June – David O’Hanlon

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In Passing

after Deor

Before you, there was Emma. Before me
there was Drew. We did the weeping
and the wailing for them first.
But that passed. This will too.

You’d assure me that you loved me
several times a day, as though it wasn’t true
if it wasn’t on your lips.
But that passed. This will too.

For years (how many? two? three?) we made do
in that damp and damp-stained flat.
But that passed. This will too.

After what we witnessed in the alley,
I said I’d never be the same again. So did you.
But that passed. This will too.

I lost my job and lost the house
and nearly lost you.
We were separated, near-divorced.
We couldn’t even be in the same room.
But that passed. This will too.

We both used that tiny word, forever.
You even had it tattooed on your shoulder.
But that passed. This will too.

For months your diagnosis changed
on an almost-daily basis. I couldn’t find
stable ground from which to watch you disappear.
But that passed. This will too.

Your half of the bed is empty,
and so am I. But this will pass

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Danaus

When my daughter played outside,
she’d carry with her round the garden,
hugged to her chest, a cracked earthen vase,
dripping water. She wouldn’t let me replace it

or fix the cracks. The drops marked out
a breadcrumb trail over the decking
and the paving slabs. Never would she
reveal to me the inner secret of her game.

I’d watch her from the window,
and Lucretius would muddy my thoughts:
he said if the body’s a vessel,
then the water in it’s the soul,

and each drip was time and nature
taking its toll. The price we all pay.
But I shake such nonsense away.
It’s just a vase and water and a game,

a game the joy of which, as she grew older,
drained away, and now her little earthen vase
stands empty by the door,
but tries to fill with water when it rains.

from History (Valley Press, 2016)

 

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art brut

So, after my swirling black abyss, a work
still in progress, we turned to Emily’s landscape:
a jazz-hands sun, the wide Vs, almost Ms
of birds, a green ribbon, edge to edge,

and, poking their heads up out from the grass,
five earthworms, five pink splodges
more finger than worm, with blobbed eyes
and there’s-no- bad-in- life smiles.

Are they supposed to represent real people
or a specific event, maybe?
It’s a fascinating choice of subject matter.
Worms usually have quite negative associations,

particularly death, but yours are content,
blissful. Do you think maybe there’s
something in that, a desire to make
positives from even the worst situations?

She didn’t take it with her.
Like others left behind, it ended up
on the wall where, my sentimentality
assures me, it remains, unfaded.

from art brut (V. Press, 2015): a sequence of poems set within a young persons’ psychiatric unit

 

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Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1
after Whistler

I don’t quite catch the shape of the complaint under her breath.
She slowly rises and leaves. She doesn’t even glance
toward the canvas which bares this spare arrangement
of elements in the room, its linear simplicity
of squares, rectangles and triangles in white and black and grey:
the curtain parallel to the picture on the wall,
the skirting perpendicular, the rectangle of the floor,
and the singular simplicity of her at the centre.
But as I move from the easel, the balance of the scene shifts,
curtain, picture and skirting slip from their perfect places.
I take her seat, still warm, look on a different wall and know:
my composition is meaningless from her position at its heart.

 

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Narcissus
after Ovid

Narcissus, in his old age, used to tell
all those who came down to his river
how, like the story of the flower,
love at first sight is a myth.

I knelt on the bank to drink
and was caught by beauty, for days saw
nothing more than a face
and its gently trembling features,

but what I grew to love
is how he looks at me, the silent joy
he finds in my laugh, the shock waves
sent through him as my tears hit the surface.

He takes my tales and doesn’t question
the truth of Teiresias and Echo.
(Why run? She was my type.)
As I speak them over, he mouths the words.

And here’s the mark of true love:
they died the same day.

from History (Valley Press, 2016)

 

 

 

Swings

You sit upon a wicker swing
suspended from the ceiling

in the corner of a bar above
the market we buy cupcakes from

to keep our sugar levels up
while getting our tattoos of ampersands

and astronauts and other images
from poems and songs we introduce

each other to
in all the messages we send each day

as though I need to know
what time you go to bed

or you that I had toast
and watched The Orphanage

where there’s more horror in
the truth than in the ghosts

but neither one of us believes in
either one of those

which is why
as nights grow longer

we’re not sure why it is that we’re afraid
or why it is that we’re alone

so we endure until the weekend
and this bar above the market

and this wicker chair on which
I watch you swing your heart out.

 

 

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