A small brown boy,
a sulky underlip,
like little fish
his almost memories
on his back,
a passport, bought
at great expense.
He’s legal, sort of.
She never understands
why he screams to see
the festive flowers of flame
in the Christmas grate,
why he still wets the bed,
how, green as the leaves
on cloth his mother sold
at market is not the same
as English green
that mists spring trees,
is fragile as a fistful of sky
and sky is thin blue
milk and scalded cream.
He never understands
how she was cracked,
not broken, emptied out,
except and if, only
his crumpled fist
would open for her.
They never understand.
But knit one, purl one,
who knows what grows,
from their tangled skein of roots?
As the composer Cornelius Cardew said you could.
Water has escaped from its staves.
Crochets and quavers flood
Rain aims its arrows sharp
as a grudge. Tock! but plink, slock,
poetic gurgle are all drowned in a rage of sound.
Metaphors sweep away as the long balance
between us, our watery selves,
our one foot on the bone of dry land,
teeters. They are dropping stones
in the brook, not to tune it,
not to make music at all
but clumsy as a child practicing scales
to send it roaring down a different street –
where? not ours, not ours – let the fish drown,
butterflies starve, the neighbour’s
piano collapse, the plain fretwork of bells ring
from an underwater tower
before we have to face,
hands over ears, eyes blind,
the music of this hour.
Grave, tall buildings, gables stepped,
trams shimmying on a grey day,
only lit by the taxidermist’s window.
A fox pads, his smile of satisfaction
reaches to the exclamation
of his tail.
Indolent, full of mouse, coiled
in her basket a stripy pink-nosed cat.
You wait for her whiskers to twitch.
Birds like bright gloves
fly from the ceiling, emerald, topaz,
blazing blue – and the dim rust of sparrows
with their poignant fuse-wire feet.
A small boy weeps to his fascinated
mother – ‘but they’re all dead Mum…’
Someone with spectacles, scalpel, scissors,
glue, twine, has tried to stitch up death,
as if you could.
The wind picks up.
Trees shake their wrists.
The leaves spin down.
Wiser than us, they lie
on their deep beds of each other.
their gold turns brown.
‘You can’t tell a book by its cover.’
No? when today, light from two tall
windows flickers, trills, seduces
and small birds of sunlight
pluck, dart and run up the shelves.
Like robins on a spade after worms
they pull out the colours of the faded spines,
tease the books to forget the weight
of their histories, abandon alphabets,
defy gravity, lift off and fly.
Will they sing, their multiple leaves
fluttering like feathers?
Will they open their throats
and fill the empty shelves
with a song the colour of sunlight?
Pristine or dog-eared,
frequently visited or more often
forgotten, my books today, taken
not out of their shelves but themselves,
settle quietly, murmuring of weather.