A year ago you came
Early into the light.
You lived a day and night,
Then died; no one to blame.
Once only, with one hand,
Your mother in farewell
Touched you. I cannot tell,
I cannot understand
A thing so dark and deep,
So physical a loss:
One touch, and that was all
She had of you to keep.
Clean wounds, but terrible,
Are those made with the Cross.
Spring stars glitter in the freezing sky,
Trees on watch are armoured with frost.
In the dark tarn of a mirror a face appears.
Time is moving through displacements.
Hungrily the blind earthworm burrows
Deeper into its night. Surely
Heaven must ache with all its vacancies.
A dog’s howl is thrown up like a rope-trick.
It is an hour for prayer without words.
The magpie's mood is never surly
every morning, wakening early,
he gargles music in his throat,
the liquid squabble of his throat.
Its silver stridencies of sound,
the bright confusions and the round
bell-cadences are pealed
over the frosty, half-ploughed field.
Then swooping down self confidently
from the fence-post or the tree,
he swaggers in pied feather coat,
and slips the fat worms down his throat.
That each thing is a word
Requiring us to speak it;
From the ant to the quasar,
From clouds to ocean floor-
The meaning not ours, but found
In the mind deeply submissive
To the grammar of existence,
The syntax of the real;
So that alien is changed
To human, thing into thinking:
For the world's bare tokens
We pay golden coin,
Stamped with the king's image;
And poems are prophecy
Of a new heaven and earth,
A rumour of resurrection.
A ray of light, to an oblique observer,
Remains invisible in pure dry air;
But shone into a turbid element
It throws distracting side-gleams everywhere
And is diminished by what takes the eye.
So poetry that moves by chance collision
Scatters its brightness at each random mote
And mars the lucid order of its vision.
The purest meditation will appear
Faint or invisible to those who glance
Obliquely at its unreflected beam;
Durer: Innsbruck, 1495
I had often, cowled in the slumbrous heavy air,
Closed my inanimate lids to find it real,
As I knew it would be, the colourful spires
And painted roofs, the high snows glimpsed at the back
All reversed in the quiet reflecting waters –
Not knowing than that Durer perceived it too.
Now I find that once more I have shrunk
To an interloper, robber of dead men’s dreams,
I had read in books that art is not easy
But no one warned that the mind repeats
In its ignorance the vision of others. I am still
The black swan of trespass on alien waters.
At a Child's Grave
A sky contused and rifted like a wound:
Red-amber gum exudes from the dark tree;
A long day’s dying. Small anatomy
Locked in this nameless grave’s neglected mound,
You wait for nothing now but that wild sound
Of trumpets blowing doom and jubilee.
And if it came this instant, where would I flee,
Where hide my terror in the gaping ground,
What crack, what rift, what gulf would shelter me
And close me over never to be found
When the last hopeless wish is, not to be?
But little child you’d rise, and walk around,
And have a name again; beneath the tree
Of life you’d sit, with beams of glory crowned.
Not how you would be thought of, your color
Being grey, silky, like a second skin, your hair
Flecked with it. Now, hearing your way of saying
Iridescent while I read your poem, three years
After your death, I am compelled to check
You out in Ovid, Lamprière, Bulfin, then
A book of flowers, where I discover you
On marshy ground, not grey exactly—in fact
A pretty blue-grey, a quiet type, with a green cowl
To shelter the thoughtful inclined head.
Not at all the bright-winged messenger
Who’d drown the world if Juno put you up to it,
But a quiet sylph, who could color her message
With a sly tilt of the head, those grey eyes steady,
Lips pursed, making a pretence of kissing.
You could supply so many ambiguities—
Gradations and streaks and tones of grey and blue—
That for twenty years I saw your story told
[...] Read more
A Poem in Place of a Lecture
This morning, friends, the blackboard will be black
Behind my skull: your eyelids will be slack,
And I could wearily cajole from you, or you,
Slow answers to dull questions; or grow annoyed
Earnestly deploying on the black void
Lyra’s measured stars. But I must learn anew
To cope with darkness: these voids won’t do
As palps where I could plot the dusty lore,
The diagrams, the arty emblems you ignore,
Your blood too thin to tick into the brain
The winged horse mustered from the sod
To be the Muses’ pet, a demi-god
High in black heaven. I will not strain—
The chalk crumpling, your eyelids flickering—to explain
Why ignorant men pricked darkness full of scars
And gave them godly names, and called them stars.
You quench whole constellations on the black
Walls of your skulls; arts you dishonour die.
[...] Read more
Meanwhile, In Another Part Of The War
On the street of the concrete refugee tenements
That have collapsed into the smoking holes
The Israeli rockets blew open at dawn’s early light,
The sundered limbs and torsos of a Jenin family
Lie with the shards and dust of their household,
Three generations, shredded like paper dolls.
There are no heads to be found. They never had heads.
If they had heads, the Israeli spokesman assures
The State Department, the U.N., the Believers,
The CNN camera, with his shy smile, in
His Noo Yock twang, they wouldn’t have been
Where the terrorists were.
“Of the three-month-old infant,
Crushed in its cradle, and the eighty-year-old
Shepherd who retired twenty years ago when Israelis
From Russia drove off his flock at gunpoint,
And his son’s wife, and the schoolboy, all buried
In the holes the rockets made, which ones
[...] Read more