Most times it’s knowing when to stop, to leave it,
to let go’s the hardest bit; but this time something
ticks inside his chest. A small flip-flutter
and he’s laying down his grooming brush,
standing back to look at hide and flank, at legs
as delicate as wish-bones, those tricky, dainty hooves.
Glossed eyes like alleys shine at him, he knows
their fringes, lash by lash positioned by his steady hand
and sees that it is good, is finished. He folds his arms
across his chest and leans the weight of all his weariness
down through his heels, relieves the slow ache in his back
and sees that this is something other than his making, this
swell and symmetry of belly stripes that shift, as if a breath
is being taken, as if, somewhere inside, a heart is ticking.
“What shall Cordelia do? Love, and be silent.”
King Lear, Act I Sc.i
Like sand through the nip of a waisted glass, salt
pools on a dark plate and waits – the old conceit –
for you to make your mark: tine-lines, knife-edge
asterisks, the swirls the tip of your finger chooses.
Like a father’s test – How much? a daughter’s sure reply –
Like fresh meat needs salt, love’s necessary as air, as
oxygen to a blue flame, as a vital pinch to keep you
safe from the wrath of devils you don’t believe in.
But here’s un-holy salt on a plate, tap it back to flat,
to freshly fallen, clean-sheet white, imagine its sting
on the tip of your tongue, dip your finger in and wait.
Now make your mark, insignificant rune, that easy
hieroglyph, sweet conceit, that love will understand.
I’m building a box: not quick-assembled
with an Allen key and diagram, not pine
or MDF or even beech veneer, this one
is patina’d and grained in walnut,
dovetailed, countersunk and bevelled,
heavy-lidded, hinged with solid brass.
It’s big: just big enough to hold
New York, a pilgrimage to Northern Spain,
a framed collage of cheapday travel cards
to castles; and a house with elbow-room
for two, sky windows and the sound
of Chinese wind chimes telling tales.
The picture of a person lying
at a crossroads will fit in beside
the sound his body made as it hit metal
and the way it trembled, bled along
with all the promises the morning
had just made about its afternoon.
The lid and body marry perfectly,
a soft click as the catch slips
into place – no need for chains
or padlocks; tap its sides and listen,
clench your fist and knock to hear
its low-pitched, empty echo.
My head is a spoon that dips and scoops
fine sugar from a china bowl, remembers
sherbet ochre tongues and the stain on the
tip of a finger shrivelled with sucking.
My face is a flower that turns with the sun
sneaks a look from the edge of a tarmac square,
remembers the scrape and bounce of fivestone chalks
worn smooth and round with playing.
My back is an S that aches on a stool, remembers
the scale of ascending C where thumbs go under,
the broken key and the ring of a fender, bruised
in simple time, by a poker’s four-four beating.
My legs are a long case clock, a pendulum pair
that swings and remembers great aunt afternoons
the rub of a cut-moquette settee, a glimpse
of a beaded muslined jug, and ticking.