Naked, through a spyhole in the door,
Lenka sees two men – one old, one young –
Crouching, draws a wrap up from the floor
And winds herself – the snare soon to be sprung –
In white, then lights a candle ritually.
Her carpet – such a pool of blue, such blue,
Which Lenka scarifies habitually
With circling toes as prisoned leopards do
The sawdust in their cages – changes hue,
Paling in the breathed-on waxy flame.
Now Lenka throws the bolt – as gaolers do,
Who carry all the keys but not the blame –
Well knowing why they came and what to say.
The older man presents his nephew K.
The lamping poacher’s dog is tight to heel,
The rabbit’s eyes are moons and filled with fright;
A blinding beam, a frozen target, real
Astonishment before the yellow bite –
And soil to sauce; a winter Tuesday kill.
A winter Tuesday still for Joseph K.
Sweet Lenka smells his blood but has no skill
To plead with eyes which see but cannot say,
“My Josef, run to see another day!”
For his are locked with hers on mutual schemes
And thus they freeze, and both are hunter’s prey;
The poacher’s hand is on their lashed-back dreams.
Not knowing what she wants or what to do,
Lenka blinks and shrinks away from view.
Now in her room again all blue, all blue,
Lenka slips her wrap and lets it fall,
And naked as a cat she stares anew
At sadness in a mirror on the wall.
The candle spits, and at her feet a moth
Is dying on a winter Tuesday night.
Mad Lenka with her toe teases the cloth
Towards the captive – scuffling, craving flight.
“Why such a death?” she whispers at the sight,
Treading the wrap with care to stop a life
Already stopped and hopeless in its fight,
“But any death is better than the knife.”
Then knowing she must settle up a score,
She takes a plate and hurls it at the door.
For K, whose life depends on paper whims,
The evening’s measured out in single files;
The lawyers drone, exoneration dims,
But Josef’s blood is quick from Lenka’s smiles.
Then Lenka’s china, broken just for K,
Signals he must come; so, fixed as truth,
Though folded blind in dreams, he finds the way,
And logs the ledger of his life marked “Youth”
With Love’s last sighting. Green, uncouth,
He stumbles from the room to Lenka’s arms.
He does not hear his uncle’s cry: “Forsooth,
He’s fallen for that filthy trollop’s charms!”
Only his sentence – deadlier than any –
Lenka’s whispered: ‘You must call me Leni.”
She knelt as she was bidden,
Chiselled knees on the stones.
Her robe was ripped
And her throat knew the wind.
The desert was before her,
The sea was behind her,
Beyond the locked gates
Of the reservation.
The morning sun was blood red,
The air stank of slaughter.
She had no word for her captor
And none was asked.
The wind was from the East,
From the City of Peace,
And it caressed her throat,
And it tossed her hair.
She had been imprisoned,
Her sons and daughters were dead,
All her people gone or grieving;
She had been raped,
She had been torn,
Her body was broken,
She had nothing to offer
But her dark throat.
And the wind was from Jerusalem,
And the wind was Jerusalem,
The City of Peace,
And Jerusalem was stirring,
And the wind was angry,
And punished the olive trees.
Jerusalem growled and drew back her lips,
And her fangs were long,
And she raised herself
Like a mighty beast
And beat her breast and roared,
And the wind was fury.
She strode to her captive’s cage,
Where yesterday’s bread was strewn
And children played in the mud
On the beach by the guarded sea;
Where men made piles of stones
And dug a warren under the walls,
Took their foolish piles
And scurried through tunnels
To sling them at the East
And scurry foolishly back,
And women sewed and worried,
And dreamt of air and laughter.
Jerusalem was a hurricane of rage,
So black the sun was scared,
The earth trembled
And birds were mute.
And she whirled over the girl,
Basting her with hatred.
Yes, Jerusalem was masked,
But her eyes were hard,
All vengeance, all lust.
Still, the captive girl gazed proudly
Across her lands,
Though the battering wind lashed her throat.
The men threw rocks at the beast,
The women threw stones,
The boys, the girls, threw pebbles
Which skittered in the sand.
Then Jerusalem’s graceful hand,
With scything, polished nails,
Stooped like a hawk from the sky,
Suddenly, so fast, so terrible,
And whipped and slashed,
And grasped and crushed and swiped;
Oh, Jerusalem roared
And screamed her vengeance.
Soon two thousand lay in blood,
And the prison bars were slippery.
Jerusalem’s glossy talons
Scratched a J in the sand,
The ruby sand, and scrabbled
And sought for prizes
In the rubble, and took the girl,
And tied her hands behind her back,
And dragged her to this place
Where now she gazed to the East,
The hot storm on her bones
And the wind’s sharp blade on her throat.
The girl was Gaza.
And though her hair was grasped then,
And though her throat was cut then,
And though her head was severed then,
And though her corpse lay limp then,
Her pure, white soul stood erect
With untied hands,
And gazed ever to the East,
Past the blood-wet gates,
At the City of Peace.
And her heart was strong,
And her eyes were proud.
“God loves you,” lisped our host, and cast our coins
Like silver seed a-tinkle in a tray;
Some star-struck born-againers from Des Moines,
By a ghostly monk were shooed away
Down an ancient stairwell to our right,
In single file, their Nikes stroking stone,
All hush, all awe; a creak, a crash of light,
A thudding door – and we were quite alone.
He sidled close, his arm-bone clamped my waist,
He wheezed the scent of tombs up at my face,
Our elfin, bearded, toothless Coptic priest,
And us, all loved-up in this holy place.
He drew us to the disappearing stair,
A shade enticing victims to his lair.
The bone was tightening; this was not much fun,
I wish I’d guessed the end he had in mind;
The stair so narrow Elf and I were one,
We followed you, four shuffling feet behind,
The vault crepuscular, sickly the air;
Our guide, rheumatic in old hessian shoes,
Toeing the dust to test each well-rubbed stair,
A dwarfish incubus I could not lose.
The door at last. His right hand snaked to pull
It wide, his lizard left hand found an in,
And as he shoved us through he plundered all,
My balls, my willy, all my private skin,
And we were out, the door behind us slammed,
Defiled amongst the godly and the damned.
Our laughter was a desecration, though
The Holy Sepulchre’s a comic place,
With legion bleeding Mary’s stabbed quite through,
And pendant Jesu’s daft, lugubrious face.
A soldier ordered us to leave the square,
And off we scrambled, shamed down to our shoes,
To the Via Dolorosa, where
A simpering Christian maiden waved Good News:
A picture of two stick men, one behind
Akimbo, and the legend truly read
In kiddy’s font: “The blind leading the blind”!
At this point you and I were screaming dead.
“God loves you,” said the godly girl He’d sent,
And We were glad, and damned, and off We went.
New Year’s Night 2014
The night’s a masterpiece. The olive groves
Are stippled silver by a maiden moon;
The mountain’s terraced flank is stitched with trees;
Gothic arches of oaks form gloomy naves,
And the winter vines between make fighting shapes
Like crippled beggars angry with the breeze.
With mountain cloud and valley fog below,
The hillside air is clear for me, but sharp,
As I punch my stick and boots into the stones
And clamber North, away from last year’s moon,
Towards the olives, the dog roses and briars,
All wild up there, all rooted in ancient bones.
Below me in the valley, monochrome,
A frothing of treetops stripes the lines of vines
I know are there – but infinitely black,
For my moon has left the stage. A far-off light
From a farmer’s tiny kitchen in the hills
And dissonant barks from his kenneled hunting pack
Are company, as I climb and fetch my breath
In the ice-hemm’d air, and haul my bones where slaves
And donkeys hauled the kitchens, the timber, the tools,
The cloths, the ice, the oils, armour, swords,
The loads of vegetables and the spoils of war,
The prince’s bed and his many mistresses’ jewels.
At last a grassy plateau in the stones.
I breathe a little lighter, though my heart
Is quarrying now. The farmer’s light goes out,
And so I raft alone through history,
In a sucked-out universe. I float or melt.
I am invisible. To the East from here no doubt
Hearts beat. Yes, there is shy light from skylights
And street-lamps, where a shuttered, sleeping village
Licks heaven’s low rafters pink. The burka’d maid
Will not return this night. Now trees enclose,
But wind is whitening out the sound of leaves.
I wonder if he is here yet in the glade
I came to wait in. Far away, more villages
Glow through mist so thick they suffocate,
And rain or even snow must shine the streets,
And grease the cobbles in dead alleys where
Handcarts and clogs and dogs and kids once made
All the worldly sounds, and simple sweets
Were sold through half-doors in the afternoons.
Those days! Pourtant, que la montagne est belle…
Perdu! And after harvest through the years
Families caroused, and in the squares
Copper stills made fire of Papi’s wine…
Near me, a hoof-fall. Silence… France disappears.
The mountain mist is rich with breath of thyme,
And mint and hay, and his throat is in my face;
His giant head dips gently to my cheek.
I do not move, but share a soldier’s grunt.
He has been waiting, too, quiet on the turf;
He knew each rock, each tree and every creek
Between us in the cloistered crush of darkness,
And slipped the herd to peel away and meet me
Privately, on this cold Mediterranean night
On our mountain, where in silence we two share
Our story with the horsemen, those who fell
For princes’ vanities, or claimed a right
To tell the peasants what they must believe,
And raise a castle up atop the hill;
And the horses, hundreds of them, hauling rocks
And folk on carts, Crusaders some, and ladies
Of the court, and children too. Their ghosts now
Play in icy streams or tend their flocks
In this Elysian night above the graves
We never choose to think of, far below;
Those headstones tell but brief and silly things
Of men and women, boys and girls, who ploughed
And planted, reaped and danced and wept and loved
And made their music, chose their wedding rings…
This special eve we share their timeless tale;
Oh, we have joined them, and for half a night
Are stallion, man and every mother’s son
Who fought and won or lost on Fressac’s hill;
Are happy in the noble prize we share,
The brotherhood of living things at one.