Our wedding anniversary yesterday, and this year for the first time my wife and I agreed not to buy each other cards, given all the hassle with masks, hand sanitisers etc currently attached to going into shops. So I thought the least I could do for my companion of fifty-four years was to dig out this one from my ‘Collected Poems’ and rededicate it to her as some token of recompense for all those times when the process of composition has made me less than usually attentive to her discourse or, as she likes to put it, when I have been away with the fairies.
Our seconds rain like shells of lime
To build great thicknesses of time:
We watch the secret moments fall
Anonymous beyond recall,
Since who will look for you and me
In those white beds of history?
But if they do, with prying pen
When all our now has turned to then,
Let them not think, because they find
Some particle we left behind,
They know the vanished sea above
That was our salt and sunlit love.
These words I leave for them to learn
Like lily’s stem or print of fern
Are but our shadow in the stone
And all the rest is ours alone.
Then what a world of touch and talk
Shall lie compacted into chalk.
It’s a bad time for charities, this lockdown, and there seem to be even more good causes than usual needing help. One feels one should be doing something, and of course many people are. My daughter recently finished a sponsored ascent of her stairs 3204 times in 22 hours to equal the height of Everest, my son-in-law has done a sponsored half-marathon in his back garden. All a bit energetic for me now. I wondered if I could perhaps get people to sponsor me to write a poem, but it was put to me that I would probably have more luck getting people to sponsor me not to write a poem. So I have contented myself with at least digging out this one that I wrote years ago, but which now has sadly gained fresh relevance.
Note: I am aware that the term ‘spastics’ is no longer considered correct, but back when I wrote the poem it was simply the normal word for the condition: one made out cheques to The Spastics Society, which did not change its name to Scope until 1994. I don’t know how far poets can reasonably be expected to revise their work when the rug of language is pulled from under them – it’s a tricky one!
Almost daily the world
Bleeds through my letter-box. On the mat each morning
I find fresh gouts: blind babies, orphans, spastics,
The deaf, the lonely old, ill-treated pets,
Blue whales, otters, donkeys. . . Donkeys? Well,
Why not; in indiscriminate despair
I scribble out the breakfast cheques, each careful
Conscience-minimum. Now world, will you
Leave me alone today? Will someone else
Apply these scraps of dressing? But the blood
Seeps through, it stains my fingers, sometimes at night
Becomes a bright unlaunderable flood.
Can’t someone tell them I’ve a life to lead?
Just so, they murmur, drawing off, and bleed.
I don’t like to peddle my own wares in this weekly slot, but every so often I feel a twinge of guilt at doing nothing to assist the publisher who has so gallantly but imprudently invested in my work, so here is a fairly recent effort that just made it into my ‘Collected Poems’, for details of which see the ‘News’ page. Just in case anyone feels like ordering it through their library…
Yoesden Bank is a nature reserve in Buckinghamshire, not far from my home.
Adonis Blue, Yoesden Bank
Yes, I have loved them, just the way one loves
Unknowingly, until a thing is lost:
Peacocks, tortoiseshells, red admirals
Browsing buddleia’s sweet purple pastures;
Brimstones, woken by the year’s first warmth,
Dancing over bank and brambled ditch;
Once on a beach a fall of painted ladies
Like leaves from some fabulous autumn; orange-tips
And clouded yellows, but never till today
This one, with its wings like summer sky
Bordered with white cloud. It makes the day
Perfect: it distils, it gathers in
The whole of this chalk hillside hazed with flowers,
The hum of sun-warmed grass, the church below
Lost among trees – you’d say that some great artist
Had added to his canvas, Turner-wise,
One drop of purest colour, then stood back
Satisfied at last, his work complete.
Sorry, it’s been too hot here this week for much in the way of inspiration, so I’m making do with one of my own, written during another such summer, though not, I think, the legendary summer of 1976; it seems to have been during a hot spell in 1989.
The world’s less real on summer afternoons.
We walk in dazzle, wan as daylit ghosts.
The streets are white and foreign: in dim shops
Assistants idle, sheened like melting wax.
In offices, in schools, in hospitals
The hours are burning dunes, and far off yet
Oasis evening with its water-dreams,
Its shadows and its cool solidities.
The countryside’s no better: mirages
Sizzle on the surfaces of lanes;
The larks vibrate in poplared distances;
Crops swelter in the fields, on crumbling banks
The soil lips back from blue-white teeth of flint.
All roads are longer: air lies honey-thick
Round farmyard gates; a solitary child
Puddles its naked foot in pavement tar.
Truth is, this is no season for us now:
Untalking and untouching, we endure
Like cattle on the hillside, till day’s ebb
Sucks at the round-pooled shadows of the trees.
‘For the young’ we say, disturbed at light
So riotous and squandered, suited now
To cooler, more reflective husbandries:
Night, and the moonlight’s pure economy.
Just this once, one of my own efforts, with the excuse that it does at least have a seasonal theme…
My winter treat, the pantomime at Christmas:
To go out after tea, in frosty dark,
Down by the railway bridge, past the allotments
To the lit hall in the village.
I was four.
What was time to me? I thought that Jesus
Lived in the air-raid shelter, I thought that a train
Out of the unmapped dark might bring the Wise Men.
I thought that the whole silent valley brimmed with a secret
That the stars might spell out with their shining.
They are gone,
The lit hall, and the laughter; I recall
Nothing of those. Strange then, to see so clearly
That journey down, the glint of moonlit rails,
The frost-furred brick, the snow-capped cabbages,
And all the starry secret, still untold.