Poems

Francis

He was wandering on the tow path near the meadow,
where the swans made their nest. I guessed who he was
by the patched brown cassock, frayed waist cord,
the tonsure. The goslings had caught his attention,
and as they glided over he took a bag of bread
from under his habit and fed them. He said he was passing
and begged me not to mention it to anyone. He didn’t want
a shrine there disturbing the swans. ‘There’s no thought
for wildlife.’ I asked if it was true he’d preached to the birds.
He laughed. ‘I talk to them often, but that business
about homilies, that wasn’t me. You know how people
invent things.’ He held up an unmarked palm.
‘I stopped believing years ago but still enjoy the outdoors.’
Did he know Liszt’s pianistic impression of the legend
I wondered. He said he did, and once told the Abbé in person
how much he loved it. That painting of him, with fowls
in a farmyard, arms wheeling, also makes him smile.

(Published in The Interpreter’s House, 56, 2014)

 

Wish you were here

Who would have thought we’d become so fond of this place, so unlike anywhere
we knew in childhood, though strangely familiar, like the reification
of everything we longed for once, a world that we now find
actually exists.
Admittedly everything is changing, but the hotel offers
complimentary massage, and a guide if required, though we know where we are
most of the time.

We’ve been here before of course, who hasn’t; it’s why we always come back.
And the armchairs are still the same though altered.
Perhaps today
we’ll venture further, take a different path, try the tea room on the corner.
It might be our kind of place, somewhere we could pretend to fit in,
no one being any the wiser. We can always leave if the water gets too deep.

(Published in New Walk, 10, 2015)

 

La vida es un carnival

Somewhere on the other side a woman was singing in spite of the regulations. The words ‘braced’ and ‘translucent’ may have been used though it isn’t certain. We talked about people with a family resemblance, afraid they might arrive at any moment. Eventually a small group of us decided to go down there. In the main square, papier-mâché maquettes had been hoisted into the trees; each wearing the colours of sunrise, the beach doubling as reminiscence. Transferred into another language the phrasing became a reef. A breeze came in off the sea, the scent familiar though hard to place, hints of cinnamon, wild oranges. The yacht too was memory.

(Published in Brittle Star, 36, 2015)

 

A study in anatomy

If you believe humans have shrunk through history,
that the giant in our troupe is a throwback to an age
of towering heroes, what does that make me?
A creature of the future? An advanced stage
of human development? It gets a laugh. I play
the trumpet with my feet, embroider with my toes.
The crowd gawps in wonder. I tell them, one day
people with limbs will be on display in freak shows.

At one time a heifer with two heads was the star turn
on the bill – both mouths chewing cud. She died
of colic. Now a monkey fills the top position.
He resembles me in size, which attracts the odd snide
remark. Not that I care. If we’re talking similarity,
I’ve seen many a looker-on scratching at his balls.
That jaw cracking a nut, that stooped frame, free-
hanging arms – who’s aping who? They’re animals.

Earlier I had tea with the acquisitive Mr Hunter.
‘Living things have a tendency,’ he said, ‘to deformity.’
He wants my twisted carcass, this connoisseur
of oddities. He talked about ‘variation’ and why
there are so many living creatures. That’s heresy
I told him. He smiled complacently. I like his proposition.
It would be something to help in a future discovery.
Twenty pounds cash. I have no love for this skeleton.

(Published by Ink, Sweat & Tears, 2014)

 

Blue peninsula

For Joseph Cornell

Personally I like the hotel’s Spartan décor, the parakeet
in the lobby, the way ships salvage has been reused
to give the place a nautical air; the fishing net
over the windows, for example, which prevents guests
from falling out. Every room has a view of the Blue Peninsula.

It’s the parrot hunting season which always attracts
an extraordinary crowd, like those teenage girls in the bar
borrowing phrases from Schubert lieder
to trade hidden meanings. We should visit during
the ballet festival. The concierge gives lectures
on the night sky, and guests invent their own constellations.

(Published by The Poetry School, 2014.)

 

In Syracuse

Yesterday evening Archimedes came round
for a bath. He was ages about it
and afterwards he said he’d been thinking
about the relationship of mass to volume
the mathematics of bodies and cooling bath water.

I said I hoped he had not been disturbed
by the drumming from across the street
nor by the neighbour’s raucous singing
(accompanying their new karaoke machine.)

He said on the contrary he’d watched through the window
the light pass from orange to pink and the swifts
criss-crossing like the threads of his thought.
He was seeking he said an equation
with the elegance and clarity of the early evening light.

Somewhere a dog began to yap and Archimedes
chewed at the ends of his beard. So far the bath problem
had eluded him.

You asked him to supper but he wouldn’t stay.
‘I bought fresh fish at the market,’ you said,
‘a wonderful cheese, such juicy blood red oranges
and wine.’ But he would not be tempted. He said
he was working on something to do with calculating
the earth’s circumference and wanted to get a letter off
to his friend Eratosthenes. It seemed
they were onto something big.

(Published by Ink, Sweat & Tears, 2013.)