First Ten


  1. Lady Isis
  2. Your house grows…
  3. Festival in the City
  4. Venus – Botticelli, Velasquez
  5. February Birthday
  6. Between States
  7. Of course….
  8. Transitions
  9. Mary Looks Up
  10. Seventh Anniversary

Lady Isis

Lady Isis, I love the way
you’re distant when I’m close
close when I’m distant
and what a strong lady you are
except when I need strength
and how tender, except when I’m raw

When you first loved me
you were the shore
and I was the river rushing past;
when I loved you
I was the boat
and you were the fearsome eddy

Now my limbs
are scattered on the water
I beg you, put me together
and when I’m whole, Lady Isis,
and firm as a rock in the sun
tear me apart

*      *      *

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Your house grows…

Your house grows to a city whose mazes twine;
I sing a limpid air over water as limpid
To gaze on, intent and blank, till the snake uncoils in your spine;
Listen while I tell you the way, scorned as too simple

Learn this by rote, understanding dulls the wits
And keep it where neither sight nor sound can tempt you;
In the inmost room, birthday-naked, a child still sits
With eyes round as the world, and a mind empty

Out of mountains of pain, over a loch of lead
A grey bird came, whose breast was compassion’s crimson;
The spray he held was wormwood, these are the words he said

I could recount each secret, from dawn to the end of time,
And how we shaped the basin the water brims in;
But the song turns on its heel with a rhyme

It turns on its heel and ends with a smiling rhyme

*      *      *

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Festival in the City

Festival in the city; the coloured flags up above;
The crowding streets, the drink spilling, the young boys
And girls are even making love in the streets;
High in the air, the dragons cross and re-cross,
The amber dragons, filling the air with wing-beats,
But the people below are drinking and making love.

Festival in the air; hotter than seven summers
The dragons’ breath coils round the spires in gusts
Below, the streets cross and re-cross kike a maze;
The cathedral opens, the sanctity of the day persists;
The women’s clothes conceal their flesh from all eyes;
High above them, the coloured glass pieta glimmers….

But the Virgin’s dress shows up her love-worn breasts
And the sleeping god’s hand left between her thighs.

*      *      *

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Venus – Botticelli, Velasquez

Tomorrow on, I promise – but look who comes
Surfacing in the light, and her skin is dry
Her beauty high and bright as her bright
Planet, while spiritual fish leap round her –

Venus herself, the darling, who stripped and lay
Full-length beside her mirror and preened herself –
Her back-view’s in Diego’s painting
Making an artefact of her body.

Tomorrow, maybe, I’ll get the balance right:
Delight in head and shoulders, but from there down
No longer flounder in the ocean
Pleading for help from the one who drowns me.

*      *      *

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February Birthday

The snowdrop’s arms can scarcely hold
This weight of snow, that hold she must –
The birthday seems to slip away –
Her sightless eyes are full of cold
Her breathless mouth welded with dust;
The weight above her fierce and blind –
If those arms prayed, how they would pray!
If dawn could come, what would it find?
When will it come? When will it come?

*      *      *

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Between States

Through half-closed eyes, rocked on the train,
My winter-coat slumped opposite seems
Shuffled off, snake-like, in a last sleep.
Forwards and backwards the symbols go
And the hills the train winds through are no
Bigger than the rocks where a viper sleeps.
Dreamily on she winds, between one
City and the next, and back again.

*      *      *

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Of course….

Of course, you’ll say
we were here, or we were here
and answer, I remember, yes
I remember, and memory
rises like a prince and beams down
on the winter-strewn paths
and the people with their patches and
ghosts of smiles. But for all that
you can never match the things that happened
or the dew sparkling
where they were, but have passed. And so
I’ll go on searching for you
in a different landscape.

*      *      *

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The yellow leaves
losing their grip
rattling down each time
a breeze stirs up the mist

Several times I’ve looked up
questioningly, from the sodden
ground –
nothing speaks

If life from now,
with these changes, were
to hold only that


Like autumn
a shape turns in on itself
the shoulders are drawn in
she stoops
her arms are folded
across her chest
like a gate, barred tight

I’m keeking in at the garden –
half of a red rose
still glows there in the mist

There’s no way
of speaking to her direct

If there could only be
a glance towards the sky
that hangs like velvet
above the trees
like woman drawing man
with moisture, hanging

*      *      *

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Mary Looks Up

I skipped and played, but listlessly
The mist made my eyes dim;
I saw my brother in a tree
And our old dog with him.

So now I’m glad to think they’ve got
Each other’s company;
It made me anxious when I thought
He’d be lost without me

But oh, the tree went high, so high
And no low branches there at all;
To reach that branch, and never fall,

They must have had to fly;
And not a glance can I recall
From boy’s eye or dog’s eye.

*      *      *

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Seventh Anniversary

I found him naked in the rain;
His lips were pearl, his skin was gold;
In wool and silk I wrapped him then
To keep him both from heat and cold;

I watched him grow in steps and springs;
In seven years he came to me;
He shone like fire, and eagles’ wings
Were where his pale arms used to be;

Then is it time to fly?
To burn and prophesy?
The wind is limpid clear, but my one certainty is doubt;

He answers in a rhyme:
Be secret while there’s time;
What’s whispered by the hearth soon cracks the rooftops in a shout.

*      *      *

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One response to “First Ten

  1. Pingback: April 23 | Coldhome

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