Photographs by Jane Burn
Anything from a polecat to a dryad
could be stepping from this wood
into Tuesday light but it is you,
ten years back down the Ridgeway path.
Hitching up those jeans, you reach to take
my hand, palm off doubt, knuckle faith
onto ringless fingers. This isn’t you
– this feral stuff – low impulse being
more my thing but that day you push me
up against a tree as old as Silbury.
We emerge from the thicket-gloom aglow
with escape and getting away with it;
it an as yet indeterminate: some fuzzy
co-ordinate on a half-sketched map.
Today I stick to the downland track
that skirts the spot, though stop to look.
Anything from a polecat to a dryad
could be stepping from the wood
into this light but it was you,
among the things I could not see.
The hedgerow was Dad’s cashpoint; from it
he’d casually withdraw the small currencies
of wonder: my first finch egg, sheep skulls,
an old wren’s nest, the dunnock’s four-way
clutch of blue.
…………………Slum-cleared city kid,
he had ranged the estate margins into edgelands
to forage new-found greenery; suck marrow
from deciduous bones, lap time like stolen cream.
What he really handed me was some final flourish
of golden-summer cliché, out-of- step with these times.
No point, then, but the passing-on of breakable things.
LOVERS IN AN UPSTAIRS ROOM
His tongue speaks out the poem of me,
mouthed upon my pillow of down.
Oystercatcher; Hamaguri ni
Hashi o shikka to.
O, those hours in the pleasure quarter,
when we re-write the gō of us, loosen
my hiyoku, give flesh its reason.
And on that Autumn evening
when he cannot fly away, we give
and give and gift ourselves allowing.
Thew, kiss, thigh, lips; his heft
upon me, teeth at my nape,
small lightning from breast to cleft.
Unutterable spoken as caress;
unsayable murmured in his melt
and melt, once more into me.
That bud of me found beneath my silk,
the stock of him, planted deep.
This now, this Autumn gives skin its season.
Oystercatcher; beak caught
firmly in the clam shell.
His eyes seek out the leaves of me
spread before the wind.
Then, suddenly, she’s there: her mother
at twenty, the day we met. That something
about the way she’s leaning against my wall,
adhesive with being: the human
graffiti of me, tattooed, indelible.
She’ll take peppermint tea but no coffee;
so not like me at all, then, until I look
at her and that’s all she is.
She has a name I use for the first time
in five years: father to daughter, formal,
not known at this address until now.
Standing to leave, she looks me in the eye;
hers killing stars in a peregrine sky.
On the doorstep we embrace, awkwardly,
though beyond this brusque shape is knowledge;
perfect, encoded beyond deception.
As she turns to leave, I catch the bell-curve
of tummy, convex on its known course:
first inklings of her own tattoo.
From The Unreturning
Can’t sing a note, not even the Marseillaise – oh, I’ll give it a go when
occasion demands – but I did have the X-Factor they were looking
for. Once the press got hold of it I was an overnight sensation: the
‘Heroine of Loos’, a new Joan of Arc. Golden salons, cocked hats,
bemedalled generals and the public square, as their ballyhoo broke
over me. At seventeen I was that month’s face-of- the-war, mounting
the ‘Staircase of Heroes’ to the Panthéon, blazing my comet of a
season. Sold an exclusive to Le Petit Parisien and got locked in some
chateau to homespin thoughts for the nation. My reason for telling
you? I’m not even writing this.
12. Wild Honey
Sometimes your own ghost joins them, dressing left from the undone
years of your twenties. A tennis ball pings off the back wall of the old
Kongressehalle, as fathers coach precocious children in the latest
craze. Out front, you stand at that lecturn, your brain’s frantic CGI
pixelating the century’s other great set-piece; ordering the ranks,
channelling the ghosts toward a powerless insight. Later, beside the
ovens, you quarrel with a New York Jew before both of you collapse
exhausted into a borrowed tent. What takes you, then, to the woods at
2AM to go fuck the nameless moonlight of each other through to
22. One laptop per child
All we want is PAX but, man, did they unfriend or what? So here they
are lined up in lip sweaters larping like their lives depend on it,
flashing the swammies or shouldering a Boom Stick. And TOS was
worse than TNG, totally FUBAR. It don’t take no G9 to see that
Winter is coming to those squads: they were Bantha Fodder from the
get-go, SOL. And by 1916 you got served whether you liked it or not
and wound up KIA, planking in some field or MIA totally. I’m telling
you, no amount of Dead Presidents would tempt me to get into that,
MOH or no. It’s just not my idea of a good time, just not my idea of