from Italian Sonnets
I picked out What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
from that blue bookcase on a garden wall
under the fig tree. Having scarcely read
four pages, closing it, I see a small
bush cricket, her antennae waving, mask
What on the spine, aligning it exactly
with her sides. What? her body seems to ask,
threading it through a green transparency.
Now what? she asks a glass jar. Through the glass
she’s slightly magnified as if through water.
She’s upside down but thinks she’s horizontal,
being used to the verticals of grass.
I think she likes diurnal roosting better
than asking questions so imponderable.
Reading under Trees
Never were texts less arid. Mrs Ramsay,
knitting, timed her rows with the lawnmower,
seeds and thistledown floated over Swann’s Way
while grass kept quoting ‘glory in the flower’.
Insects flew on and off, streams mingled with
their sentences, wind muddled up their pages.
The sounds of carpentry, the coppersmith,
faint traffic, rose behind their languages.
And once a woman reading under trees,
bowed to a book, sitting oddly at ease
beside a statue of a woman also
bowed to a book, the one a perfect echo
of the other, summoned a double rainbow –
one arc in graphite, one in primaries.
Postcard from Crete
I bought this one to keep. It half-recalls,
from years ago in Turkey, a verandah,
a flight of steps, flowers like waterfalls
on either side of scarlet, pink, magenta,
leading up to a tea-room in the middle
of nowhere where we once had Turkish breakfast.
The actual place seems immaterial.
What mattered were the chickens in the dust,
petrol cans potted with geraniums,
divans with rugs, an overhang of shade.
For people like me who belong nowhere,
places leave images we love to pair,
twin surfaces we’ve skimmed and overlaid,
cross-pollinating all our brightest vacuums.
My Mother’s Lighter
From place to place, her lighter travels with me.
People admire it. Gold and tortoiseshell,
engraved with her initials, marked Colibri.
Vintage, cased, but not worth enough to sell.
and with no true attachment to or knowledge
of my own history, I try its weight
in my palm, run my thumb along an edge.
I flick the lid, the miniature flint wheel,
and the same flame, its root invisible,
its body blue, tip gold, that she’d have seen
flares in the sunlight even as I feel
the wind hood heat up on my finger till
I snap it shut and rub my thumbprint clean.
Poetry startled me awake last night.
Stray lines, excited to be up so late,
streaked into view then melted out of sight
in light, without the lights on, grey as slate.
I listened, looked; half-blind, half-animal.
Cool air in a through-draught ruffled my fur.
I was a blind old tabby, dazed, forgetful,
letting the lines like mice race by the sofa.
Even in bed, Proust caught them by the tail,
batted them back and forth from clause to clause
till all the truth drained out of them and lay
pooled on the page. But my dim wits, my paws
were too illiterate to read their braille –
my mice would never see the light of day.
You may be in a café reading when,
after the intro, Billie Holliday
and Easy Living lure you out of Walden
and swing you in a trance out of the café.
You may be watching Shaun Evans as Morse
mostly to marvel at the mimicry
of his body language so like John Thaw’s
when you’re torn away, this time by Puccini,
away from the spires of Oxford to fall,
to fall as Tosca falls, defences fall,
that your heart breaks open a dungeon door
and griefs like prisoners crouched on the floor
bestir themselves and infant griefs like dolls
sleep through a bell that tolls and tolls and tolls.
Background Music II
Music, being as wordless as they are –
these frozen griefs no trauma ever thawed,
these griefs that thought goodbye was au revoir
and thought the dead were living still abroad,
these unnamed griefs, forgotten in a wasteland
where who and what and why have long dissolved –
seems, once brought to the fore, to understand
griefs neither time nor rhyme nor love resolved.
And sometimes dreams of dull bewilderment
when wrong and right change places without cause
while witnesses, thank god, seem not to notice
dredge up those feelings of abandonment,
the day’s debris for you alone to witness
a flood of shame that out of shame withdraws.