Fourth Ten

  1. Scattering of Ken Grant’s ashes, Quirang, September 16 2012
  2. Ken Grant, 60th birthday
  3. At Cockcrow Comes
  4. One Per Cent of Worry
  5. For my archeologist friend Don Evely
  6. Stewart & Theresa’s Wedding 1993
  7. Mother
  8. Beach scene I – Another Evening
  9. Beach scene II – Paused
  10. Sibelius

1. Scattering of Ken Grant’s ashes, Quirang, September 16 2012

There was a man we knew –
well, there was a man
and everyone knew what he did
but nobody knew who he was;
so no-one knew where he was going
and in the end when he left
nobody knew where he’d gone.

The people gathered on a hillside
all without words, without ways
to pinpoint him (although
that’s what they wanted to do),
watched here and there, bits of him
here and there like ash scattered
and none of them thinking: that’s the man;

And so a bird flew over
heading inland from the sea
and everyone thought the bird
could be the man and everyone
put their thoughts on the bird, expecting
the bird to be the man, but the bird
turned and headed to sea again.

Many sights to be seen
inland and out to sea
and some they take and hold
in a frame, squared and measured….
But nothing remains: mountain and sea
slide and shift, clouds hide and unveil
in the unfocussed circle of the bird’s eye.

Those who are left behind
think more of themselves –
the empty place at the table
the glass filled but not drunk –
and only now and then stop to wonder
where the bird’s flight took him and whether they’d see
the man or the bird in flight again.

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2. Ken Grant, 60th birthday
There’s a whole busy nation out there on the hunt
Taking harvest while the sun’s still good:
Can you bring it together, make some account,
A winter’s tale? – Yes, you know you could

But however you beat up your labouring mind
Search among sticks, peer under stone,
Like a newspaper the thaw left behind
The material’s there, the meaning gone.

So you see it’s time to raise a glass
To the man out front with the highest bid
And smile and nod, and let it pass
If it makes no sense; for it never did.

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3. At Cockcrow Comes
(for Cilla Gordon-Duff, a fortieth birthday present).
A piper’s a man who’s always thirsty;
a well’s where your voice goes great and hollow;
a pipe’s for music, and smoking, and bird-song
and to provide water.

Round a well, or a piper, the people gather;
you’ve your work cut out to forestall a quarrel:
you’ve a joke, or a jar, to set them laughing
or to provide water.

An old man under a trellis, smoking;
he coughs like dust, his skin’s like a kipper:
“the levels are sinking in all the boreholes” –
he loves a captive listener.

You’ve turned forty, and all of a sudden
you can encompass death, he’s your sparring partner
from now till it seems not worth the trouble
and you find you’re listening, captive,

And music booms up from dripping caverns
and children, like sparks on the horizon,
are piping birdsong in human accents
and at cockcrow comes the piper:

He’s the man who’s always thirsty, trying
the lid of every pot or bottle –
he wants friends fit to organise things
and to provide water.

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4. One Per Cent of Worry
With his eyes on the clock on the wall
on the swinging weight on its line
the king who let his kingdom fall
dreams of that courtesan –

Listener, you may not sleep
walker, you may not hurry;
a fisher who drops his line in the deep
has little else to bury.

With his eyes on the one lit lamp
the fire-eater smiles at peace
a glass in his hand, his throat cool and damp
his thoughts in a far place –

Listener, you may not sleep
walker, you may not hurry;
a shepherd who pens his ninety-nine sheep
has one per cent of worry….

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5. For my archeologist friend Don Evely
We’ve grown up to a flabby age,
to a fond belief in more knowledge,
knowledge for more, and all
that flabby libertarian garbage
limping on human goodness for a crutch.
Now we would be doing well,
with someone’s children in mind, to scratch
(leaning down from our narrowing ledge)
a message on a buried wall.

We climbed up on prosperity’s back;
it seemed some livelihood might be assured
even for the rasher spirits lured
(like us) onto a useless track;
we seized a challenging, misty-eyed mood
looking ahead, and never feared
contraction, sudden lack;
we expected “pitfalls on the road”
and thought ourselves well-enough inured.

And thought ourselves thus well-armed on
our wedding days, believed we’d run
the whole gamut of buts and ifs
and pain that might, or might not, come. –
Better, all ways, not to plan
one’s portion in either brats or wives:
it’s a thorny old conundrum
whose answer’s indecipherable in
bloody hieroglyphs.

My friend, me heart’s ached over you,
just like myself, but what good can it do?
It seems we’re held by our choices.
Let’s hope some warmth will penetrate through
the rich ground where we hoped they’d grow.
Meanwhile, to be gladdened by small releases:
I to scratch letters in a row,
you to listen, the odd moment, to
the past’s triumphant voices.

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6. Stewart & Theresa’s Wedding 1993
You will remain sincere. There is a shout
like a man’s shout from over the brow of the hill.
A full mile away it sets the trees shaking. Down in the valleys
where the red streetlights huddle, it is unheard, but it creeps in
under traffic-noise and window-frames, disquieting, shapeless.

You will remain sincere. A finch flutters from post to post
ahead of her, till she reaches the forest.
She walks without haste, and the bird seems impatient
and it’s hard to tell if she’s driving it or if she’s following
but it’s all one when she’s in under the swaying trees
and can hear the whirlwind gathering in their darkest corner.

A shadow darkens the sky all down its length:
looking up, the people in the valley think it’s the falling of night.
They have not heard the voice from the hill, now grown
to a pervasive clangour. They have sickness, disturbed sleep,
but do not know they’re seeing the beginning of the end.

This is what you two have stepped out into:
and what can we do but shrug and say, have it as you will
and what can you do but wait, eat, drink,
be happy, do some juggling, gather your strength;
there is little good coming. You must be sincere
and make the best of it you can.

The wind is rising. All the big things are juggled up into it;
the towers are bowled over; whatever stands fast
is dragged up by the roots. Take comfort in smallness:
take a leaf from the finch crouching among the stones
of the march-wall on the hilltop;

and you are better linked together: four-feet square
is better than two-foot tottering. He can look out for both of them:
the dark is huge, the star-pricks small but quite perfect.
She can hatch out young. You can accustom your ears
to the new sounds. Amidst the roaring, cracking, crashing,
the small silences: a conversation, help unsought, a sign of growth.

One last thing. I have been to the other side of the hill.
I saw the shouter’s face. His mouth squared with his bellowing,
his teeth blunt as stones in a decayed wall,
his swollen cheeks red as the evening sky,
there was no conversing with him. Sit quiet. Eat, drink, be happy,
gather your strength. Remember not to argue.
You will remain sincere, bareheaded under the sky.

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7. Mother
Have you not learned yet,
followed in her footsteps enough,
repeated history, lived in her pain –
will you not be content till you are her?

A sponge won’t empty all by itself:
pressure is needed and a firm hand.
You’ve grown so heavy with another’s woe
I touch you, hot liquid runs through my fingers.

Do you not understand where she has to go?
how she’s a jewel that will come to shine
while we look at her and marvel? –
but we wait, and all we hold’s a clod.

We sit here and wait for rain
and it seems we’ll never have enough;
perhaps it bodes well for the future
that you fill yourself so with what’s been.

But dear, it falls so hard
as we wait on a second chance,
while you go a second time through
the pressures that turn clay to crystal.

Now you’re off again, chasing her shadow,
the selfsame shadow she’s after;
round that grinning skull you both go
that’s long lost warmth and moisture.

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8. Beach scene I – Another Evening
Another evening reddens down;
like water hidden on the moon
her silver fingers conjure and
her hair falls down unbound
like the streams that meet the tide
in their sand-runs, like the crying
of the seabirds that
the night has gathered round;
like the words held in their song
like the roads that curbed her wandering
she has followed, but
her hair has come unbound.

Walk where the rocks throw shadows
sharp as past pain, and walk where
she bends down and searches out
her shells in pools of moonlight moonlight…..

A girl came wading from the waves
naked and cool as the sea-breeze
and smoothed her wet hair from her waist
and offered pleasure –
offered what I pleased…..

I laughed and ran to her as fast
as my fast-aging legs would go;
she waited and like me she laughed
how strong the flecked tide flowed;
but even as I took her waist
and felt the firm hips in my hold
her silver fingers conjured and
the scene was all unwound;
like the words held in their song
like the roads that curbed her wandering
she has followed, but
her hair has come unbound.

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9. Beach scene II – Paused
On an empty beach I see you
running towards me
nothing between us –
what stops, so suddenly appalling?

An image of me crawling
down on the floor, crashing
my head against walls and
watching it burst in lashed foam

On an empty beach I see
the laced breakers give up their meaning

oh, and not to mention
if it lived here, what it was
what its colour, or
its peculiar shuffle
anything to go on –
not to mention, to shy away
from mentioning

I have forgotten the wasps, and some
I’ve been too timid to step on

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10. Sibelius
Lemminkainen, his hair bright as the sun,
off to do battle on gawky virgins;
Vainamoinen, the grey-haired steadfast one
who sang the wild forest to emergence –
my deep-word master’s heroes. And he mine!
Look at those clenched jowls, rapt forbidding eyes,
reclusion in each feature; women, wine
and abstinence etched on each, sequence-wise.
Already ancient in his cradle-song,
wrenched round, he threw the old off for the young;
wild north-boy off to see the world, and drink
himself half-silly, turned back from the brink:
till on lips wet from old water, I think
both, Vainamoinen, Lemminkainen, hung.

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One response to “Fourth Ten

  1. Pingback: Still Catching Up | Coldhome

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