wishing you were her

I left you not, because the sky

hung blue above your head.

I left you not, because the sheets

below your back were stained with grass.

I left you, not because.


····


There was an olive grove, alive with bees,

and that is where we did not meet.

The rusty pebbled beach below

is where we did not kiss

because you were not there.

Otherwise, I think, these things might have occurred.


····


A local train shimmies through coastal hills

strikes each tunnel mouth with a shock, a suck

and silence, as a door closes on a room

a party room, to a cupboard or bedroom

and it is night inside.

          The carriage empties.

Now we rush along the tunnel’s sooty

brickwork, or curiously, somewhere just behind it.

We stare in at the empty carriage, at the

seats we do not occupy, knowing

we are not inside there where we were.

Until that door bangs open, and we leave the tunnel,

and the party’s on again. And I am back

inside the carriage, in the daylight,

            but you are gone.


····


The ferry shivvers like a giant dog stretching off its sleep.

Water boils around the props.

Stretching time we inch from the quay,

pick up speed, throbbing westwards over the evening sea.

And who are those two standing at the rail?

Could they be you and me, together, studying the wake?


····


Plates not beaten and bolted together, hammered and smitten –

but welded, coldly somehow but somehow gathering neglected rust.

I am looking for craftsmanship, factoring manufacturing sideslip –

the slipshod misalignments filled up with mild steel.


Friendship, courtship,

shiplap clinker carvel –

steamship no more but diesel.

Does this vessel have no soul?


There, where the water is deepest –

whose trouble is that?


Water seems a neutral enemy.


Westward is a kind of sepulchre –

a bony landing in a coral bay –

a sort of landing in a coral sepulchre –

and yet, you know –  we know –  it’s history –

Coral! Water! It was a sort of dream –

the western landing still a mystery.


Standing sideways to the setting sun,

steel rusting with us, though we cannot hear –

the deck is wet and could be slippery –

I avoid your face, but I know you are near –

Who needs the inland pokes and frippery,

who looks directly at the sea-drowned sun?


····


In an olive grove beside the sea

my head swims in befuddled swarms

In an olive grove imurmerable bees –

aloud a hundred feet above the beach,

and I alone to watch the line of stress

stream out from a ferry tacked onto the waves

of what has been, and the long wake that is.


····


If you stood against the rail and looked –

if you looked east, for a change,

through the wind of barbeque, the cooked

histories and the churning gulls –


(but the western sea is burning)


If you looked east, took the least glance,

I would look back at you, standing at the rail.


I would see your properties floating in their wake,

no landing stage to take you from the boat

that seems to carry you too far.


Not made to live that beast, that beast you ride:

east, east: you can only look, and I look back.


I see where you are going and you see where I am.

What did you take when you went away?

Parting: you took no for an answer.


····


They are no longer ripples but waves.

And yet from here they are just a notion.

So the Mediterranean is just a sea and not the other,

no tides to bring the cripples back to me.

The Mediterranean is just a sea.


Signs warned me of deep water,

I took them literally.

They wrote of rocks and inquination;

Di non sporgersi dalla finestra,

how mighty waves arise from little ripples.

But where was heaven’s sign, the divination

to seal my ears, my eyes, and bind my fingers:

no one told me the magic of your nipples.


So where was the divination, the triple warning,

Sky signs, star signs, animals flying left or right,

Or simply gathering?

            Why else are they travelling?

What use a god who tells you ‘you are here’?

What use a god who tells you you have drowned?


····


If I could have you here again and look into your eyes –

there would now be glass between us.

No immediacy, no more. Even for

your skin I’d need directions or a map.


Once within my grasp, but beyond my ken,

if I had you now, and understood,

if there could be that when –

my grasp would fail me, and I would hold

that abstract kind of truth I longed for,

which should not do me any good,

for which I’ve sold my sensible life,

which trades me mere divine insight

for your sweet chest breathing and your skin.


Unselfish love would hold it the higher good

to know that you are there and loved and treasured;

to know you admired daily, and nightly pleasured,

forever lovely and forever understood.


But I am selfish and repine.


····


A street with one end open to a stage

the other vanished to perspective’s dot.

From the vanished end I came to wait for you

within the shoeless walls of darkened streets

among the faceless glistening paving stones.

Sheltering in a doorway from the actress.

Waiting only for your entrance. Breathing

smoke into the midnight. Watching extras

pass across the street-lit open end.

One or two from time to time would turn

towards me (as I thought) but pass me by

to clip-clop vanish quickly into nowhere

the nowhere where I thought I might have come from.


You came at last from the street-lit stage,

the mist glistening your face, hair and clothes.

You glowed your way towards me in the dark.

Without seeing me you took your key,

looked around you for a moment as if

expecting to see someone, then pushed the door

and disappeared.

       And the houses had old shoes

and the street now wore a widow’s face.


Behind me stood a canvas lined with rules

and the lines seemed to say: You are

here, and she is here, but they are gone.


····


Luton Airport, give me your huddled masses

let them lie with me on the grassy knole

and breathe the sweet mist of aviation gasses

sweet kerosene, whose essence makes me whole.

And you lay with me watching as freedom dreamed,

never so present as when you were departing

belt unbuckled and mild lips parting.

On reflection all was what it seemed.


O, Luton Airport, small and understated!

(For this was long ago and in another…)

No kin to Heathrow, you: Malpensa’s brother –

where the sane went to get decalibrated

where mistress earth shook off unhonoured guests

and welcomed bellyfulls of second-bests.


And I am there with you, though you are gone.

Your perfume avgas lingers on the air

as once my fingers wended through your hair

as once your fingers lingered on my skin

as once your green eyes opened to let me in

You are still the earth I lie upon.


····


Freedom like the weather

sometimes pleasant enough – very pleasant indeed –

yet so often leaving us wondering

what to do with another day indoors.

Stay inside and write the laws of nature

or go out and get wet?


····


Onto the carousel and round and round –

the bags dropping onto a snakeskin road

that leads to nowhere. And we crowd to watch the parade.

And could it be that someone has to wait

till all the other bags have been collected

till it’s just him standing by the snakeback

and only his bag drags along, neglected,

that he can put the one and one together –

grab the handle, heave, and say ‘that’s mine’?


Forth they come, as from a mint, with trollies,

each one new (though far from being perfect)

and we crowd round three deep to watch the parade.

But this is different. You won’t go round and round.

There is no snake. If I can’t match your face

to a face I can hardly remember, you’ll be gone.

How will I know? How will I know? How will I?


The hall empties and I am left alone.

Did I fail you? Perhaps you failed to come

or missed the plane. Or maybe there was just

one too many of us in that crowd.

And not enough of you to go around.


Unless there is a snake going round and round

forever – but oh so long – and you are on it

still – so far past Luton now, who knows


how long you will travel and I must wait.


····


passaggio amoroso:

tu reclini in zattera,

intanto ami.


andata pelegrinosa:

inclemente amore zampillante,

t’incide.


rispingi, rispingi, amore indifferente,

penoso, tanto inclemente

zattera algosa, allacciante.


ridi? zoppichi. anzi:

inlacrimata imbarchi,

tanto piena


piena, amore... traendoti risatte...

insomma:

zuzzurullona in assoluta.


····


Merchant lady dealing in our hearts

Back and forth from shop to shop to feel

The thickness and assess the weight, and while

You were not here make other sorts of tests,

To feel the width and then assess the strength.


And back and forth from shop to shop you went

And while you were not there I took a car

And headed for Detroit.

      A winter day

Blue sky, bright snow and as far away

From you as I could get. A fleeing slave

(the crime was always theft: stealing the owner’s

property, though luckily for me

you didn’t notice that I’d gone away –

your test drive kept you busy all that day).


Driving to Detroit and back, the black

road shining with melted snow, running through

a snow-white landscape, the winter-blue sky.

Time drove on and on we drove towards Detroit.


The road was long but the car was running well

Six hours there, through the tunnel, and six

hours back, arriving when the stars were out

glittering snowflakes stuck onto the sky,

And shooting stars, gods’ own Very pistols.


Next day, lead grey sky loaded with crystals,

you at my door with the ready  in your hands

and I a slave, fresh in from foreign lands.


····


The City of Detroit


Motown you can keep your huddled masses –

in the darkness where they spawn.

you can see them in the dawn,

the early light: junkies and badasses.

A million wildcard passes.

I’ll come back when the sun has disappeared,

passes withdrawn, the stench

displaced by breathable gases.


Keep your poor, your yearning to breathe free,

I don’t want them coming up to me –

the refuse of your wretched teeming shore

the crackhead and the syphilitic  whore.

the storm-tosser, the meat-beater:

endlessly lifting legs on the chrome-bright door.


····


a city’s soul squeezed out

through a two-inch speaker.

low fidelity, always hot.

I’ve seen Joe Hill and you have not.

you’ve just dreamed you’ve seen Joe Blow.

your signal is getting weaker.

you are wet dreaming, always hot,

and she grabs your crotch with one last thought:

‘dream on, dream on, Mr Man – ‘cause I’ve gotta go.’

And you don’t even know what the dream is about.


····


you were well east of me then, it would be Mongolia from here

sitting watching my breath puff out like factory smoke

blue plastic at my feet, all that paraphernalia

that goes with out-of-season swimming pools

and the sensibility that we lack.

If we could reason out Paschendale

how much trouble can we have with this?


do I have to look east, then, to Gstaad,

to where the cows are huddling in the barn,

their breath steaming in the evening air?

protein, calcium factories with soft ears

and factory bells and hard hooves, and moo.


and I arrived there in june to see you

and the barn was what I found to sleep in

your school being swiss and girls alone and all

when the snow had gone and the hills were green

il dolce tempo che riscalda i colli

yes it was sweet, all was sweet and evenings

with those gentle cows was sweetest thing

of all. Except that somehow you had stayed

or your heart had stayed, in winter time.

Che non si muove se non come petra, il dolce tempo –

I think I came too late, like the arctic sun

by the time it’s there, you think, it might

as well not bother. Fuck off, sun, says earth.

Fuck the hell off and leave me be.


I had tried a bit of heat from London

laborious work for a Canadian

as the operator set the task at hand:

please insert three pounds to be connected

for the next three minutes. three long minutes

is roughly what it took to drop the cash

shilling by shilling ding – ding – ding

sixty bloody shillings, and you waiting

at the other end, listening to those bells

those bells a-tolling ding – ding – ding


first mate, what’s the hour, if you please?

ay-ay captain, now it’s sixty bells!

well then, abandon ship, too late now

in fact it’s never been so late before

so late that maybe, mate, there’ll be no later.


too little too late, I fear

quoth captain birdbrain.

well, now rightly, captain

we only know it’s too late –

that ‘tis too little or nay

that we’ll never know


····


but what is captain birdbrain doing here?

in a London call-box in nineteen-sixty-eight?

put down the phone, you’ve had your chat

and you had better let it go at that

the voice was distant but the line was clear –

so come, my lad, and drink some bitter beer.


sure, shoulda shunned Gstaad – so?

want another? want some, eh? some more?

shit. wake up wake up and call it a day.


the pools of winter, when it was winter for me

back in Ontario, I looked into the pools

and wondered at the clearness of the ice

the ice they used to saw and stack in houses

the icehouse with its three-foot walls of sawdust

for the trouble of water was expelled.


when you were warm you were always troubled

but frosty you were clear and clean and pure

and when you came near you forgot your charm

and when you were here at last you were not sure.


brrrrrrrrrrrrr!


····


willowdale seemed so very far away

though you were naked underneath your clothes

your skin was farther away than willowdale

but still your house was a long way to go.


I never understood the distances

involved. Some guys had cars, other would walk

they all seemed to know the way – not I.

for me the map an era being solved.


There was that time you fell on rocks and hurt

your arm, not badly, but there was some blood.

the blood paths all led to one bright spot: there.

then was the time I entered at your door.


Yet ask me how I got there, even now

well, it’s a mystery of accidents

errors and mistakes that I can’t grasp yet

and I’m sorry, and not sorry, you fell


willowdale seems so very far away

I could not fall that far again today

many roads bar the way to willowdale

the map implodes, the men who made it die.


····


most intensive care

her endless love

life ends


each machine levels itself,

loses contact,

escapes her


here ends earth.

my contact lasts,

long illumination.


in habits, lost eurekas;

love endures,

care’s manumission.


may I carry her existence,

love

love’s echo.


····


time, you would say, for long walks

and long talks, you would say

with relish and a knitted brow

while my heart sank, never liking

a walk, and talking only when

talking was about externals


christ, I only wanted to sleep

with you. to hold you and warm you.

why did you want me to lie as well?


permanent revolution, so.

no sooner was the table set

for two than you had invited

a third – or not – this had to be

discussed, on long walks, in long talks


lord, I only wanted to sleep

with you. naked and chest to chest.

I could not lie to you as well.


not as well as some, anyway

time for long walks, you would say, time

for long talks. but then, you grew up

with those damned labs all round the house

who loved the walks and the long words

they didn’t understand. and more,


they could love without the sleeping

and never had to lie to you.


····


conditioned anxiety

takes hold

yes


your catholic

heart admires

trust


temptation, yielding,

and confession

honesty


here’s trust:

come young

angel


avoid his

yardarm, trust

concrete


conditions and

take hold:

yes.


····


like a canary in a cage the block of ice


····


Burning Catholics! Quite a thrill:

the cold night air of November

the mild bright evenings of June

collecting wood and planting the stake

discussing kindling and how it might take

a good week spent in happy bonding

as the angels sped to and fro above their heads

blessing, protecting, holding fingers crossed

to keep away the neighbours.


You only feel death once, but watching it happen

sent sympathy running through the crowd.

Not pity. A death that might have been theirs, unloaded

onto a bonfire, a death displaced by a few yards,

a scapedeath for all but a few.


The warm cobbles never were so vivid under foot before.


Throw your stones from Lamb House in Rye,

they will hit a bonfire of your dreams


Some tv star is borne inside each year to set the spark

some minor splash

into this little city

a city for combustion

little Dresden, maybe

big enough to walk around inside

before it’s lit


Which one November night I did with you

hand in hand, me puzzled by this enduring fervour

(we order these things differently back home)

you drawing the curtain aside to show me where your heart lay


spooky moments in this potential firestorm –

even made exactly to become a firestorm –

like visiting the plans of our death

having the architect round to show what he’s been working on:

yes, I like it, I like it.


but it was not for us.

our caution – the cost – the trouble – the mess

it was not for us

nor were we.


····


round, oblong, square –

all lines I now draw


describe rational notions.

once I said love, and


attempted design; love required

something new, its own


obcure and intimate

dimensions not liking simple rules.


rosalind objected, said: alpha,

let irrational numbers disappear.


····


[those of you who have managed to plough through this may or may not like to know that this an open-ended poem, it may go on forever like the girl on the carousel - keep watching.


····