic arrives with his gold culbs.
The suicide arrives with extra pills sewn
into the lining of her dress.
The permanent guests have done nothing new.
Their faces are still small
like babies with jaundice.
they carried out my mother,
wrapped like somebody's doll, in sheets,
bandaged her jaw and stuffed up her holes.
My father, too.
He went out on the rotten blood
he used up on other women in the Middle West.
He went out, a cured old alcoholic
on crooked feet and useless hands.
He went out calling for his father
who died all by himself long ago -
that fat banker who got locked up,
his genes suspened like dollars,
wrapped up in his secret,
tied up securely in a straitjacket.
But you, my doctor, my enthusiast,
were better than Christ;
you promised me another world
to tell me who
I spent most of my time,
damned and in trance—that little hut,
that naked blue-veined place,
my eyes shut on the confusing office,
eyes circling into my childhood,
eyes newly cut.
Years of hints
strung out—a serialized case history—
thirty-three years of the same dull incest
that sustained us both.
You, my bachelor analyst,
who sat on Marlborough Street,
sharing your office with your mother
and giving up cigarettes each New Year,
were the new God,
the manager of the Gideon Bible.
I was your third-grader
with a blue star on my forehead.
In trance I could be any age,
voice, gesture—all turned backward
like a drugstore clock.
Awake, I memorized dreams.
Dreams came into the ring
like third string fighters,
each one a bad bet
who might win
because there was no other.
I stared at them,
concentrating on the abyss
the way one looks down into a rock quarry,
uncountable miles down,
my hands swinging down like hooks
to pull dreams up out of their cage.
O my hunger! My hunger!
Once, outside your office,
I collapsed in the old-fashioned swoon
between the illegally parked cars.
I threw myself down,
pretending dead for eight hours.
I thought I had died
into a snowstorm.
Above my head
chains cracked along like teeth
digging their way through the snowy street.
I lay there
like an overcoat
that someone had thrown away.
You carried me back in,
with help of the red-haired secretary
who was built like a lifeguard.
were lost in the snowbank
as if I planned never to walk again.
That was the winter
that my mother died,
half mad on morphine,
blown up, at last,
like a pregnant pig.
I was her dreamy evil eye.
I carried a knife in my pocketbook—
my husband's good L.
Bean hunting knife.
I wasn't sure if I should slash a tire
or scrape the guts out of some dream.
You taught me
to believe in dreams;
thus I was the dredger.
I held them like an old woman with arthritic fingers,
carefully straining the water out—
sweet dark playthings,
and above all, mysterious
until they grew mournful and weak.
O my hunger! My hunger!
I was the one
who opened the warm eyelid
like a surgeon
and brought forth young girls
to grunt like fish.
I told you,
but I was lying—
that the kife was for my mother .
and then I delivered her.
The curtains flutter out
and slump against the bars.
They are my two thin ladies
named Blanche and Rose.
The grounds outside
are pruned like an estate at Newport.
Far off, in the field,
something yellow grows.
Was it last month or last year
that the ambulance ran like a hearse
with its siren blowing on suicide—
Dinn, dinn, dinn!—
a noon whistle that kept insisting on life
all the way through the traffic lights?
I have come back
but disorder is not what it was.
I have lost the trick of it!
The innocence of it!
That fellow-patient in his stovepipe hat
with his fiery joke, his manic smile—
even he seems blurred, small and pale.
I have come back,
fastened to the wall like a bathroom plunger,
held like a prisoner
who was so poor
he fell in love with jail.
I stand at this old window
complaining of the soup,
examining the grounds,
allowing myself the wasted life.
Soon I will raise my face for a white flag,
and when God enters the fort,
I won't spit or gag on his finger.
I will eat it like a white flower.
Is this the old trick, the wasting away,
the skull that waits for its dose
of electric power?
This is madness
but a kind of hunger.
What good are my questions
in this hierarchy of death
where the earth and the stones go
Dinn! Dinn! Dinn!
It is hardly a feast.
It is my stomach that makes me suffer.
Turn, my hungers!
For once make a deliberate decision.
There are brains that rot here
like black bananas.
Hearts have grown as flat as dinner plates.
flee on your donkey,
flee this sad hotel,
ride out on some hairy beast,
gallop backward pressing
your buttocks to his withers,
sit to his clumsy gait somehow.
any old way you please!
In this place everyone talks to his own mouth.
That's what it means to be crazy.
Those I loved best died of it—
the fool's disease.
Rg Gregory |
they seek to celebrate the word
not to bring their knives out on a poem
dissecting it to find a heart
whose beat lies naked on a table
not to score in triumph on a line
no sensitive would put a nostril to
but simply to receive it as an
offering glimpsing the sacred there
poem probes the poet's once-intention
but each time said budges its truth
afresh (leaving the poet's self
estranged from the once-intending man)
and six ears in the room have tuned
objectives sifting the coloured strands
the words have hidden from the poet
asking what world has come to light
people measured by their heartbeats
language can't flout that come-and-go
to touch the heartbeat in a poem
calls for the brain's surrender
a warm diffusion of the mind
a listening to an eery silence
the words both mimic and destroy
(no excuses slipping off the tongue)
and when a poem works the unknown
opens a timid shutter on a world
so familiar it's not been seen
before - and then it's gone bringing
a frisson to an altered room
and in a stuttering frenzy dusty
attributes are tried to resurrect
a glimpse of what it's like inside
a truth (the glow a glow-worm makes)
this is not (not much) what happens
there's serious concern and banter
there's opacity there's chit-chat
diversions and derailings from
a line some avalanche has blocked
(what a fine pass through the mountains)
poetry and fidgets are blood-brothers
it's within all these the cosmos calls
that makes these afternoons a rich
adventure through a common field
when three men moving towards death
(without alacrity but conscious of it)
find youth again and bubble with
its springs - opening worn valves
to give such flow their own direction
there's no need of competition
no wish to prove that one of us
holds keys the others don't to the
sacral chambers - no want to find
consensus in technique or drench
the rites of words in orthodox
belief - difference is essential
and delightful (integrity's all)
quality's a private quarrel
between the poem and the poet - taste
the private hang-up of receivers
mostly migrained by exposure
to opinions not their own - fed
from a culture no one bleeds in
sustained by reputations manured
by a few and spread by hearsay
these meetings are a modest vow
to let each poet speak uncluttered
from establishment's traditions
and conditions where passions rippling
from the marrow can choose a space
to innocent themselves and long-held
tastes for carlos williams gurney
poems to siva (to name a few)
can surface in a side-attempt
to show unexpected lineage from
the source to present patterns
of the poet - but at the core
of every poem read and comment made
it's not the poem or the poet
being sifted to the seed but
poetry itself given the works
the most despised belittled
enervated creative cowcake
of them all in the public eye
prestigious when it doesn't matter
to the clapped-out powers and turned
away from when too awkward and
impolitic to confront - ball
to be bounced from high art to low
when fights break out amongst the teachers
and shakespeare's wielded as a cane
as the rich old crusty clan reverts
to the days it hated him at school
but loved the beatings - loudhailer
broken-down old-banger any ram-it-
up-your-**** and suck-my-prick to those
who want to tear chintz curtains down
and shock the cosy populace to taste
life at its rawest (most obscene)
courtesan to fashion and today's
ploy - advertisement's gold gimmick
slave of beat and rhythm - dead but
much loved donkey in the hearts of all
who learned di-dah di-dah at school
and have been stuck in the custard since
plaything political-tool pop-
star's goo - poetry's been made to garb
itself in all these rags and riches
this age applauds the eye - is one
of outward exploration - the earth
(in life) and universe (in fiction)
are there for scurrying over - haste
is everything and the beat is all
fireworks feed the fancy - a great ah
rewards the enterprise that fills
night skies with flashing bountifuls
of way-out stars - poetry has to be
in service to this want (is fed
into the system gracelessly)
there can be no standing-still or
stopping-by no take a little time
and see what blossoms here - we're into
poetry in motion and all that ****
and i can accept it all - what stirs
the surface of the ocean ignores
the depths - what talks the hindlegs off
the day can't murder dreams - that's not
to say the depths and dreams aren't there
for those who need them - it's commonplace
they hold the keystones of our lives
i fear something else much deeper
the diabolical self-deceiving
(wilful destruction of the spirit)
by those loudspeaking themselves
as poetry's protectors - publishers
editors literature officers
poetry societies and centres
all all jumping on the flagship
competition's crock of gold
find the winners pick the famous
all the hopefuls cry please name us
aspiring poets search their wardrobes
for the wordy swimsuit likely
to catch the eyeful of the judges
(winners too in previous contests
inured to the needle of success
but this time though now they are tops
totally pissed-off with the process
only here because the money's good)
winners' middle name is wordsworth
losers swallow a dose of shame
organisers rub their golden hands
pride themselves on their discernment
these jacks have found the beanstalk
castle harp and the golden egg
the stupid giant and his frightened wife
who let them steal their best possessions
whose ear for poetry's so poor
they think fum rhymes with englishman
and so of course they get no prizes
thief and trickster now come rich
poetry's purpose is to hit the jackpot
so great the lust for poetic fame
thousands without a ghost of winning
find poems like mothballs in their drawers
sprinkle them with twinkling stardust
post them off with copperplate cheques
the judges wipe their arses on them
the money's gone to a super cause
everyone knows it's just a joke
who gets taken - the foolish and vain
if they're daft enough and such bad poets
more money than sense the best advice
is - keep it up grannies the cause
is noble and we'll take your cheque
again and again and again
it's the winners who fall in the bog
to win is to be preened - conceit
finds a little fluffy nest dear
to the feted heart and swells there
fed (for a foetal space) on all
the praisiest worms but in the nest
is a bloated thing that sucks (and chokes)
on hurt that has the knack of pecking
where there's malice - it grows two heads
winners by their nature soon become
winged and weighted - icarus begins
to prey upon their waking dreams
prometheus gnawed by eagles
the tight-shut box epimetheus
gave pandora about to burst
apart - yeats's centre cannot hold
being poets they know the references
and they learn the lesson quickly
climb upon others as they would
climb on you - in short be ruthless
or be dead they mostly fade away
being too intact or too weak-willed
to go the shining way with light-
ning bolts at every second bend
agents breathing fire up their pants
those who withstand the course become
the poets of their day (and every one
naturally good as gold - exceptions
to the rule - out of the hearing
and the judgment of their rivals)
the media covet the heartache
and the bile - love the new meteor
can't wait to blast it from the heavens
universities will start the cult
with-it secondary teachers catch
the name on fast - magazines begin
to taste the honey on the plate
and soon another name is buzzing
round the bars where literary pass-
ons meet to dole out bits of hem
i accept it all - it's not for me
above it all the literary lions
(jackals to each other) stand posed
upon their polystyrene mountains
constructed by their fans and foes
alike (they have such need of them)
disdaining what they see but terror-
stricken when newcomers climb up
waving their thin bright books
for so long they've dubbed themselves
the intellectual cream - deigning
to hand out poems when they're asked
(for proper recompense in cash
or fawning) - but well beyond the risk
of letting others turn the bleeders
down so sure they are they're halfway
to the gods (yet still need preening)
a poem from one of them is like
the loaves and fishes jesus touched
and rendered food for the five thousand
they too can walk on water in
their home - or so the reviewers say
poetry from their mouths is such a gift
if you don't read or understand it
you'll be damned - i accept all that
but what i can't accept is (all
this while) the source and bed of what
is poetry to me as cracked and parched -
condemned ignored made mock of
shoved in wilderness by those
who've gone the gilded route (mapped out
by ego and a driving need to claim
best prick with a capital pee)
it's being roomed with the said poem
coming back and back to the same
felt heartbeat having its way with words
absorbing the strains and promises
that make the language opt for paths
no other voice would go - shifting
a dull stone and knowing what bright
creature this instinct has bred there
it's trusting the poet with his own map
not wanting to tear it up before
the ink is dry because the symbols
he's been using don't suit your own
conception of terrain you've not
been born to - it's being pleased
to have connections made in ways
you couldn't dream of (wouldn't want to)
G K Chesterton |
When forests walked and fishes flew
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood,
Then, surely, I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening bray
And ears like errant wings—
The devil's walking parody
Of all four-footed things:
The battered outlaw of the earth
Of ancient crooked will;
Scourge, beat, deride me—I am dumb—
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour—
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout around my head
And palms about my feet.
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
****, 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.
Rudyard Kipling |
Eddi, priest of St.
In his chapel at Manhood End,
Ordered a midnight service
For such as cared to attend.
But the Saxons were keeping Christmas,
And the night was stormy as well.
Nobody came to service,
Though Eddi rang the bell.
"'Wicked weather for walking,"
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
"But I must go on with the service
For such as care to attend.
The altar-lamps were lighted, --
An old marsh-donkey came,
Bold as a guest invited,
And stared at the guttering flame.
The storm beat on at the windows,
The water splashed on the floor,
And a wet, yoke-weary bullock
Pushed in through the open door.
"How do I know what is greatest,
How do I know what is least?
That is My Father's business,"
Said Eddi, Wilfrid's priest.
"But -- three are gathered together --
Listen to me and attend.
I bring good news, my brethren!"
Said Eddi of Manhood End.
And he told the Ox of a Manger
And a Stall in Bethlehem,
And he spoke to the *** of a Rider,
That rode to Jerusalem.
They steamed and dripped in the chancel,
They listened and never stirred,
While, just as though they were Bishops,
Eddi preached them The World,
Till the gale blew off on the marshes
And the windows showed the day,
And the Ox and the *** together
Wheeled and clattered away.
And when the Saxons mocked him,
Said Eddi of Manhood End,
"I dare not shut His chapel
On such as care to attend.
Sylvia Plath |
In Benidorm there are melons,
Whole donkey-carts full
Of innumerable melons,
Ovals and balls,
Bright green and thumpable
Laced over with stripes
Of turtle-dark green.
Chooose an egg-shape, a world-shape,
Bowl one homeward to taste
In the whitehot noon :
With orange cores.
Each wedge wears a studding
Of blanched seeds or black seeds
To strew like confetti
Under the feet of
This market of melon-eating
Barry Tebb |
THE KINGDOM OF MY HEART
The halcyon settled on the Aire of our days
Kingfisher-blue it broke my heart in two
Shall I forget you? Shall I forget you?
I am the mad poet first love
You never got over
You are my blue-eyed
Madonna virgin bride
I shall carve ‘MG loves BT’
On the bark of every
Wind-bent tree in
East End Park
The park itself will blossom
And grow in chiaroscuro
The Victorian postcard’s view
Of avenue upon avenue
With palms and pagodas
Lakes and waterfalls and
A fountain from Versailles.
You shall be my queen
In the Kingdom of Deira
Land of many rivers
Aire the greatest
Isara the strong one
Robed in stillness
Wide, deep and dark.
In Middleton Woods
Margaret and I played
Truth or dare
She bared her breasts
To the watching stars.
Nancy chanted at
Ten in the binyard
Touching her ****,
Her ****, her bum,
Margaret joined in
Chanting in unison.
The skipping rope
And faster, slapping
The hot pavement,
In rhythm, never
Missing a beat,
Lifting the pleat
Of her skirt
Whirling and twirling.
Giggling and red
In a whisper
“When we were
Playing at Nancy’s
She pushed a spill
Of paper up her
She said she’d
Let you watch
If you wanted.
Margaret, this Saturday morning in June
There is a queue at the ‘Princess’ for
The matin?e, down the alley by the blank
Concrete of the cinema’s side I hide
With you, we are counting our picture
Money, I am counting the stars in your
Hair, bound with a cheap plastic comb.
You have no idea of my need for you
A lifetime long, every wrong decision
I made betrayed my need; forty years on
Hear my song and take my hand and move
Us to the house of love where we belong.
Margaret we sat in the cinema dark
Warm with the promise of a secret kiss
The wall lights glowed amber on the
Crumbling plaster, we looked with longing
At the love seats empty in the circle,
Vowing we would share one.
There is shouting and echoes
Of wild splashing from York
Road baths; forty years on
It stirs my memory and
Will not be gone.
The ghosts of tramtracks
Light up lanes
In Leeds Ten.
In Leeds Nine.
Motorways have cut
The city’s heart
In two; Margaret,
Our home lies buried
Under sixteen feet
Our families moved
And we were lost
I was not there to hear
The whispered secret
Of your first period.
God is courage’s infinite ground
Tillich said; God, give me enough
To stand another week without her
Every day gets longer, every sleep
Why can’t I find you,
Bind your straw-gold hair
The colour of lank
Under the stone canopy
Of the Grand Arcade
I pass Europa Nightclub;
In black designer glass
I watch the faces pass
But none is like your’s,
No voice, no eyes,
No smile at all
From Kirkstall Lock
The rhubarb crop
To Knostrop’s forcing sheds
The roots ploughed up
Arranged in beds
Of perfect darkness
Where the buds burst
With a pip, rich pink
Stalks and yellow leaves
Keep the colour right
So every night the
Could go from Leeds
To Covent Garden.
The smell of Saturday morning
Is the smell of freedom
How the bounds may grow
Slowly slowly as I go.
White donkey stone”
Auntie Nellie scoured
Her door step, polished
The brass knocker
Till I saw my face
Bunched like a fist
Complete with goggles
Grinning like a monkey
In a mile of mirrors.
Every door step had a stop
A half-stone iron weight
To hold it back and every
Step was edged with donkey
Stone in yellow or white
From the ragman or the potman
With his covered cart jingling
Jangling as it jerked hundreds
Of cups on hooks pint and
Half pint mugs and stacks of
We heard him a mile off
Nights in summer when
He trundled round the
Corner over the cobbles
Jamming the wood brake
Blocks whoaing the horses
With their gleaming brasses
And our mams were always
Waiting where he stopped.
Double summer-time made
The nights go on for ever
And no-one cared any more
How long we played what
Or where and we were left
Alone and that’s all I wanted
Then or now to be left alone
Never to be called in from
The Hollows never to be
Called from Margaret.
City of back-to-backs
From Armley Heights
Laid out in rows
Like trees or grass
I watch you pass.
The Aire is slow and almost
In the Bridgefield
The Joshua Tetley clock
Over the Atkinson Grimshaw
Is stopped at nineteen fifty
The year I left.
Grimshaw’s home was
Half a mile away
In Knostrop Hall
Margaret and I
Climbed the ruined
Walls her hair was
Blowing in the wind
Her eyes were stars
In the green night
Her hands were holding
Half a century later
I look out over Leeds Nine
What little’s left is broken
Or changed Saturday night
Is silent and empty
The paths over the Hollows
Deserted the bell
On a single bush
The yellow roses blush
Pink in the amber light
Night settles on the
Fewstons and the Copperfields
No mothers’ voices calling us.
Lilac and velvet clover
Grew all over the Hollows
It was all the luck
We knew and when we left
Our luck went too.
Leeds Town Hall
Built with it
Soaks up the fog
Is sealed with smog
White lions’ paws
Were soft their
Smiles like your’s.
Narrow lanes, steep inclines,
Steps, blank walls, tight
And secret openings’
The lanes are your hips
The inclines the lines
Of your thighs, the steps
Your breasts, blank walls
Your buttocks, tight and
Secret openings your
Taut vagina’s lips.
There is a keening and a honing
And a winnowing in the wind
I am the surge and flow
In Winwaed’s water the last breath
Of Elmete’s King.
I am Penda crossing the Aire
Camping at Killingbeck
Conquered by Aethalwald
Ruler of Deira.
Life is a bird hovering
In the Hall of the King
Between darkness and darkness flickering
The stone of Scone at last lifted
And borne on the wind, Dunedin, take it
Hold it hard and fast its light
Is leaping it is freedom’s
Touchstone and firestone.
Eir, Ayer or Aire
I’ll still be there
Your wanderings off course
Old Ea, Old Eye, Dead Eye
Make no difference to me.
Eg-an island - is Aire’s
True source, names
Not places matter
With the risings
Of a river
I’ll make my own way
Free, going down river
To the far-off sea.
Poetry is my business, my affair.
My cri-de-coeur, jongleur
Of Mercia and Elmete, Margaret,
Open your door I am heaping
Imbroglios of stars on the floor
Meet me by the Office Lock
At midnight or by the Town Hall Clock.
Nennius nine times have I knocked
On the door of your grave, nine times
More have I made Pilgrimage to Elmete’s
Wood where long I lay by beck and bank
Waiting for your tongue to flame
With Pentecostal fire.
Margaret you rode in the hollow of my hand
In the harp of my heart, searching for you
I wandered in Kirkgate Market’s midnight
Down avenues of shuttered stalls, our secrets
Kept through all the years.
From the Imperial on Beeston Hill
I watch the city spill glass towers
Of light over the horizon’s rim.
The railyard’s straights
Are buckled plates
Red bricks for aggregate
All lost like me
Ledsham and Ledston
Both belong to Leeds
But Ledston Luck
Is where Aire leads.
Held of the Crown
By seven thanes
In Saxon times
‘In regione Loidis’
All my needs.
A horse shoe stuck for luck
Behind a basement window:
Margaret, now we’ll see
What truth there is
In dreams and poetry!
I am at one with everyone
There is poetry
Falling from the air
And you have put it there.
The sign for John Eaton Street
Is planted in the back garden
Of the transport caf? between
The strands of a wire mesh fence
Straddling the cobbles of a street
That is no more, a washing line
And an abandoned caravan.
‘This open land to let’
Is what you get on the Hollows
Thousands of half-burned tyres
The rusty barrel of a Trumix lorry
Concrete slabs, foxgloves and condoms,
The Go-Kart Arena’s signboards,
Half the wall of Ellerby Lane School.
There is a mermaid singing
On East Street on an IBM poster
Her hair is lack-lustre
Her breasts are facing the camera
Her tail is like a worn-out brush.
Blind black walls
In black-leaded grates.
Hunslet de Ledes
Hop-scotch, hide and seek,
Not one tree in Hunslet
Except in the cemetery
The lake filled in
For fifty years,
The bluebell has rung
Its last perfumed peal.
I couldn’t play out on Sunday
Mam and dad thought us a cut
Above the rest, it was another
Test I failed, keeping me and
Margaret apart was like the Aztecs
Tearing the heart from the living flesh.
Father, your office job
Didn’t save you
From the drugs
They never gave you.
Isaiah, my son,
You made it back
From Balliol to Beeston
At a run via the
Playing fields of Eton.
There is a keening and a honing
And a winnowing in the wind
Winwaed’s water with red bluid blent.
Sylvia Plath |
They are always with us, the thin people
Meager of dimension as the gray people
On a movie-screen.
Are unreal, we say:
It was only in a movie, it was only
In a war making evil headlines when we
Were small that they famished and
Grew so lean and would not round
Out their stalky limbs again though peace
Plumped the bellies of the mice
Under the meanest table.
It was during the long hunger-battle
They found their talent to persevere
In thinness, to come, later,
Into our bad dreams, their menace
Not guns, not abuses,
But a thin silence.
Wrapped in flea-ridded donkey skins,
Empty of complaint, forever
Drinking vinegar from tin cups: they wore
The insufferable nimbus of the lot-drawn
But so thin,
So weedy a race could not remain in dreams,
Could not remain outlandish victims
In the contracted country of the head
Any more than the old woman in her mud hut could
Keep from cutting fat meat
Out of the side of the generous moon when it
Set foot nightly in her yard
Until her knife had pared
The moon to a rind of little light.
Now the thin people do not obliterate
Themselves as the dawn
Grayness blues, reddens, and the outline
Of the world comes clear and fills with color.
They persist in the sunlit room: the wallpaper
Frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflowers pales
Under their thin-lipped smiles,
Their withering kingship.
How they prop each other up!
We own no wilderness rich and deep enough
For stronghold against their stiff
See, how the tree boles flatten
And lose their good browns
If the thin people simply stand in the forest,
Making the world go thin as a wasp's nest
And grayer; not even moving their bones.