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Your love of wild horses
You were steadfast in your passions:
Patrick Moore on the universe,
Van Gogh, the sea,
wild horses on the Carmargue.
All best seen on the small screen
in your firm estimation.
And Monet and Turner on postcards.
Your tangible universe downsized to your flat,
then your room, then your rocking chair,
which frustrated the hell out of all of your common sense family:
‘You need to exercise!’
‘Use it or lose it!’ we’d bark.
But you loved to watch the clouds
racing across the sky
through your velux
as your mind roamed well-worn tracks
to the void, black holes,
the beyond, the big questions.
You’d shrunk so small by then
you slipped the halter of your life with ease
and fled the stable of your cherished home
on a wisp of breath…
above your bed a horse
with wings: Pegasus
on a postcard.
Myrtle accepts containers
‘Myrtle accepts containers,’
I read, when I bought the little shrub
for it’s coconut-scented leaves
and tiny vanilla flowers
for the pot by the back door.
‘Lone species. Associated
with Aphrodite, who hid behind it
when pursued by Zeus. Used
in bridal crowns, bouquets.’
And further down, I learned
its oil was used as antidote to stings
of scorpions, that tannin for leather
was made from its bark and roots.
And then I remembered the tree
at Moni Paliani: higher than the church,
and the convent grown around it.
The cobwebs in the canopy are thick
as hide with dust. There is no space
in the matt of branches where
birds, snakes, hedgehogs, rodents,
lizards, bats and moths have built
and left their nests. It’s suffocating
in there, dry as birdbones,
snail shells, beetle carapaces,
vacated snake skins.
Burdens of prayers, both appeals and gratitude,
clutter its lower storeys: used crutches,
metal corsets, false limbs given back.
And human hands, arms, feet, legs,
eyes and hearts on cheap tin plaques.
And the icon, just wedged in there
among the debris and the branches.
A lamp burns perpetually beside Her.
Agia Myrtia. Holy Myrtle.
Did her feet
sink in these trembling meadows,
shedding waxy flakes of skin like petals
of cow parsley among this gloss
of stems? Did her rancid stench
stale the lemon blossom scent?
Would her eyes
squinting in terror at this much colour
have searched desperately for purple
shade to match their own? Perhaps
the slender gladioli stirred occluded
memory of her un-forced limbs.
And the cistus rose brought crimson shame
to her coarsened cheeks, their bloom
Were her thin moans
drowned by the thick whirr of the bees?
Here among the quenching canopies
of walnut trees, would poppies, deep
enough for a girl to drown in, have filled
her with dread…that her bones
would be dry among thorns, cracked
for the marrow by the lammergeyer
when summer had clawed earth dry
Or, did she lie
swooning in scent on this chamomile
quilt, dreaming she heard the purr
of a turtle dove, and sipped the sweet
from the honeysuckle’s tip?
And while she slept
did scarlet snowmelt seep
from her frozen womb, the fresh red
of pomegranate flowers?
And when she woke
did irises revive in her
the endless hope of blue?
the open lobes of an orchid
drew moisture to her lips
and the tongue of the dragon arum
rose in her rested thighs.
One rush hour on The Underground last year,
foetal elephants swam all filmy pink
on everyone’s front page. Our communal
unconscious held its breath. Trains
floated in unspoken tenderness.
One walks on our windowsill, silver-etched
with sacred signs, the sparkle of elephant
aura, the spirit of mighty Ganesh,
who even carried me, when I travelled
shamanically, ears tyrannosaurus butterflies.
Harvey Nichols, Fourth Floor:
a wonderland of silks and sushi,
sky high prices. Discreet designer
label on soft hide jacket reads -
I put my glasses on - elefant.
Maybe it means the colour? Or?
I see into two tiny rheumy eyes
meet mine from a vast expanse of cranium,
old before its time, as the baby’s trunk,
thicker than my arm, wetlips
peanuts from my tingling palm.
I feel that sway again, under my straddled
thighs, the shudder and steady as the path tips
slippery, down to the river. Alarm,
when the trunk lifts, trumpeting
wild relatives, gathered among the shadows
of the baobabs, like ghosts of ancestors,
watching the tame orphans we are riding.
And in our open jeep, another day,
a family extending nonchalantly
around us, not caring to change
their route at our incursion. One nudge
could topple us, one careless step
could kill. We feel them flow gravely
by, are drawn into elephantkind.
But our kind has harnessed their patience
for our gain. Harvested their ivory
in a waste of shame. We cull them still,
saying their numbers grow too fast for
the environment to sustain. And now
savage poverty unprotects them yet again.
Can anyone afford to wear this jacket?
A mad elephant is said to be in must.
And we must be mad enough to tear
designer labels from our lives, trumpeting our rage.
(Click Ethical Consumer,
Harvey Nichols page.)
Motionless on the white
wall by the blue
stove, frozen by light
and endless space
evicted from your dark, snug
under-bark bed in the woodpile
among all the other bugs,
you’re probably just lost
but so poised in your lethal
engineering, aesthetic precision –
inflated curvature of claws, symmetrical,
and up-curled sting, dark spring ready,
to unsnap. Like snake, inspiring awe.
Like snake. Inspiring. Awful, too
in perfect otherness, yet I do
know you, love you, take you
in close up, snap. Then nudge you tenderly
to a shovel; but now you’re fast with fear. I jump
back, don’t panic, sweep you up again.
At arm’s length, tip you on the dump.
But is it far enough away?
Earlier we’d found babies under a stone
in the garden: maybe we’re inviting
a colony by leaving them alone
unlike the millipedes and woodlice and the snails.
We all have our prejudices, but I’ve read
of ancients who depicted a scorpion
under the sacred marriage bed.
are panicked and your thin, bruised hands
clutch at the honeycomb cover.
What exactly is hurting?’
‘Down there! Get someone, get a ruddy nurse!’
‘They’re serving dinner now, they’ll come
Last week you lay contorted on your side
so as not to lie in a pile of your own
I had to stand
at a distance from the stench, had nothing
to clean you up with, and didn’t know
how to lift you.
along the slippy clean corridor for a nurse,
avoiding vacant stares from wheelchairs
the smell of gravy from the kitchen.
‘I’m on break. Ask Barry.’
No, I couldn’t blame them. But I could
have scratched their scrubbed faces
with my uncut nails.
to me.’ ‘Who is?’ ‘That one.
That big one. She hurts me.’
Then she swept
in, clattering the curtains shut, like
I shouldn’t be there and hadn’t
seen it all.
Now I tuck
your silky penis over the rough lip
of the cardboard bottle.
Roll on latex gloves, and gently
cream your bottom, stinging
from incontinence and enemas.
Later, you suck
on a segment of clementine, spit
the slippery pips into the cup
of my hand.
Nil by Mouth* week 3
Still no swallow, so we’d brought you things
to smell: lavender was in bloom
and I plucked rosemary as I trudged
along the dual carriageway from Silver Street.
Tessa brought different kinds of mint
from her Berkshire garden. You sniffed,
and grunted what we took to be approval.
Encouraged, I’d brought essential oils today:
chamomile, geranium, frankincense, and rose.
Your translucent nostrils quivered at each
brief inhalation. You had me repeat the names,
savouring them all except ylang ylang .
Then from the twilit depths of your confusion,
as if the oils had cleared some mental passageways
like menthol for the mind, a thought surfaced,
and your face took on a patina of light
as when a new moon seems to distil
the afterglow of sunset as she sinks.
‘You can leave the bottles in the drawer,
and we can have some more tomorrow
instead of listening to music.’ Adding
considerately, ‘After all, one is familiar
with the music, you know. But one isn’t
familiar with this. It’s very interesting.’
Along the dual carriageway walk on air.
One is becoming familiar
with this ballooning happiness
held on a rope of grief.
*written above the bed of patients who cannot eat or drink due to impaired swallowing reflex.
The early morning sea
is calm, like a lacquered lake
where each sliver of fish
seems held like a tiny kite by its own shadow
on pale sand, firm as young skin.
I tiptoe in, then breathe and glide
broad as a turbot underwater.
Beneath the cliffs, the sea is forest green
like when the sun’s partial eclipse
deep-dyed the turquoise late last Spring
while tourists ate lunch at Dimitri’s
and workmen, puzzled, pulled on sweaters
frowning at the sky.
Late last night, my father’s life eclipsed
while nurses made him comfortable for the night.
Now I swim on and on, and breathe and breathe
right out to where the white cliffs rise at Kera
past the point of no return around the headland
to where the shallow water slathers
over spikes and seaweed
and I am fearful of sea urchins
but wobble ashore
stand safe on stone and trembling
on another beach.
Netting the window
My window is a grid
of railway tracks, a conical
mountain of gravel, a yellow
earthmover, and a row of parked
trucks. And the skinny winter trees
that can’t hide any of it. I run the mental
tapes of justified complaints I ought to make,
then sigh and close my eyes to meditate. I hear
the clatter as a Sheffield train hurls past.
A dull whirr and clunk of the washing
machine. But that’s not the kettle
it’s a robin’s scarlet
song unravelling. And that’s
the scattered coin of a bluetit’s chat.
I breathe and look again. The window
is netted with a luminous web. Mauve
hair of the weeping birch is ribboned
with silver. The ivy leaves are
pools of mercury. Above
the numinous chicken
run, a sky the clean
blue-green of an
Welcome to Apokoronou!
Green jewel in Crete’s fair crown.
Majestic snow peaked mountains,
cypress forests, turquoise seas.
Why just join the tourist hoards?
Make yourself at home!
What are you waiting for?
Moussaka the new paella.
Pizza or Pasta. Chicago Diner.
All day breakfasts. Cretan diet,
the healthiest in the world. Official.
Cheap booze too.
Minoan Properties, Aegean Estates.
Hellenic Homes. New Century.
Vision of Crete. Euroland:
we are all here to help you live
Some evenings you can see the doves
on the ledges of old houses
gilded like closed eyelids
before they rise as one
into a wide parabola:
all their curved breasts
Beaches crowded? No problem.
Have a swimming pool. Very cheap.
We make you a beautiful garden.
Natural paradise. Most of us cover the soil
in plastic, plant some pots and spread around
nice white gravel. Automatic watering,
no weeds. A gnome or two.
We have badgers and polecats,
see them splayed out on a road near you.
And many birds. Many threatened species.
Very threatened. And Pigeons. Doves even.
Above the village church
the high aloni,
the hidden donkey trails
and gold-tinged terrace walls
flashing like foil
in aerial meanders
backlit against storm clouds
they seem to silence
the stuttering rock breaker
the rumbling of rubble
dumped on new slag heaps
the drone of the digger.
Concrete is cheapest,
but stone if you insist: Visit
our many quarries.
Concrete is quicker though,
more versatile. Any colour you like.
Express yourself, be different,
stand out from the crowd.
We have historic buildings, of course (crumbling)
ruined villages, ripe for re-development,
(stone arches have been
many vacant plots in beauty spots
some with traditional features.
Among the secret angles of the boulders
bared by February rains
a tiny corbel-vaulted shepherd’s hut
and threshing circle
clean- rimmed with weathered stone…
violet, magenta, indigo, cerise.
Enjoy all year sunshine.
No water problems, plenty rain.
Plenty. Rivers run red
with soil from building sites.
Floods last October flushed
fifteen cars straight out to sea,
(problem - car park on riverbed, see!)
One nice Enlishman drowned - sorry,
got carried away there.
Hotels were closed, but new one built
by river before the mud has dried,
guests in by spring.
Kittens call like starlings
their plangent requests.
Ravens crunch the air
like split kindling (still needed
in the cool of evenings).
Soot black swifts hiss down
from snow-slicked mountains.
Song-birds are not yet cancelled
out by cicadas.
on the cat-walk, gathers into her gaudy
extravaganza the poignant monologues
of earlier months: anemones are
massed choirs now, though January
saw them first in tranquil hues.
Solo gladioli, still pert, pink, elegant,
pirouette above a rich riot of golds:
Jerusalem sage, crown daisies,
sun-spurge. And purple-rich
bitumen pea, fierce spears of violet
rock-lettuce, ill-named goatsbeard.
I plant my lily
by myrtle: plain rapture
in a tender shade.
Nothing you can’t do fast with these Albanian builders.
Nothing. All illegal immigrants, so no taxes to pay, no IKA.
Don’t trust them though, they have a criminal mentality.
We sell security systems, naturally.
Lots of Russians now. Norwegians, Swedish, too.
Very multi-cultural. Speak English very good.
Missing home? Get Daily Mail, satellite TV
and broadband. Nice English neighbours.
Meet at Fiona’s caf or Duncs for Sex
on the Beach and Karaoke.
Booze very cheap of course.
Smokes even cheaper, and we all smoke
here, anywhere we want. Free country.
No nanny state. No New Labour.
Men are still men here. Pay cash, no tax to pay.
You want a receipt for that? That’s 19 percent
extra, for VAT. Nod and a wink,
know what I mean?
Locals are friendly. No crime. Murders? Nah,
that was Albanians. Must’ve been.
Some evenings you can see them
on the ledges of old houses
gilded like closed eyelids
Silent night, I think, and again of you
shrunken, in your seagreen quilt, dead
as an almond blackened on the tree in winter.
A faint smell of late jasmine:
the flower Greeks gave to departing guests
like blown kisses, reaching only air.
This air, warm as your dog’s tongue.
A loving seduction of night, smeared
by an ordinary ache. We long
for a perfection of release
these nights, these stars
suggest is possible.
out of the seagreen night
white silence of owlglide
of its own perfection
all of it
flight feathers uplifted
onto the top branch
of the pomegranate tree.
A spindle of silence whorls me.
Flared cape closed around shoulders,
it’s settled to watch me:
a stranger cloaked in her losses.
As if this weren’t enough,
when wing fan springs and spreads again
its lift-off swoops so near
me, I am caught in the updraft,
sucked clean enough to see
you, who hunted like an owl
pouncing on revelation
with a perfection of release
you’d always known