When frost draws fishbone and fern on windowpanes,
water is running through memories, tracing forms
like starry mosses, muscles and intricate brains.
Water has been there.
Thus, as liverwort tongues, it overlapped;
thus it feathered the coalmeasure forest fronds,
and thus it was combed by mermaidens' cold webbed hands.
bloody adventures as Man, and many deaths
from which it emerged unscathed, as from the fire
water ascends as a ghost and descends as a shower.
Water reminds us
nothing that truly exists can ever be lost.
It recapitulates its countless loves,
having been present at every winesodden wedding
and virgin's deflowering.
Water confetti falls on the winter forest,
loading all trees alike with spurious blossom,
heavy as fruit, that bends then breaks the branches.
Crutches of water
prop every plant in the forest. Making, unmaking,
water is omnipresent and taken for granted;
being, perhaps, mere ambassador, deputy, servant
of something forgotten.
This drizzle rots white tapes
of wallside snow, thaws out
the earth so that a worm escapes
to probe, with tapered snout,
hard tarmac where it cannot find—
although it gropes about—
the way back underground.
It stretches out its span
of pearl-complexioned, blind
and naked gut, grows thin
and long, and then contracts
its length again.
It seems the fool elects
to cross the rainwet road
while ignorant of facts
such as: it is thrush-food,
and there are tractor-wheels.
you seem to have two tails
but one's your brainless head.
should hide beneath the mud:
why not move in reverse
and thus go back to bed
before your plight grows worse?
Its boneless finger points
across a universe
of road, so, all at once
I seize the creature's saddle.
Convulsed, and lacking joints,
it knots into a muddle
which I set down on grass.
Released from its tight huddle
it burrows. Soon its arse
waves me goodbye, withdraws
to worms' nutritious house:
the home of both of us.
I lie across my mother’s knees
and people, tall as walking trees,
look down upon me where I lie
and look away and hurry by.
I lie across my mother’s lap;
her brown hand shakes the money-cup.
Men hear its rattled lullaby
and hurriedly they walk away.
The music jangly money makes
means bread and soup, potato-cakes
and shelter from the rainy sky.
Men duck their heads and hurry by.
They keep the coins that are the key
to happiness: sweet mugs of tea
and freedom to stand up, and play:
but hurriedly they walk away.
I learn my mother’s trade. I whine
“We have no country of our own:
no house, no bed; please sir —” I say
the English words. They walk away
weighed down by pockets in their coats,
chock-full of money, even notes
whose magic signs could set us free
to leave our pitch and walk away.
I’d go to find the money-mill,
the money-hall, the money-hill
or well: the bottomless supply
that packs the purses that pass by.
Beneath our lintel hung a papery breast
nippled with penetrating dark that pierced
the layered curtain of the Queen Wasp’s nest.
Out of this summer palace, princelings flew;
some hunted, some had building-work to do;
the population and the palace grew.
They fetched new wood-pulp, added paper ridges,
and, working backwards along selvages,
turbaned the nest in mummy-bandages.
A cabbage with grey leaves, drilled by a worm:
a pendent dome: a tumour on the beam:
a paper brain that hummed with thoughts of home:
the prison-chapel of a pregnant nun
who crouched in prayer, walled up from the sun,
to bear her thousand children one by one.
Her nursery, inverted tree of pods,
has hatched its hundreds, but the Queen still adds
more eggs, possessed by Summer’s dying gods.
The princes’ number dwindles. Still tight-laced
and elegant as ever – isthmus waist
links tiger-bustle to her pigeon-chest –
the venerable Queen within the walls
sits brooding over trays of cradle-cells
where perfect wasps lie dead beneath their seals.
A secret monument to Summer past,
she desiccates in darkness, grey with dust,
killed by the silent treachery of frost.
previously published in Six legs Good,
Mandeville, 1987 ISBN 870410 02 5
and in collection A Paper Ark,
Peterloo, 1996, ISBN 1 871471 62 1
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