Fifth Ten

  1. At the Knacker’s
  2. A Model
  3. A Blood-Red Dragon
  4. The Tower at Day’s End
  5. Not Yet Among Schoolchildren
  6. A Single Snowdrop
  7. At Drumrack Gate
  8. Renunciation
  9. Respite for a Deserter
  10. Sisyphus Scratches his Head

1. At the Knacker’s

All I remember of the knacker’s unlit shed
is the face of his apprentice, the face looking out
as I dumped my carcase. That held my eye, white
almost as innocence, fringed with a mess of red curls;

It looked as though he had never handled worse
than guitar strings, or perhaps it would be a drum;
memory plays me tricks, but the eyes, as he came
peering out into the sun, seem all of gold.

The gloom was behind; but my pupils grew, I found
all sorts of dim things starting to crystallise
among exhalations it’s best to keep confined….

A mound of bones and flesh (red and white),
a pile of skins, a heap of guts. But the eyes
of the ‘prentice knacker were still peering out and out.

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2. A Model

My soul, I hold you in my hand
a soft feathery thing, hard within, but
for that unguessed finger-trap
my grip slithers in and for all
it seems untouched not virgin-tight…

But now I see, my soul, you are more!
A shape forming in my eyes down and upwards
not unlike my own by weight and measure but
wholly other. And surely
fitting me like a glove. Come let me clutch you.

I hold the air, blank paper, shadows
and colours thrown on a surface. But everywhere
you are looking at me, down from hoardings, up
through the grease of my newspaper plate, wherever
I want props for my virility, you are there.

I am trying to put my finger on you.
Your face is as blank as air, your eyes
tracks dwindling into unguessed potential.
Nothing before you, only one thing I know
human you are not. I am trying
To put my finger on you. You seem
virgin and whore, snake and angel, goddess
and dole, never clothed, never naked, you
seem sexless and nymphomaniac, marble and malleable,
silk and slime. My dazzled brothers declare

You will rise one day to be a bright star.

You are not flesh and blood. Flesh and
blood is not moulded. You
are model. Animated, you are
actress. And how blinding! My purblind
sisters say, if they could be

As many women in as you are, they would never
scrub hard socks again, nor pissed-on floors
be string-taut hunter of off the bad smells, tight-lipped
organiser drudge belly-filler, concealer of mysteries
of dragging weight, lochia, dark discharges,

But always be dancer, seducer, the wielder
of power in the unexpected quarter
and smile how men are Wolves, happy
to lead on and on, and know themselves not
gloated on for anything they are, but share

The cost and ecstasy of shining like a star.

The track winds on. You are a hill
in the night, rising and rising, but
no brow. I hold you in my hand, like
Pygmalion his statue. And dream the light
is growing behind. Perhaps something is there.

Perhaps yourself rising as a star.

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3. A Blood-Red Dragon

The oldest, the richest sight, the Dragon twined round the gold;
blood-red the hide in that distinct light. All of a sudden
the bulky legs flex and spring, the thin wings unfolding
it leaps for the untrammelled region;
But high up, an ecstasy seizes it: the teeth seize onto the lithe
tail, over and over it goes, like poor doomed Phaeton,
distorted like kindling bark, it crashes down in a writhing
mound of reek and poison.

My people have a dream, it dates from the day our family
saw the rise of the battle-caste, saw Eden’s capitulation.
I have a dream – you remember? It comes blazing out each century
each friendship, birth, each war, each new regime’s accession.
It will never die; but torture’s my name for that immortality
watching again and again the agony of its self-destruction.

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4. The Tower at Day’s End
For some, a looking down from heaven’s the promise,
a helping hand, guidance at critical times.
I have constructed a wooden tower for my children:
closer than heaven, rougher than illuminating dreams.

Twenty flights lead up to a windy platform
from where you make out one bitter Pamirs ridge;
twenty flights is all I can muster, a token,
much puffing and blowing to glimpse the edge of the edge.

Poor things, they can’t say they ever had much of a father,
leaving them nothing but this rough, questionable frame,
an open lattice of posts, a wind-whistler,
nothing to hold onto for ancestral pride or shame.

On the fourth flight, I am looking down in patience
at them mooching below on the green forest floor;
whatever am I to do with you,? I wonder.
whatever are we to do with it? they enquire.

On the fifteenth flight, they turn and go off shrugging,
too distant for feature, too deafened by the blustering wind;
I gaze from the crossed posts of ageing timber
smiling how the world recedes, with its warps of sound.

By the nineteenth flight they have drifted back, but follow
as they will, I hide in the mountains, in some mountain cave.
They will see a lost, absolute good in my tower,
waiting for a dreadful stroke to bring it alive.

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5. Not Yet Among Schoolchildren

You must learn to come apart. You must see the great man.
You cannot always sit in the heather amongst your bees
talking to yourself and earning nothing. October, October,
the thick smoke and roaring is the heather burning, the bees
have all gone away down into the hive. And so to your weaning.

Your head is hot, your eyes are swollen. Little one, you have known too
of limitation, lamentation. Do you see the giant’s head
rising out of the hilltop? shaking heather and gravel from his hair?
His eyes are blurred with clay, but soon he will see you.
More and more hills open to sight. And so to your weaning.

I can promise you nothing. Only beyond this pain
Another. The hills have become violent
plunging and rearing in the dim air. Deep in the wide remote green
there is hint of the trees around – the very place- the old schoolhouse
but the summits keep getting lost in clouds.

And then the sunrise
and the tall birch tree over shadow whispering softly flecked with gold
and then the golden sunrise

You must learn to come apart. There is not even kindness, they
will tie you between wild horses, out, out,
into the wilderness. You will howl then, little one;
Little one, I will not be there to help you.

The walls close in. Outside, the air is all the gold flakes
Torn out to let the cold light in. October spatterings
go merging into the one blurred clarity over the windows.
You are arranged in lines. And look, at last, your immense teacher
is bending over you, he looks right into you, dismantling, dissecting

And then unassailable
your golden smile

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6. A Single Snowdrop

A single snowdrop hangs in the glass on the dresser;
her split moons, her mantle, glimmer in the dark of the oak.
A lion man’s face is carved there, his looks caress her;
I think of God, of the crust the flower broke.

I am the moon to his sun: when I feel most full
I quickly shrink to a skelf, to a lantern-horn.
He is the sane to my lunacy, he is the rule,
he the reminder of all this weight to be borne.

I am such nothing: call me healer, prophetess,
I could be all yours – suddenly I’d shriek in the padding
of the walls, as roaring normality burst in to rape me…

Over again carry me; over the abyss;
make your gold find me, alone in the snow’s cladding,
so graceful, so tender, not the least sigh would escape me.

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7. At Drumrack Gate

At Drumrack gate, the beeches’ shelter
has brought out snowdrops in sudden clumps.
When I see, I pause, before going
to pay my rent at the farmhouse door.
In the field are herded sheep, in their corner
huddling from twilight rain.
Sudden gusts blow, a flock of pigeons
is driven homeward to Redwells Wood.

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8. Renunciation

Rowan in a halo of gold and red, a crop
as heavy as this meaning a hard winter. Beside
our road, the golden bracken leans or stands
looking like people waving to us as we ride,
but it seems to me that after we’ve passed they’ll drop
as if crushed, it seems by grief, and the winter rain
beat on their dull decay. And when I think
of you now, it’s shrouded in a halo of pain
gaunt-limbed, thorns in my head, and it makes me shrink
to a shadow of what I want to be to you;
while the thing you are to me takes on proportions
I never meant it to have, like towers founded
or unassailable spires above the forced-down
leaves the winter rains come slashing through.

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9. Respite for a Deserter

The man with owl’s tuft-ears and slant empty pits for eyes
is searching the twilight for me. I hear his breath. Wide-eyed
under mistletoe, in violet air where snow is promising:
backwards and forwards he goes, lean-visaged among the trees.
His nose is keen, and I’ve not washed for weeks.

I hold onto these computer-threads, thinking how little I know.
Another man follows me, his white coat and smooth-shaven face
are proof of his great knowledge. A man in black has joined him
holding a book were all the mores are tabulated.
Cunning as a serpent, I watch them, while my listless alter ego
sits turning over fictions out of a past life.

A door of squared stone opens into space, in a golden mist
like dawn. Out of it men step and float down in the depthless gold.
I am hidden in my cave, thinking of the graves in autumn,
of the paratroopers over Ardennes, over Suez, too much perplexity’s
turned me into an alchemist, with visions of gold.

I hold onto the facts I was fed with, nursed by overmuch conscience.
I don’t murder, lie, bed other men’s women. That’s his criminality.
The shadows deepen. The snow begins to fall, the cave’s edges
thicken gradually. I hear his breath, but his prints in the snow
are certainly receding. I have respite. The snow buzzes
over the screen, then resolves into an image.

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10. Sisyphus Scratches his Head

I have believed so long
that I was doing things the right way and all would turn
out well, my head has grown stiff
as a mountain peak. Now things have changed,

The rolling years have left, in the top of my head,
A dent. She is soft, cupped,
a gatherer of water. And through the limpid skin
red sedges grow, on account of which

I call her the Lochan of Blood. And yet
Drink: she is clean, acid, remote; nothing stirs
the brown cloud round that glimmering white stone
down below. But I call her that

And with impunity; you see, since natural causes –
‘flu or psychosis or so – are awakening
The Inner Man, my head is bloodshot
my lids grey, throbbing, seamless cloud drawn over the roof.

What I have found if, I speak
of my own experience, is no one listens, no one
participates. But if I speak above the heads
of my experience universally, artistically, as wind

These withered rowan-leaves are cackling.
No community. So all I have experienced is
not being heard. So what else is for me
than lying open to the rain and begging

Hare and deer to drink. I have been here
so long, but scarcely know if I can say so yet.
Turn that around: I have said I am here so long
But scarcely know if I am.
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