What about that white
Still not one speck
after all these years
In the quiet of the sea
The words are waiting
Slippery as fish
'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
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
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
Knocking off people’s hats in the street
or better yet – heads.
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.
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
(You think you’re so wonderful…)
This mask you see is actually
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
Do you see?
Turn turn turn
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
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.
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
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.
The open-mouthed kiss
slow slow drink with the eyes
backward glance, over the shoulder
the closed-mouth kiss, teeth pressed behind
the open right hand
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
knee to shoulder
feet on the ceiling
mouth open eyes shut
stomach to stomach
hair trailing in water
hands open eyes open
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.
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,
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
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.
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 –
Awaits your explanation.
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.
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.
Today I found a bit of downy feather
so like my baby son's hair
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,
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
Not even anything interesting
will ever happen here.
Such a clatter of rain
poetry is quite drowned
SUMMER AFTERNOON, RAIN
Green leaves, pavement, wet sky all
See in the bright mirror
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
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?
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