The leaves fall, washed-out, thin,
and lie like papers on an earth
forever Agnieszka’s, a soft dark envelope
for her less than a year; the centre
of a green yet to be turned.
A family plot. No going back.
We live where the sharpest memories lie,
in the jostling of passion and pain, until
one wins out, sets, and sets us
in a pattern never dreamt of.
And the wonder at a flight
of bees, red swallow-throat,
a shimmering on the roofs of island houses,
arrow into the stab of loss
on seeing a child’s name on a cross.
All grief is cornered here,
let the sun struggle; this is its time,
let it struggle, as we do to recall
an unclosed face, a wakening,
in London and beyond,
our weathered dead.
THREE VIEWS OF A SQUARE
‘The place or the medium of realization is neither mind nor matter,
but that intermediate realm of subtle reality which can adequately
be expressed only by the symbol.’ – Jung, Collected Works
Two figures by coincidence
have broken from the swarm, the single mind,
they stand apart, still, like boats on a sea
becalmed. One goes, the other leans
on the railings, looking into the park,
his eyes fixed on nothing in particular.
How narrow the footpath is,
its edge worked loose like worn piano keys,
the square is an old neighbour left too long
alone, house-fronts sagging at the same rate,
gravel-grass left just too long for weeding.
Niobe at the bottom of the steps
gazes ahead, gives no sign of seeing
the empty plinth, white shards a halo
of confetti among granite chips. The tide
on both sides comes and goes, same sound, same end.
From rooms with windows almost ceiling-high,
heat sacrificed to light, tree tops
in summer break against
a car-park ugliness, the death of artisan rows
felled one by one. We could be happy here.
A woman moves, two shopping bags in hand,
bowed as if by that conditional,
the weight of a time when nothing was too new,
a restlessness that eddies in the end
to dim backwaters. Children of the square,
dispersed worldwide, peer through toughened glass
of office windows. Rich with vanished pride,
some city corner their eyes light upon,
straining to focus, feeling an old sense
of nest-warmth, numbers, the fluid ease of hope,
the gathering, breath on birthday candles.
And from the roof the needlepoint of spires,
little more than landmarks. One, icing-white,
looks down on remnants of a village,
old ribbonned streets, dead pastoral contours
giving onto the pincered driveways of estates.
Today, a sky dark as when the church
was a tip of light on canvas, a bristle
of purity among the slate and olive,
the fancied grove, the bled-out spring. A snap,
a skylight shuts, the armour of the now
drawn tight. If names were colours, the square
would be the mid-point of a crazy quilt,
each corner knotted to the long pretence
that nothing changes, children flown return
untouched, radiant, to enormous rooms
that recognise them, walls that guard their dreams.
In this age of sentimental
atheists, where septuagenarian rock stars
crank up unearthly decibels, there must be
a heaven for old guitars –
not collector’s items; the discards
whose strings grow rusty, pegs arthritic,
those unloved whose warped necks
were a beginner’s purgatory.
At last no more than the sum
of their elements, they wait for the room
to fall, the floor to crumble,
the drum of rain to pool
around their silence. Pity
the music they never got a chance
to make; boys who have long since
run to fat can still dream,
conjuring illusions along the air,
troubling their thinning hair,
but here nothing, a scratching of mice,
perhaps. Someone has missed
them, then forgotten. Don’t step across;
lift them, blow away the dust
with a mute tenderness.
The sun will be coming up now on the rows of vines
and later cars will roll up and the immemorial custom
of the lake will be re-enacted. How long
since the first sacrifice, the boat breaking the water’s calm,
the creaking of its oars the only sound?
No silence on the shore now. The only troubles are private,
put aside; children, sandaled even in October, play
a careful distance from spread cloths and charcoal.
But the warmth is making ready to leave, as the swallows
have lately done; if a window catches gold
it will be for the shortest time. Yet Twann stands pure
in a memory of twenty years or more,
held in some dim recess: now for an hour
it gleams like a cross in a procession.
Here, in this small space,
is as high as you can go,
far enough for breathlessness
and that powdery blue
leaching from sky onto land.
Everything is at the edge of sight
and here it is - the astonishment
at being where nothing belongs,
not even the hardiest goat
worries the grass in cracks
sheltered by an overhang.
A moment for the head
to clear, the lungs to fill.
Nothing more shouts transience
than a place where nothing changes,
where, away from it all,
there is nowhere to hide.
This morning contours were ridges
on a fingerprint, green
giving way to yellow, to brown.
Now the eye sweeps across counties
slipping into each other, like age
or that thin cold no sun shifts.
White floats like smoke round
the edge of a wood, limed
fields are a remnant of frost,
and it takes a little longer each time
to shake off tiredness and thirst
as if the mountain was filling out
like the young as you drift
away from them, each summit
reached now with no more than a sense
of having won in spite of weakness,
which is still enough, as it was once,
that first climb, exhausted, giddy,
adrenaline pumping its joy through the body.