Saturday, May 03, 2008

Excerpts from 'Canzoni' (1997)


Your image blurs
in a fingerprint of rain,

shark's-eye twitching the lens
like a landed fish
as you gather yourself.

This is your funeral.
You cannot afford to be absent.


Where the world was, there is a hole.
At the bottom, a rotten box
opens, unhinges.

The church stiffens
into the future, beckoning.

The goddess bends over the pram
in a wave of bright light and eucalyptus.
Her skin has the look of scouring pads.
She is angry, then diffident.

When she goes
she leaves something with me -
so tiny I could tuck it under my fingernail
and not notice -
but it shines, it sparkles!

It turns in the wind like a seed
hungry for soil, then sits all summer
under the red bell of the rhubarb.

I hear it pressing
cool dark clay
with its arm stumps.


The coal bunker is so drab
it is almost innocuous:

inhabiting the air like a virus
its unseen spores drift inwards.

This photograph
must have been taken in '68 -

he came out with a sledgehammer
not long after

and reduced it to rubble -
but I remember the smell, the gritty feel of it.

Coal dust is like pollen -
I carried it around in my lungs

summer after summer,
a black hive.


It was always raining
and the bookcase was always full.

After the rug ended,
before the skirting board began,

your dark spine shone like skin
under my fingers.

You were a shadow
on an x-ray,
growing and deforming.

They should have had you removed
but you were part of me -
a sucker, coming out of the soil
where the graft root was accidentally buried.

Your words hatch
white clutch-eggs in my larynx
twenty years on

where the dull sheen of pearls
first gleamed under my palate.


The car ticks over.

A soft green pit pit pit of rain
on the windscreen.

It is three minutes to twelve.

When the lightning comes
it is a steel pin
in the throat of the morning,

holding noon from midnight
and one swift breath
from the other.

Afterwards, I shudder down the lane
like an old woman,

thirty seconds closer
to whatever took you.


This is not The Purple Rose of Cairo
where you will walk out of the screen,
a dea ex machina,

but the echo of an echo,
repeating myself
as I try to unwrangle

future from present,
present from past historic,

finding them all on the same skein of wool
like runners from a strawberry,
budding intermittently.

There will be no
ice cream at the interval.

Down, down, the house lights
have all gone down,

leaving nothing but the waiting,
as I step outside my own skin

into the silver skin of history.


This room breathes
the dark stench of the Inquisition.

A star swivels
above the one glinting eye
of the brickwork,
aching to be opened
and examined.

Milk-white it tenses and folds.
She is not a cat. She will not drink it.
It stands for insanity, knowledge.

Your questions beat about her head
like sisters, their blood is on her fingers.


Tell me, old man, what was it like
to sleep with the goddess,

to taste her death,
the retreat of it?

Your mind is a morgue.

Images lie tagged on the tables,
smiling postmortem.

For this sad pilgrimage to end,
the beast herself

must rise and walk,
bearing her slab
like a standard before her.


The sea walks tall
on the horizon,
a whisper of silver
past high grasses.

The moon hangs
like a crude symbol
over a rough cot.

There is no way
to ward off this evil.

You will lie face-down
for centuries,
picking out her features:
stones from mud.


Worm wriggles
inside his fur pouch, stretching.

The animal died last month.

His mouth is squeaking
the tin whistle
of its teeth, relentlessly.

Then the wind shifts.

His damp striations rise
and coil.

Someone has hung someone else
out to dry.


I step back
to where the ripples found me,

the still drop of a stone
into dark water,
the endless concentric circles.

After the stone's entry,
these waters heal themselves
like lips
closing on silence.

From the depths
the world comes back
as a blue shadow

seen through the shallow eye
of a stone.


She imagined herself violent,
failing to see how the line breaks
at the meridian,

leaving her stranded, unalterable,

too far inland for the sea,
crashing between houses, gleaming
like the blunt edge of a sickle -

where a boat might cross and recross,
telling its history -

but still now as the centre,
silent, irreproachable.

"Canzoni' was first published in The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, Bloodaxe Books, 1997.


Jane Holland said...

I put some photographs up with this, to break up the monotony of text, but as you can see I've removed them. I decided there's something irretrievably 'twee' about photographs accompanying poems, unless the two are intended to be together from the outset, i.e. such as Hughes' "Remains of Elmet" set alongside the haunting landscape photographs of Faye Godwin.

Bo said...

This is very fine stuff indeed.

Jane Holland said...

Thanks, Bo. It has weaknesses, some of them glaring, but its strength is in its variety.

You always imagine, I feel, as a new poet, that particular poems in a book will be noticed. But in fact the opposite happens. Critics tend to notice the weaker poems and sidestep those which have perhaps failed in one or two ways, but were at least trying to do something different. It's a depressing reality.

Of course, it may not be representative of the type of poetry I write now, but I don't think that means poems like this should be binned. Blogging up these old and completely forgotten pieces from earlier books - now out of print - is probably the only way to ensure that a few people, at least, will get to read them. For what that's worth.

Sorlil said...

Lots of lovely stuff here, will need several re-readings to swallow it all properly!

aliqot said...

Will also return to these. Some very striking images.
Coincicdentally I posted a 'poem' with photos today, but hell, it's more a travelogue anyway, and a work in progress, changing each time I read it, so I'll leave them, 'twee' or not. ;-)