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THE BIRDCAGE (POEMS 2012)



THE BIRDCAGE

 

All winter long the white

flesh melts

snow to thin branches

 

sad-eyed hunger artist

gorged to the eyebrows

on secrets

 

At regina gravi iamdudum saucia cura…

 

Now in my cage of bone

two wild birds

shriek and struggle for possession

 

and if it breaks?

across the dawn sky

alites oscines

 

*

 

 ROSARY

 

Five Joyful Mysteries

 

cirrus in a winter sky

an unopened letter in a thick white envelope

the sound of snow falling

two birds together on a branch

a child reading aloud

 

 

Five Luminous Mysteries

 

a cup of cold water

a pair of very sharp scissors, used for cutting hair so that it falls gently,

 effortlessly to the ground

a bowl of soup

light bulbs

a loaf of good bread

 

Five Sorrowful Mysteries

 

the eyes of animals in pain

embryos frozen in time and space

naked young women in hideous undergarments

umbrellas with broken backs

empty vessels

 

 

Five Glorious Mysteries

 

hands

feet

the space in between things eternally divided

Euler’s identity

Einstein’s cross

 

 

 

*


TONIGHT

 

Tonight I give you twelve glass boxes

evenly spaced and lit from inside

you may name each one as you will

apostle or child

 

Tonight I give you a castle by a lake

and its blue, shattered double

I give you a stone sky

perfectly wrought in white

 

Tonight I give you the whole of this wide black river

and the moon not quite full

I give you the white domed church

innocent of tourists

 

I give you Monsieur Paul’s soft-lipped maidens

to comb with languorous brown fingers your hair

and knead your thighs with their feet

 

I give you the news about royalty

and all the best recipes

for eternal happiness

as read on the tube

 

I give you night kisses cold cheeks

pressed to yours

my heart

 

*


A CHRISTMAS LITANY

 

I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house…

 

I buried you deep under dry leaves

but gold leaf dripped from your dead mouth

calling me back again

 

Madonna of the glass tears

Madonna of the blue mantle

Madonna of the autumn violets

Madonna of the white hands

Madonna of loneliness

Madonna of perfect mercy

Madonna of tenderness

Madonna of infinite tenderness

Madonna of silence

 

Madonna of the dry tree

pray for us

Madonna of the lamb

pray for us

Madonna of the air

pray for us

Madonna of the stars

and of small birds

pray for us

Madonna of the snows

pray for us

Madonna of vanquished sorrow

pray for us

Madonna of the secret room

and of the hidden garden

hear our prayer

Madonna of the future

 

that broken glass with

our lips on it

 

ich will dich lieben…

 

that broken glass with our

lips on it

drink deep

 

 

*


LAST NIGHT

 

the moon like one of your fingernails

hangs in the sky

blotting out sleep

 

a child’s dreams have held me

awake all night

daddy’s sorry daddy’s sorry

daddy won’t do it again

 

across the great gulf from your place in hell

are you sorry, daddy?

 

*


GAUGUIN’S GIRLS

 

D'où venons-nous ? Que sommes-nous ? Où allons-nous ?

Under the blue trees where he comes

to fuck us we laugh at his

little hibiscus

he sucks the dreams out of us

for later use

this is where we are going

with a black dog

with a yellow fruit

with a mouth full of spit

we are sailing away

we come from the heart

of darkness

we return to our mother

night

we are not who you

think we are

 

*


LEONARDO'S LADIES

 

Frozen in light

cameras snapping

what’s there to smile about?

 

Far away in Cracow

the lady is holding an ermine

and smiling.


*



ROTHKO – THE LATE SERIES

 

On the bridge

a girl in green

plays the balalaika

 

Lolita in a red beret

examines her nails

before the fiery gates

 

Or columns

(smoke…?)

(dawn…?)

 

‘he gave me back my life’

said a woman at the

twilight gate

 

samurai banners and

black burial clothes

windows onto a starless night

 

 

The night was bigger, then

smaller then

seaflowers floating


*

 

GIRLS OF MOUNT ST. URSULA

 

These girls tell lies

(especially the good girls)

their eyes

in plum blue shadows

are not even listening

and white-gloved hands

offer prayers for deliverance

from this sordid dream

 

‘If you’re ever in Rome, girls,

Don’t take any bones from the catacombs…’

 

Faith hope and geometry

Arts and science

Heroin hairbands and cruelty

abide

 

Saint Angela and Christ alike

seem to have abandoned us

seem to have given up on us

seem to be letting us down

 

What remains of all this misery

is not particularly funny

 

You had to be there

 

*

 


SORROW

 

‘Then I perceived a child being born in the souls of those who love in secret…’

  - Hadewijch, Vision 11

 

A child is born to us

and his name is Sorrow

This beloved child

no man taketh from me

 

in the shadow of death

in the secret chamber of the soul

in the iron cage

 

I hold our child to my breast

and cover his withered cheeks

with kisses

 

*

 

IN SOME SMALL CAFÉ

 

I want to breakyouopen

to drown you

drowninyou

 

Liebling Liebesleid

what did you say?

louder please

I can’t hear you

 

louder please

 

I said

open your mouth

let me in

 

Ah ah ah ah ah

You taste of smoke

and ashes you taste

of kuchenundtee

 

And it’s alsosweet

as a dirty tango

till suddenly it’s sunday

and together we’re

drowning in tea

or tears

 

 

*

 


THOSE

 

dead leaves in contrary motion

scars remote control the death of innocence

those roses children incomparable tears

a half-eaten sandwich

 

canal boats frozen in place

that broken glass with your

lips on it

 

I have no more fear

I am innocent of every crime

I am the bringer of dreams

 

*

 


PRAYER FOR MY BROTHER

 

Some days are holier than others

with a mild, sweet light

as once in Eden.

Some days are set apart

a private Sabbath

kept by the heart.

Words whisper all too loud

take my silence

a kiss the softness of a cloud

and two white arms

twined round your neck

in prayer.

 

*

 BAHNHOF BRIESEN

 

I stood in the dark

for twenty minutes

with ladies who love you

Our breath made clouds

on the frosty air

We avoided the subject

I said I loved Germany

especially the Punktlichkeit

so of course the train

was ten minutes late

I felt light-headed

what with cold and music

and lack of food I

felt my heart had been

scooped out leaving

a cold dark place

where I could still

hear you

 

*


2’ 45”

 

What you must do

do quickly

 

the smile stillborn

the child killed in the womb

the last kiss

let it be done quickly

 

I would lay down my

life for you

I would lie down

and die for you

let it be quickly

 

*

 


THE QUEEN

 

I saw Love a Queen, richly arrayed

her crown adorned with high works

of the humble, who pay her homage.

They swear they are nothing

and Love herself is everything.

 

Her face was a clear mirror

where I saw the wonderful works

done in her name.

Her arms, open wide, embraced them all

and in her side she hid all the sweet kisses

ever given for her sake,

Perfect kisses, without farewell.

 

Under her feet her knights were gathered

and sang her songs of sad praise.

These echo through infinite spaces;

No one understands them

unless he too becomes her servant,

Loving in secret, in all humility,

ready to endure everything

Sweetness and cruelty, joy and sorrow -

All shall be endured for Love’s sake.

 

[very loosely after Hadewijch of Brabant, Vision 13]

 

  

*


ROSENKRANZ

 

Rose sick or sweet

wound in a wounding

crown

blossoms now in hands

feet

Sharon’s rose and

mine

ripe fruit of the vine

Come and eat

 

*

 


BRIDAL BOUQUET

 

By the time they came

wrapped in pale pink paper

I had forgotten to expect them

(not unlike yourself)

Now they are here:

a bridal bouquet of white roses

but where's the bride?

This sad-eyed lady wrings her thin hands

wondering....

what romantic hero could see

the shy bride inside

the melancholy queen of hearts

 

*

 


FOXGLOVES

 

deep in the wood

fresh white gloves

for foxes

 

fox princess slips

small paws into these

for dancing and social occasions

 

take one home

in your pocket (if you dare)

heart medicine

 

*

 


SUMMER TANGO

 

Through the window

somebody singing

an old song to make me smile

 

‘O my lady! Your face

in my dreams

a tangle of laughter and tears’

 

Shall I put on my dancing shoes?

and dance all over

your heart again…

 

If I had a little tagebuch

I might write there

something secret

 

 

*

  

SWEET SHADOW

 

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.

 

Under the shadow of those wings

the little princess lies sleeping

 

The sun shone and my head grew heavy, my eyes dim. I lay down in the shadow of that tree and the supple branches bent low to shelter me, the tender leaves were all of them whispering my name. Soon I slept, and as I slept I dreamt strange dreams of a beautiful country where the sky was covered in golden clouds that sang to me night and day of endless love. Stay, sweet shadow - if these be dreams may I never awake. May I rest in your dark embrace forever.

 

In the corner of the garden

under that sweet shadow

the little princess lies sleeping

a smile at the corner of her lips

her face wet with rain

or tears

 

*

 

 THE FIRE OF LOVE

 

Deep in the forest a fire is burning

That fire consumes everything it touches:

love and hate

gain and loss

truth and lies

honour and shame

 

In that fire all things are made

pure and simple

 

If I might be with God in heaven

or in the torment of hell with you

I would choose hell

 

* 


BLIND BOY

 

I found him sitting in the dark

where no one else could see

I took him home and called him mine

for all eternity

 

He’s just a little blind boy

with curlers in his hair

he doesn’t know the time of night

he doesn’t even care

 

He’s just a little blind boy

with a silver-plated soul

and every time you pick him up

his sorrow leaves a hole

 

A sorry little blind boy

who don’t know how to sin

and nothing ever makes him cry

the way I cried for him

 

*

 


THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION

 

a chamber swept

a garden all enclosed

a gate of gold

an ivory tower to heaven

 

she was born to bring us

Him and what more

could we ask of her

 

a child herself once

 

*

INVULNERABLE CHILDREN


Vulnerable children will not be put at further risk by the introduction of new fees in care proceedings. - the Ministry of Justice

 

Vulnerable children

are being put at risk

on a daily basis

all over town

 

Invulnerable children

don’t have this problem

Go ahead – pick them up and

throw them across the room

They land with a satisfying thud

slide down the wall

and bounce right up again

 

Hit them with a baseball bat

their bones don’t break

Shake them as hard as you like

their brains don’t rattle and eyes don’t roll

 

You can even take a blowtorch to them

They don’t melt either

Or toss them out a window

Feed them to your Rottweiler

Not a problem

 

*



HEILIGABEND

 

We walked upon white

silence behind us kids

were laughing but

quietly perhaps we even

held hands touching through

gloves almost warm we

walked through

village darkness in every

window a light was

shining to the church I

had nothing left

to pray for I

had everything

my heart was that

perfect

none of this

ever happened

not in

this world

 

*


FIRST LOVE

 

The first great love of my life

was a boy with green hair

whom I saw in a movie of the same name.

 

He was the saddest boy in the world

on account of the green hair

he suffered and shed many tears.

 

But I thought – How beautiful it is

that green hair

And wanted it for myself.

 

Thus began a preference for

the melancholy and exotic lover

that’s caused me trouble all my life.


*


ELEGY FOR A PAIR OF WHITE GLOVES

 

The lady who used to make them

has died and no one can be found

to replace her

From now on all gloves will be

machine made only

 

On Sunday mornings always

a pair of white gloves

and with every best frock

and to the opera matinées with Daddy

at school assemblies they were

de rigueur along with the silly hat

(we were not mere girls but

ladies in waiting)                                  

 

If you had a lover

what better token than this?

If you didn’t have a lover

you might attract one by virtue

of their pristine butterfly beauty

 

 

Now the lady who made them

has died

and there is no one

to take her place

I am wearing on my long-fingered

pianissimo hands

the very last pair of white gloves

 

*


FOR ULRIKE

 

So you’ve done all right for yourself

Translating minor novels from an antique tongue

And the same man still on board – well done.

Well, it was what you wanted

That safe proximity of almost-art

The real thing scared you –

(Black goblin under the bed)

Remember the time you called the police

Thinking me about-to-die or dead?

Never mind, you meant it well

You had a good heart.

 

Your face now floats the electric air

Back from the underwater time

Half-remembered, half-forgot

The same dark thundercloud of hair

And heavy brows, a pair of bright blue eyes

I remember you laughed a lot.

 

Better I remember your voice

Soft and low round the stinking coal fire

We unrolled our selves like samplers

In the dim light, threads glinting dark or bright

While outside the snow fell

Hour by hour into the silent night.

 

I watched you fall in love that year

Perhaps gave you a push –

Jump in! The water’s fine

No need to fear

Somehow I knew you’d never sink but swim

As for him, he worshipped the ground

As well he might.

 

As for me

I drifted out to sea

And drowned. Let’s leave it at that.

Some things lost are better left unfound

You’d only remember

A crazy woman who could write.

Still, I’m glad you did all right.


*


SAKURA

 

Like some absurd young bride

in billowing white silk

diamanté tiara, long white gloves

outside a grimy registry office

 

You, blossoming cherry

outside my door.


*


ODI ET AMO

 

I hate and I love you. Why?

I don’t know. But I feel it and

am crucified.

 

odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.

nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

 

[My own 'version' of Catullus carmen 85, and not a literal translation.The author had fun doing it!]


*


ASSUMPTION

 

A sudden whoosh!

of blue air under you

Earth dives away

Angels around you flying

 

Don't look down!

You're falling up

into the light

And a minute ago you lay dying

 

Heaven opens like a rose

to swallow you

Our last best hope

is to follow you

 

Into the sound of white wings sighing

How far is up

If you cannot see the ground?


*


SEPTEMBER SONNET

 

There is a moral beauty to the world:

A white deer is killed by the hunters

Faces in the fields shine after rain

Everything dies and comes again.

 

A beauty you can see and touch. I want!

We say and reach and want - so much

And gather a handful of rain

or tears for our pain.

 

Now what? we are angry

We're hungry, we want to go home

And invisible flowers are blooming just out of reach

While all around us the leaves are falling

 

Snow will cover them

After suffering, a white garment.


*


NIGHT IN PELIATAN

 

those long fingered children

dance for gods and tourists

we happy few


*


ROGER FEDERER WINS WIMBLEDON FOR THE SEVENTH TIME

 

the dance of many-armed Shiva

sometimes they visit us

those elusive gods

 

*


ON FIRST VISITING THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

 

for Joe

 

Dragon wall slumbers between earth and heaven

snow tips dusty hillsides white

 

soon spring rains will wash steps and watch towers

turning startled mountains pink

 

strangers from afar, we climbed the gracious dragon's back

drank plum blossom wine with a gentleman seeker


*


TO CHRIST, THE BRIDEGROOM

 

They say I’m the bride but

You and I know, O best Beloved,

we know better.

The bride? This silly child

 

net curtain over her head

hands clasped in semblance of prayer

beaming bright-eyed laughing coquette

Who’s fooled?

 

But love’s all in earnest

All to thee, my heart.

O you, who loved little ones

 

Suffer this, your child-bride

to come, creeping softly

into your arms this night.


*


BEAUTY HAS A THOUSAND FACES

 

Beauty has a thousand faces

Misery but one.

 

Beauty breaks forth in the strangest places

Where hunger has been

and cruelty and want and lack of love

Suddenly a light behind the eyes

A living seed falls in the ground and dies

and breaks forth shining.

 

We are able to love

for a little - and the world

is a bright mirror held

to Beauty's face.

Every colour and sound

Moon stars sun

A thousand faces break forth shining.

 

We turn away

No light no love

No moon no stars no sun

The face you cannot see in the dark

is always one

is always crying.


*


A VISIT TO THE PALACE OF WHITE DEATH

 

I must travel for many days

across a snowbound landscape

utterly still

not even a bird to break the silence

When at last I arrive and ring the bell

no one answers

I wait outside in the cold for a long time

Then the door is opened by two tall orderlies in white

who neither smile nor speak

They lead me to a perfectly bare room

white or grey in the twilight

 

You are sitting bound to a chair

in the exact centre of the room

dressed in a straitjacket and striped

pyjamas darkly wet at the crotch

I look down at your

white ankle bones

legs like broken sticks

bare feet on the dirty white tile floor

I think how I once kissed those feet

on a golden afternoon by a lake

 

I look up

You neither smile nor speak

But once again our eyes lock

and I feel my heart begin to sink

like a ship going down in icy seas


*

FELIX CULPA

 

At fourteen you were

the god I worshipped

You were golden bronze

and black

beautiful as Perseus

in your Sicilian skin

 

You courted me with sea bass

and smooth-skinned blues

and took me fishing

at five a.m.

(Never before or since

have I been seen that early)

 

I remember the boat rocked

and it was cold

I remember the fog

I wanted you to kiss me

by way of an experiment

(but I was only twelve and you

didn’t)

 

Today, out fishing on the net

I caught you

seriously fat but still

fishing

a bright red rockfish

dead on your rod

 

 

*

 

 

HEART'S DESIRE

 

I found it under a mossy stone

in a wood where I wandered all alone

I found it under a greenwood tree

where nobody thought to look but me.

The moon was shining, the stars were nigh

I heard the northwind whisper and sigh

I took it home hid under my dress

the secret of all my happiness

Found in the greenwood under a tree

where nobody thought to look but me.


*


DAYS OF GRACE

 

The days of grace are coming

The days of sorrow cannot last

Already on the horizon

great galleons, treasure-laden

are driving golden clouds before the mast

 

Already the sky is a new colour

never once seen by man

The wind from the west blows sweeter

Ruffles your hair with a loving hand

 

The birds have fallen silent

listening for what is about to be

At night the stars are falling

like handfuls of quiet confetti into the sea

 

Now is the time to watch

Take a deep breath

Take my hand

The days of sorrow are nearly ended

The days of grace are at hand

 

*



Some of these poems first appeared in Ink, Sweat & Tears, Snakeskin, Blue and Yellow Dog, Voices of Israel, Pilgrim, Houston Literary Review, Magnapoets, and the Journal of Creative Geography.