The penetrability of flowers
by bee's proboscis or by microscope
reveals less impulse than a stone discloses
shattered by flame or chisel.
is also chaos.
Rooks on ploughland, hens in stubble,
betray a sense of unease at their situation,
and from distorted earth and broken trees
our houses rise, faintly disturbed.
Beneath them, rock thrusts up.
In the neglected garden
a fountain dribbles dust across
the tarnished daffodils.
anticipates the night-cold. Colours shift,
and the carved figure at the farther end
jabs at the glittering sky.
Worn head and fractured gesture, features debauched
by rain (such innocent, pale wine)
God once, or saint or nobleman, preserved
erect by the passion of rock - who mastered whom,
sculptor or stone ?
carver with ice and air,
cutting the mountains into teeth that bite
as dust against our bones;
engraving worn-out desert monoliths
to no known plan, we dare not bow
to these strange images of yours.
Rock stinks of fear.
Cracked, crushed, refined,
terror is smelted, horror out of rock
gathered in evil particles.
Earth, fecund once,
dries and peels back.
reverberates, still bears
palpable symbols of what was
and may be yet to come.
Bob Elliott's Portfolio
Some people like it, others hate it.
We have to face it, though, our talk about it always
makes "it" distinct from "not it". We say "This
is it, but that's not it." Although at times
perception gets reversed, "That's it", we cry,
"This is not it, you know."
sometimes we just can't stand it, but we mustn't
lose it, nor let it get to us. We know
we should get over it, not lie down under it, but go for it,
make it new, make it quick. Maybe we'll revel in it,
maybe just take care of it, then as we see the end of it
perhaps discover what it meant, what it was all about.
When I walk back
along this gritty tunnel called experience,
deposits that ebbed time has left -
charred stumps of pasion, blunted shards of love -
I come at last to a last turn, and stall
against this picture men say is my portrait.
Full jaw is nascent jowl; prophesies dewlap.
Cheeks, limpid as a shaven bullock-haunch,
ponderous with speculation, are composed
and blocked upon impenetrable blue:
and on that screen, strict-lettered, run
first year, then age; an edge of time
brutally coined to intersect
my mouth, my neck.
Who chose the silk to match those guarded eyes ?
slightly this side of treason, though
approaching purple. His
hired fingers burrow still
deep into highlights, to betray
material figuring. His charged brush
taps yet through flesh, into the vein that draws
from brain's time-nattered fibres, dreams
of gold to clot the spawn of history; of gold
forging the hinge of power.
I wonder, sometimes, what are portraits for ?
What attribute of men in time
requires they hang, exposed in fellowship,
their daubed self-images, acquiring interest ?
And should I really care
to have my speaking likeness speak -
"You cannot stare me down,
O my opposing, O my innocent eye -
how thick the paint must be to hide
a blemished background, nor how thin
to tint a brightening nerve.
And do not dare to turn your back on me !
All you can do is sidle by
propped on weak verbs, observing as you pass
how in the sum of all this composition
my book still balances;
my hand still grasps."
Owl Deserts Pussy
Perched on a bong-tree's leafy bole
the owl pours out his avian soul.
He chants of his love for a Jumbly girl,
"Her hair hangs down in a sea-green curl"
he hoots, "She is small, but perfectly made.
Her eyes have the glimmer of ancient jade.
Her hands are blue as the Arctic ice,
and her table-manners are ever so nice.
Her relatives all stand round and stare
at the gifts I have sent her, so rich and rare;
the lurex knickers and spontex bra
and the meerschaum pipe that belonged to my pa.
I have worshipped the ground on which she stood,
but it hasn't done me a ha'porth of good !"
The moonlight gleams in his bleary eye,
and the pig and the turkey gobble and cry :
"He has left the cat and her pea-green boat
and now on his Jumbly girl will dote
in the deeps of the bong-tree forest so dark,
for though he's an owl, he knows how to lark !
Yet whenever he tries to make love to his dear
he can only tremble with guilt and fear.
And though he may hootle "to-woo" and "to-whit"
his Jumbly love is fed up with it.
Among bong-tree leaves he to-whits and to-whoos,
he has taken up smoking and guzzling booze,
while the cat he deserted in lands so far
just whinges away on her small guitar"
"That pestulent poet has now revealed
the scandal I hoped to have kept concealed.
My Owl has flown off and left me flat"
to her small guitar mourns the frangible cat.
"He has gone with a hoyden of Jumbly mien,
whose hair is a jaundicle sea-sick green.
He has taken the ring, and the runcible spoon
and the plate that we polished to mirror the moon.
The mince an the quince he has stolen away,
and the fiver we kept for a rainy day;
and these, with the honey he sent as a gift
to a Jumbly girl in a see-through shift.
If ever she should come near to me
I will tear at her eyes and her thingamalee;
I'll rip her green tresses, and blood will be shed.
I shall give her six months in a hospital bed !
If that popsible poet has got it right
when my owl gets set for his mating rite
he is stricken by tremors of panic and fright.
And it just serves the feathery bastard right !"
Thus sang the cat, in that land so far,
in the bong-tree's shadow, as dark as tar;
sang and wept to her small guitar.
So who provokes us now ?
That jaw insists
action's fierce purity
across the thick end of five bursting centuries
. Those eyes rule out
across the sights at Bogside, Wounded Knee,
gash Sharpville dust; slice Homs: rip Budapest.
Nostrils that curl the fumes of Drogheda,
Katyn, Amritzar, Sedgemoor and Ma Lai.
Those lips and shoulders, strong and smooth as stone !
How many ghosts ago did you, my lovers,
dressed in your own blood, surge up from the black valley
grinninning among the stallions ?
My sons are borne on a tide of potent corpses.
I, motive-wright, loot-embalmer,
at Loos and Alamein pleasure the guns
that leap and flower within the sky's dark skull.
My bayonet draws red lines at Quatre Bras.
My shield rings Tours. My sword strokes Neville's Cross.
That old sow, with her half-blind leer
never stopped rooting in the gutter
as they passed through, captains and captives,
garlanded, all of them garlanded
with shit and vomit.
Burnt eyes, stitched mouths, steadily, firmly passing,
while piglets skittered and shrieked among their boots.
I, action-smith, breastwork-moulder,
rouse rabble emotions, as I stack
between us barricades of maimed generations.
I keep watch, disturber of the faith,
along this street which scars eternity.
Name ? Legion.
Rank ? The first.
Number? Countably infinite.
I convene the dead.
Your stillness frightens my words.They plunge
beneath the layers of my tongue,
fin upward cautiously, olgle the fair
thin falls of you hair.
What shall become of you, my daughter ?
I am taken to task by your fingers, which point nowhere;
by your delicate pout, which is unmoving;
by the hooded, sly
retreat of your eye.
I am threshed by despair
at the slack curve of your body, which holds no laughter.
There is more than time between us.
After the painter had done, wiped brush and palette,
taken his fee in cash or kindnesses,
did you rise to dance, gracing a lighter background
lively in air, leap with the gleaming leaf ?
Or did you still remain
slouched in pubescent reverie ?
Dreams are to time as magic is to chance; appear
as dolphins, random; break and check
our surging patterns; work those depths
(supple intelligencers) where crossed currents weave
and glimmer in the dark.
Passion is hauled in this net; wisdom and power,
truth's embryos, and beauty floundering.
For beauty is not enough - is never quite enough.
Eyes, hair, lips, body never can maintain
the deepest magic. Even the painter's spell
traps us in time and age, embalms
your likelihood - that flesh declined
into a tumid middle-age, bore heirs,
suckled a bastard, fondled rogues,
made lustrous love with Christ knows who:
died young; died virgin; died old, dignified;
died dessicated in a cell.
No shrill tongue flails, no music-voices glide
across the cavity our eyes have scoured
from future to the past.My dear
you have folded yourself into stillness.
My words bend likewise.
The eggs are small this year, and very dear.
Butter is scarce, too, and the calves are sickly.
Last week my daughter died in labour.
How could we know it would be such a season ?
My tongue was a cherry in high summer
when we used to go by night to the meadows.
Tangled scent of grass pillows. How the moon
fondled my nipples. How he arched over me,
strong in the dark, dark as a forest singing.
Old mother crow-chops sits by her stall,
Waits for the price of bread to fall.
My sons ? The last three on the right. They were not tall
like their father was. Our Mary ran away,
hid in the goat-shed, screaming. I will take them home.
Their bones poke through. They must have starved
for weeks before they hanged.
On springtime nights we skipped among apple-blossom.
danced round the evening fire, faces and hands
sticky with wine, with kisses; flooded with laughter,
swept with the fragrance of love and the petals.
Old mother crow-chops squats in the hay,
waits for the soldiers to go away.
How bright they are, the candles and the saints
and the children's song. How bright the bell
runs through the quivering stones.
I have outlived regret
but the holes behind my eyes
hurt with daggers of love.
How bright the moon's tongue, bright the apple-flame.
My blood runs foolishly. How bright
bright burning bodies are, and the glittering riders.
Old mother crow-chops kneels by the door
waits for the Christ-child to come once more.
In spite of August heat this afternoon
dewdrops cling to the centres of upturned leaves.
Here, what must count
is not the number of un-numbered graves.
stronger arithmetics, a finite calculus,
for we dare not
accept this heap of ash and bone
as top and bottom of our life and death.
The dead are ordered; were, as ordered
buried by their survivors, who were not
of course, permitted to survive.
warps into shrieking silences
of excised tongues, of bodies smashed
by granite tendered for piano-wire.
Along hushed paths, the quarry-dust
settles on violets, dries my throat
to self-disgust. A dozen tiny frogs
flip through the shaded grasses.
Taut wire still resonates.
This body that was once Odysseus,
sloshing face-downward in a tide-left pool,
will never know this is not Ithaca.
Weeds grope his limbs:
their water-comfort all his welcome,more
faithful than Penelope.
Blind Polyphemus is debauching her. Telemachus
squats, hog-drunk, in the uncleaned sties
hefting a wooden sword. Mentor is dead.
and here, fish-scaled with spurious lights,
the master's corpse swings slackly in the shallows
until the dawn tide sucks him out
into the mutter and swirl of a different legend.
Weathered ugly, and crimped with age
into a dull form, subtly faced
as some old carver's dream, she squats
over the embers, sucking in her pipe
the still warm memory of youth foreclosed
by body-labour and the seasons' toil
around the journeying year;
of sky unwinding
time in precise spring, knowing where to find
celandine and white violet;
time thinned out
in weary, sun-aching potato fields;
and time re-made
transparent by the evening fires.
In April dusk the shadowed figures move.
Her son, in wild,half-squalid middle-age
keeps independence in a heap
of stiff bike-skeletons and rusty stoves.His boy,
sullen, foresighted idiot, who knows
the brain's slow maintenance of things unseen,
creeps round and mumbles, gathers kindling-wood,
prophesies weather and steals eggs.
Their broomstick mare mouths what sour grass it can
in waterlogged, stale fields nearby.
Old, scurril-mouthed, foul-minded with collapse,
she mutters to the flame her memories
of seasons swung around the sky
by her handy mate, the bold dark traveller
whose country grave she still maintains
with flowers stolen from householders.
From the deep roots of night
darkness cascades, and she
with eyes of different texture, sees
the hollow centre of the dying fire; curses, and tries
to kick dead embers back to life.
Brass Head at 80
When I could swing a scythe: not well,
but well enough; carve wood; find
my way around the gearbox of a lathe
and turn to half a thou': could fondle breasts
and other things, though not
as often as I thought I wanted to.
And I could write
software in five computer languages; wash, iron,
and cook a Sunday lunch for eight,
Time was, I thought I could write verse.
far more elastic than we think. Perhaps
I've got another twenty years; enough
to write an epic, commit bigamy,
invest a bit and make a million. Though
maybe there's only twenty minutes left;
barely enough for one more verse. So this
had better be the one,then.
Time will be
always concealed within us, where
no clockmaker can see;
tight as an acorn,
rooted as a tree.
Notes on the Strength of Materials
Load is applied with care. We do not see
each member, joined to its neighbour, flex,
transmit its small distortions.
The structure does not fail; yet hair-lines crack
the brittle surface-varnish into patterns.
Force makes visible
mutual support, deep complementary stress.
At tea-time, I walk home.
Through gaps in the traffic, smooth faces of children
appear and vanish.
Later this evening, you and I will explore
our bending moments, approach
the limits of strain; discern
which factors are constant; may even discover
all the degrees of freedom.
Sapphics - An Attempt
How to follow one of these tricky metrics
verse on verse, with each line a sound one,
poses tasks that will perplex every poet
who tries to do it.
Should we use colloquial phrases ? Dare we
try to launch improbable diction, trusting
rhythm's force to underpin jagged syntax?
Can we uncover
through the pulse of subtle and shifting patterns
insights having more than a feeble meaning,
and entice true acts of communication
out of our word-hoard?
Oh, we know words alter their shapes, betray us
into falsehood, trick and seduce us; often
nudge us towards innocently revealing
our dirty secrets.
Yet we go on, mouthing them, writing, hoping
that via self-doubt and all the panics of failure,
striving after difficult rhythms gives us
something to cling to:
something not a handhold to grip at, more a
thread that guides us, leads us out through the wordless
spaces where words come of their own to find us,
touch us and move us.
Even to touch
these delicate filaments without pain is possibly
not possible. Scalpel and spade
cry out their innocence. I watch
treebark crease with waterdrops.
Unwritten letters burn. Correspondence lies
along the diagonals from love to apathy,
diminishes between graced notes
towards an interruption of language.
through a hardened rind, grazes
presence that was. I have
no images to declare.
an evening gesture,
some voice, a clear tone, barely missing
the true concern, but not care.
Residues only; yet they nourish.