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NEW LAMPS FOR OLD (POEMS 2008-2009)



FOR BASHO

 

What about that white

chrysanthemum?

Still not one speck

after all these years

 


 

POET’S HAIKU

 

In the quiet of the sea

The words are waiting

Slippery as fish

 

*

 THE WEDDING

 

'Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde.....'

 

I'm dancing with your brother under the trees

round and round in time to the church bells ringing

my white dress whirling in time

to the ringing the clanging the singing

the long-desired hour come round at last

You're leaning up against a tree

watching me

your neat arms folded across your chest

your eyes smiling

your hour come round at last

I love him so much, I say to your brother

I love him so much, so much

Beer and cider and buckets of best champagne

tables groaning under weighty german food

Everyone's singing everyone's smiling

everyone's eating and drinking and dancing

and clapping their hands and shouting for joy

I love him so much, I say to them all

A Queen in white satin

I take off my shoes and the grass

prickles my feet makes me laugh

We kiss and somebody

takes our photograph

 


A HOMECOMING

 

That Christmas night we walked

all the way from Bethnal Green

to mass at Moorfields

Side by side for the first time

in so many years

 

*

Topic: Winter having gone on too long

 

What fun!

Knocking off people’s hats in  the street

or better yet – heads.

 

*

RED UMBRELLA

 

Like a rose opening in the rain

my new red umbrella

opens over my head

 

Now I’m tiny as Thumbelina

dancing, singing in the rain.

 

*

 

 

SUNDAY NIGHT

 

I’d like to die on a Sunday night

When all the lights are out

Up and down the street

And it’s so quiet

You can hear God breathing

 

To lie perfectly still

At the exact centre of the bed

At the exact centre of the white evening

 

A  pale moth flutters

At the grey window square

Sick with longing after the far off light

 

 

*

 

EYES WIDE SHUT

 

Under the lace smoke your skin

maggot white wriggle and silk

My lady, shall we dance?

Viennese jazz poured

into silver flutes

even the bubbles are real

Turn turn turn

in the imaginary Wienerwald

something is shining

 

-

 

Take me (she said)

Take me, mon Capitaine

Or is it only that every girl loves

a uniform?

(You think you’re so wonderful…)

This mask you see is actually

My face.

Take me, Herr Doktor!

Take me - or is it only that you

dream these things

 

-

 

That woman with the feathers on her head

Is only a bird

She will not harm you

Her death is an act of pure

Imagination.  Come, put your hand on her

exquisite corpse

Do you see?

Turn turn turn

 

 

*

 

A LETTER

 

I saw you last night

in a white TV studio

Talking nonsense and laughing

I thought you looked old

 

You said you were happy

You looked a bit fatter

But they’d cut you up nicely

to recharge your heart beat

 

Maybe your heart has got

weary with aching

I know that mine

has grown weary with pain

 

I know you still love me

I know I still love you

I know it won’t help us

We’ve said our good-byes

 

You said that your fans

No more offer you marriage

I’d offer you still

My heart if you need it

 

So if you get sick

and need a replacement

Keep me in mind

Tell the doctor I’m ready

 

You took out my heart

from my chest once already

So why not again if

You’re sorely in need

 

*

 

PAVANE

 

The remains of a child

have been found by police

in a neglected garden

 

The remains of a child

are thought to date

from the early 1960’s

 

Police have not said

whether the remains of the child

are male or female

 

Police have not said

how the remains of the child

came to be there

 

Under the black soil

of a neglected garden

Shall I tell them?

 

*

TWO POEMS FOR NIZAR QABBANI

 

 

THANKSGIVING ON BEHALF OF THE WOMEN OF THE WORLD

 

When you first set sail for our secret country

did you know how close you’d come

to the places we hide from the eyes of men?

The places we veil with blue smoke and jasmine

with golden mirrors and black lace

 

Where did you find the map

to the lovely land?  Did you, perhaps,

draw it yourself, in blood, not ink

 

When you first set those twelve roses

in Balqis’s hair, white for untouchable innocence

red for blood, blue for the blue harbour of the eyes

Did you not see us all, standing on the abandoned shore

waving at you? Our hero

 

Because you have loved us

because you have learned, painstaking,

how to love us

Because you have dared tell the world

the terrible truth of our power.

 

 

I AM WITH THE COWARDS

A response to terrorists of all kinds and nations

 

We’ve had enough of obscene death

Enough of burnt babies cities in ashes

Leafless trees wells poisoned with hate

We are called upon to love

 

Terrorism will not save a single soul

Terrorism will not save us from terrorists

Terrorism has come to destroy us

All of us, Arab and Jew

Americans, Europeans, everybody

Terrorism doesn’t care who we are

It kills us for the hell of it

 

with bombs in the marketplace

with bombs that drop from the sky

with bulldozers with landmines with hate

with stupidity with the courage of animals

without a conscience

 

If to love your enemy is cowardly then

I am with the cowards

If to see no enemy but a brother in holiness

Is cowardly then I am with the cowards

If there is a remedy anywhere to the stupidity of man

It is with the cowards

 

And I, mother  of the world, insist

Stop your deadly game

The world does not belong to you

But to God.

The olive groves are His

The sweet blue air over our heads is His

The sea and all that is in it – His

How dare you squabble over it?

It is His

And We are His 

And our children too are His.

Not yours.

 

 

ELLE SUCE A GENOUX

 

On her knees on the grassgreen carpet

on her knees mouth open eyes closed

to receive the love-gift

take and eat - this

my Body.

Quick she lifts her face for the inbreath

her face a garden

of roses and pink lilies

her face an orchid

with a dripping purple tongue.

Quick she tilts her head

the hair falls forward to reveal

white arch of the neck

under the invisible black lace mantilla

smelling of marsala and salt.

 

*

 

GESTES INTERDITS

 

The open-mouthed kiss

 

slow slow drink with the eyes

   half-shut

 

backward glance, over the shoulder

    half-smile

 

the closed-mouth kiss, teeth pressed behind

 

the open right hand

  fingers apart

 

The knees apart

 

arms ninety degrees apart

sky over, earth under

 

one knee on stone

one on water

 

mouth open   eyes shut

 

mouth open   lips open

       eyes shut 

 

knee to shoulder

 feet on the ceiling

  mouth open   eyes shut

 

stomach to stomach

hipbones locked

hair trailing in water

 

hands open   eyes open

      mouth shut      

 

MESSALINA'S MONKEY


I sleep in her bed

red silken cords

bind my hands and feet

If I scream she tightens them

She feeds me sugared almonds

Beetles dipped in honey

I drink from her cup

And entertain the gentlemen at dinner

Most of my tricks are pornographic

My mistress never laughs

 

*

 

 

WE VISIT CHINA

 

You are sitting alone

I come quietly into the room

You look up and smile

I kneel down to take off your shoes

I kiss your dear feet.

 

 

*

 

DEATH'S ANTIDOTE

 

muckle bones bumble

knees eye-jellies bright

famous candy mouth.

In one hand

the grinning sweat-stained card

In the other hand

the red pill of forgetfulness

 

Swallow at your ease -

you'll find the cure far worse than the disease.

 

*

 

THE MAN OF MY DREAMS

 

This morning it happened again

I awoke suddenly, breathless and cowering

arm raised to ward off the blows

or something worse

head full of your personal pornography,

Daddy.

 

This is how it is

And half a century of woe is not enough.

You are still the man who haunts my dreams

crowding out all others

So you get your wish at last

(Be careful what you ask for, they say)

You get your wish

Somewhere deep inside

where no healing touch can reach

nor holy spirit hide I remain

Daddy’s little girl.

 

A letter from your hand glanced by accident

left lying carelessly by my beloved son

And all the old familiar dread returns –

So you write to him, do you?

So you dare write to him, do you?

So he writes to you, does he

this beloved son

 

What does he know of us two

the movies that play in our heads

would make his blood run cold

this beloved son who has known

only tenderness.

Unadulterated tenderness, Daddy

Not your kind.

 

Easier not to believe.

Easier, she made it up.

Easier, she exaggerates.

She’s an unreliable witness!

Fathers don’t do things like that

to their little girls.

Do they?

 

Fine, Daddy, have it your way

Old man afraid to die

But forever’s a long time

And though you cling on, the day will come:

 

You’ll stand before the Lamb

whose white coat is sprinkled in the blood

of this girl child you broke.

This unreliable witness

will not be called upon to speak.

The Lamb in his spattered coat

was there all the time

saw everything, knows –

everything.

Awaits your explanation.

 

 

*

 

DULCE COR

 

She might command what worlds she will, being a Queen

and fair, might dress bird-feather pearl or satin sheen -

She goes in black, her beauty undiminished by the lack.

The midday moon in blue silk dress over silver-sack

fields and greenwoods is but the pale sister of the white

Queen of the Night, who makes our dreams and pillows bright.

 

She might tell sorrows, care, her cracked soul's despair

to any ear, all hearken, being a Queen, and fair;

She tells nought but her beads.  The veil is silent 'round her

 

like a nun's; her eyes alone speak and ponder -

For she speaks but to the casket that she keeps,

day and night, ivory and gold, whither she goes,

and tells her thoughts to that sweet silent rose.

 

His heart is there, who once had been her love, her King -

She gives: heart's drouth, ghost's mouth, every thing.

 

*

 

ON VISITING THE GRAVE OF HEINRICH HEINE

 

I sat beside your grave and read

Your poems and very soon my head

Was full of grief

I turned the leaf -

You made me laugh!

Henri, you were a poet-and-a-half.

 

 

THE DAY WE MET

 

How you looked!

out of small eyes still

focused on eternity.

How you groped

mouth hands mind

open and shut

not worried, seeking -

sure to find.

You were so new!

even your skin was new

your hair brand-new

your voice - never heard before

making a tiny piteous roar.

Hello Little Stranger!

Welcome to the planet

This is Earth; and this bright

bold business newly done

was your birth.

 

[Written for my daughter, Sarah, on her twenty-first birthday.]

 

 

AFTER THE OPERA

 

The lyre is broken

The hero's dead

Sensible people all

long ago in bed.

 

Why does she sit so late

in a blue gown

Writing things down?

 

Hoping to bend her fate

To draw an echo from the tomb

with her little plume

 

She burns the midnight taper

Tries to fasten dreams on paper

 

Watch them slip away

at break of day.

 

 

SUNDAY AFTERNOON

 

In the park huge golden hands

were reaching for the clouds.

I walked back alone at twilight

but you were with me.

Someone had written up on a wall

the single word: Forgive.

 

 

MEMENTO

 

Today I found a bit of downy feather

so like my baby son's hair

long ago

 

 

ABOUT ESHUN, WHO LIT HER OWN FUNERAL PYRE

 

What was she thinking, that old nun

When she lit the fire?

At the end a little pile of ash

The smoke vanishes,

Laughter rising

 

*  

 

SPRING COMES TO THE CITY

 

Rising from the courtyard early

Children’s voices light and sweet

‘Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen...’

Older brothers jostle a football in the street.

 

At noon the sky is white as pearl

The Polish girls in blue with yellow hair

smoke cigarettes beside the new forsythia,

A patient dozes in a wheelchair.

 

Sunset comes in violet

and tender green.  The evening star

begins to shine.

A small girl on a scooter

circles like a pink bird in flight.

The cool of the night.

 

 

*  

 

ON THE CHANGES TO THE BRUNSWICK CENTRE

 

Once the rough Beast

sodden filthy lying-in-wait round corners

Maw open, towering glowering

Then suddenly take flight -

a beautiful thing

Soaring into the night on concrete wing

A sight to catch breath and heart

Skip a beat.

 

Staring blank but watchful from abandoned shop-fronts

Hoarding the coldest blast of air

to hurl at us as we attempt to pass

Your so-called public spaces always empty

save for the plastic shopping bag

and pair of unkempt pigeons (alas!)

Your secret alleys piss soaked and

bright with broken glass.

 

Now the circus has come to town:

Now stupid clowns threaten the local children

with face-paints and themed balloons.

Now the nattily employed, agile as acrobats,

Tiptoe on winking heels

in search of pancetta and designer ready-meals.

 

Now everything's for sale

inc. 2 bed/balcony half a million quid.

Now the Beast slumbers, half hid

beneath a tidal wave of optimism and white paint.

Bedsheets drawn crooked across

newly desirable windows

Marked, like graves, with flags to the local saint.

 

All's changed!  Changed utterly -

No room here for the general anxiety.

No room for loneliness, or sad despair or fear

No chance of any terrible beauty here

Nothing tragic

Not even anything interesting

will ever happen here.

 

 

*

 

SUMMER STORM

 

Such a clatter of rain

poetry is quite drowned

 

*  

 

SUMMER AFTERNOON, RAIN

 

Green leaves, pavement, wet sky all

dripping silver

 

*  

 

MIRROR

 

See in the bright mirror

this soul

shining like fields after rain

 

* 

 

This heart a few inches wide

and all the world too small

to hold it

 

*  

 

With nightfall comes rain

a sigh of relief

I shut the window

don my long-sleeved shirt

Take up my pen

 

* 

 

SUMMER JOURNEY

 

The farther you travel

the more beautiful the road

deep through the deserted north country

 

A handful of leftover snow

turns to water in your hand

Wild geese are flying south

The river is deep here

 

Now, at moonrise, step to the brink

and tell me - What dreams?

 

* 

NIGHTFALL

 

The world lies quiet

Demons too at rest

A cool breeze, odours of autumn

and one cicada in the cold grass

 

Now let your tired heart soar

right up to the clear-shining moon

At the end of your endless journey

You will find me.

 

 

Acknowledgements: Some of these poems first appeared in Word Riot, Mad Moth, Istanbul Literary Review, Counterexample Poetics, Sein und Werden, Snakeskin, Poetic Diversity, From East to West, Poetry Life & Times, The Beat, A Tender Touch and a Shade of Blue, Poetry Midwest, Rhythm Poetry Magazine