Old nightingales might sing in Berkeley Square
but here in Islington, upon the green,
the sabre-rattling news cleaves unaware
through stony Möbius memorials, too keen
for history to fold upon itself. It’s strange:
ten years ago, people dared to hope;
consumed by flames, today the world dreads change.
No longer flourishing, people fight to cope.
Slow jazz still thins the air some nights, because
humanity has never learnt how not
to dream, but too much dignity is lost
and there is little to be grateful for.
Echoes of former greatness: so England thought,
but no band wants to play this sad encore.
sometimes a firework morning breaks the sky
and birdsong smears the air, and so i wake,
four hours of sleep shaded under each eye.
sometimes a hunger knocks and so i make
a sandwich while the kettle learns to sing
its black-tea melody. if not, i work,
my phone recalcitrant with nudge or wink,
or read, or practise. solitude preferred.
not everything is poetry, of course,
and words do blow with dandelion wind.
not everything is beautiful, but i
still try to make it so, rescuing hours
of twilit leaf-fall from my memory bin.
sometimes, a song. sometimes a butterfly.
Ask me. Ask me for a lie
about the ocean. Ask me why
I call home so rarely, ask me
why I want to call this home
and maybe I will say:
water boils sweeter at sea level,
the clouds span the width of the sky
and the trains run like clockwork.
Ask me why and my mouth runs
dry, choking on words.
I’ll say I’ve never swum in the sea;
the taste of night drying on your skin
is enough. I only lie
about things I don’t know,
so I hold you and say over
and over again, everything’s fine,
tomorrow will be better,
imagining hope welling up in me
like an ocean.
our hearts have never beaten even once
for each other – count the ways that silence says
our paths are fundamentally astray
in spite of springtime or long-secret wants.
we know that love is violent, and the dance
of dying nights, when music puts away
the hours, is not innocent. embrace
me. take me in the fields where summer runs.
love is not innocent. that isn’t what
we’re after, anyway, but memories
of milkman mornings and bekettled stoves.
you die each night in sleep but sunlight floods
us full of life each day – and yet we freeze.
love, knowing you, we’ll never come to love.
He packs the struggling will-o’-wisps into
a too-small tin. Jars lurch and clink against
each other in the silence. Through the mists
lurk other shadows, left behind; his two
old camel-beasts sniff placidly at winds
while shouldering his score in bulging bags.
He thinks about her: once hiding in his racks,
now jostling gingerly amongst his dreams.
Long years have passed, and somehow they are grown.
Their hunger makes them search in deeper sleeps
for ever stranger drips and acid trips,
dispensing bliss in foreign barter zones.
Each night, she weeps. Sometimes he saves some cheer
and blows it carefully into her ear.
In the cocoa darkness of three a.m.
you reach out to her. And this is guilt:
the sacrifice and dream-weariness
tied around your hands and pulled
out of the spaces in her body.
Convince yourself of your need, that you
are gifts to one another:
bitter adrenaline of sweet midnight fuel.
Because you were hungry, she comes alive.
In this way the mouth begs for a reply:
unorthodox miracle, creation, prayer.
There is no more bread to break.
Nobody is innocent. Save the washing of hands
for after: you were fully and gloriously
complicit. She died so you could sin.
Remember her taste knotted around your tongue.
And these are the things you always knew:
that your son would die the way he dreamed
he would, that you were in want of love,
that loneliness was not a necessity
but a choice. You only wanted not
to see them, and so, immortal
but not invincible, you raised
your hands against yourself.
And while you hung, thirsting, after years
of wandering, blood weeping from your side,
you saw more than ever.
Blinded, your eyes were opened.
Now you stare oblivion in the face,
your powers only a means to the end.
He sits down and fishes the ring out of his pocket and
slides it on, opposite him I watch, wondering
if he is sad she didn’t kiss him, wondering
who the ring is from, he folds his
hands together wondering maybe why I look
at him, there is silence in the carriage
muted by the howls outside there is silence
in me as I watch wondering
how she would slide off her ring for me
slide out of her carriage for a sudden sunny
afternoon. The doors hiss and open
for the fog to kiss the warmth. Why do we
keep searching for warmth
even as we can only ever be fog.
She knows she is remembered only
for him: that is the way the story is told.
They found something he thought was love
in the ashes, and he sang because he was
desperate. Even now: in the groves,
mourning, praying to his lyre.
He would have blinded himself
to keep singing. Perhaps he was afraid.
Why the endless refrain? Why the sweetness?
But the snake was her friend, her salvation
and fruit of knowledge. Later she
braids her hair, remembering how, for
the sake of a song, it had to be let loose
so the wind could tangle it.
And now this love must go to sleep: alive
but only in suspension, knowing bliss
as autumn quietly slays a billion leaves.
An early hibernation helps derive
some pleasure from the winter’s creeping chill.
Our bodies breathe on as we die each night,
lethargic suns failing to muster light.
Throughout the solstice, lie in wait. Be still:
my faraway love, this spring is not for you,
despite the birdsong winging through the air.
We must be shy again, as at our start,
the cusp of summer warming love anew:
entwining ecstasy, perfuming hair,
thirsting for touch, for warmth to reach the heart.