These are the wide, incredulous eyes of Harpo Marx,
handed a plate which will soon be filled
with the tangled cordage of fresh spaghetti.
They speak of astonishment at such reversals
when the out-of-luck come into their own
and the least they can do is eat up.
The post-prandial concert is inevitable.
They are singing after supper their only song:
We have only our talent and our hunger to give you;
We are the century's displaced, the scuttling survivors
who seem to travel light but whose baggage
is weightier than any braced trunk deep in the hold.
The tall girl from Kildare,
I imagine you among horses and wide fields,
having taken the fence you faltered at,
marrying your man with the stubbled chin
and the slow, gentle smile.
On our bar stools, just the two of us,
like an emblem of innocence and experience,
we rehearsed your story: dismantled dreams
when his car left the country road
and your heart, untenanted, searching,
came to ask itself if happiness was the four walls
of a good man's house who would not survive you.
On a lift into town, he stopped at a barley field,
waded out like a fisherman in shallow seas,
to stare at the blank horizon as if a message
were posted for his attention,
and came back to the Land Rover, saying nothing.
Our game of tennis at dusk, the lost ball we foraged for
in the long grass where our hands brushed lightly
and you turned away, saying nothing.
Do you rule now a flagged kitchen
in a big house among fields,
or do you trim the plant of a single life
with expert fingers, sheathed in a green glove?
How Daphne might have felt
as she ran from the breathy Apollo
(before her skin was bark, her feet roots,
her arms boughs in wild semaphore,
her fingernails the bitter leaf
destined for a victor’s crown)
I felt in that nightmare of pursuit
one is always destined to wake from.
The Russians, it may be, are crushing dissent.
In Kuala Lumpur they are gaining merdeka.
But in this kitchen my mother is shaking flour
from a grey dispenser to her pastry board
and in the garden there are rows of currant,
gooseberry, and the knobbly branches
of an apple tree, whose fat, peeled fruit
cools in a pan while the pastry is rolled.
Suburban England hears only the bee
as it enters the kitchen to fly through the house
with the soft drone of a biplane in a blue sky.
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