His silence now is blue. As if an artist drew
a laden brush of paint from alder buds to reeds
his mind and mouth and tongue are flushed
by blue: the low-slung sky, the feathered seeds,
the brook like navy slate beneath a moon,
the tassels of phalaris plumes fused
with the moody amethyst of alder buds;
blue dancing in the rain-logged field’s flood,
and blue the cold stars whirling in his head.
He knows that in this moment as he speaks
“cyan, cobalt, indigo” will float
like moulted feathers from his throat,
his tongue become the painter’s brush
that coats the world in this deep blue hush.
(For Derek Mahon)
Every bit the country gentleman back then.
Tweed jacket, twill trousers.
Shoes well polished.
so quiet he never said much about himself,
only about poetry or possibly a student.
We sat at break with our cups of tea
in a room dark with wood.
Had there been a green-shaded lamp,
a mahogany desk and a leather chair
it would have suited him well.
As would a pipe on which to suck
while he reflected.
Tea-break ended, his reflections
were never voiced.
He was probably always thinking
as he sat there with his cooling mug,
of that fungal shed in County Wexford,
the lost people of Treblinka.
On the top shelf dust floats up, thick as bran and chaff:
Tschiffeley’s Ride, Mary O’Hara’s Thunderhead,
The Pony Club, the Spanish Riding School.
I open a set of Katy Dids (prize for English)
and am an awkward child again,
snatching the books from the teacher’s hand
in case he should change his mind.
Treasure Island, Kidnapped kept me awake
by torchlight under the sheet.
The deadline sweat of college essays:
midnight panicking through Austen, Brontë,
Dostoevsky, Lawrence, Joyce and Woolf.
Dust down the Teach Yourself: Italian. Finnish –
fifty years since I spent summer months in Finland,
freezing lakes, huge moons and silent forests.
Italy I’ve never visited. But might.
Reacquaint myself with Alison Uttley’s
Country Hoard. It told me all the music of the world
lived in the heart of the ash –
what will happen to that music
now the ash are dying?
Tucked among them all, shabby and much read,
the pocket-size Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers,
a birthday gift when I was eight,
the book that sparked a life-long love of nature.
I open it and once again am lost in verges
thick with sanfoin, salad burnet, vetch.
I come up from the underground of thought
to recognise these fruit, but not the name:
three fat globes in a cardboard tray,
round and glowing as the sun, shiny
with wax to keep them from decay.
I pick one up and sniff at it: the waxing
locks all secrets tight inside
its thick and artificial hide.
Even so I buy them, to remind myself
of Carolina fields, wild
with pokeweed, briar, bluets,
small trees of self-sown persimmon.
Like Eve, I picked and tasted one,
learned the bitter smack of unripe fruit:
it seared my palate, paralysed my tongue.
Yet after frost the round green sour fruit
adopt the soft gold silkiness of apricot.
Their heavy perfume curdles, clots
the air to sweetness that grows denser
when they fall to earth and rot
so that, as if drunk, we lurched
from tree to tree, quite overwhelmed.
We were not drunk, but simply felled
by mush and rot and perfumed fruit,
that staggering sweet and lavish smell.
So when I slice into the flesh of these
I hope the wax with which they’re glossed
will leave them bland and dull as promised:
or I’ll be drowned in painful memories,
lost, completely; double-crossed.