A selection of poems from various collections

Krim hills, Ukraine 

Krim hills
drenched in potential blood
Krim fields
also without guilt or fault,
fence, ditch, demarcations
human and temporary.
To the east, unheard like daylight
what will or will not happen.

Whoever lives or lived here
accustomed over generations
to the configurant edges and rises
seen against stars or an indifferent morning
a trace, a synapse
in the secret, gathered mind.

The deep unhappy forests
the steep light upright among trees,
stands of trees, worked and familiar.
Farther, across the next valley or the next
less known but known
larger boundaries like the red lines
on maps,
on parchment, as if permanent


Permission to Write 

Not about a cruise ship nearing Palermo that had a sighting from the bridge and the captain made the
decision not to announce it and sent a message to the entertainment manager to plan extra indoor
activities and to the crew to deny access to the upper decks, because lower down it wasn’t visible
out on the edge of the calm blue, off to the south west and into the sun. But one passenger had seen it
from the upper deck and the word spread and soon the whole ship knew of it and people climbed
as high as they could, it was like whale watching, a thrill, though the craft was far off and low in the
water, no more than a short black line. Those with binoculars could see more: dots of numerous
heads, as if they were looking at a trough of flowers.

Ghost crabs, Kihei

The beach is still in shadow
but it’s changed – scratched, textured,
something frantic happened here
written all over at high speed,
a kind of needlework, punctured in parallel
seams sewn with a frenzied purpose,
and directionless.

Or it’s the aftermath
of warfare – tank tracks, bomb
craters and spewed sand, Desert Storm
on a tiny scale and only just surrendered.

What activity! Such articles
of war required a particular night
for signing, the moon to be not quite
half and the tide, all it would take
to be at it. There’d have been,
with anyone there to listen, a fierce whisper
almost sub-aural, all those armoured tips
manipulating, eyes on stalks
gunmetal backs gone haywire, mass and mess
and movement at ground level.

Whatever it was, it’s all stitched up.
The surf wipes the lower shore
and soon the towels and feet
of tourists will smooth away
whatever was done or undone,

While underground
in tunnels, in their solitary cells
the ghost crabs kneel on their many knees.


Making the most of it 

The terrible self awareness that
comes with illness fragmented bone
like shell still stuck to the boiled heart –
if you were ill you would
like many a woman make something brave of it
I suppose, or shoulder it like a work
or art, or break it in hatred into paint
you would write poems
mount an exhibition
on the subject of Breast Cancer
or whatever, they’re all doing it
at the Barbican
beauty and the fear of death
and people moving carefully past
clutching their purses as they watch

It does not quite work
however, and the watchers know for sure
you would rather be healed
than any of this, be whole, your life
simple again, domestic, plain as an apron blowing
against a plain blue sky.

Night in “Shakespeare”

The 4 poster
with its 2 fat posts at the foot
its headboard 1651
its ceiling the wood as dark
as liver or dried blook and in the corner
the sentry wardrobe tall enough for a sentry
fire screen and smoky fire
the Esk turning its volume up
whenever the window’s opened over the drop its cut
then uncut stone, trees out in the dark to where
the glen widens Edinburgh lights
staining the inversion that hideous pink
which is also black, pink black like underwear
that got in with the whites.

Nothing to say. Someone stitched
these hangings, some child to judge by the motif
laborious pansies and running hounds. Faded now
discoloured it’s all old world and romantic
the slabs and wedges of four hundred years
inserted slivered into the present
which without will unwills its history
the young new century already exhausted
like a dog hurt in traffic who snarls if anyone tries to help it,
made vicious by pain.

From The God Poems, 1-9 

4. God and the target-rich environment

God hearing about the target-rich environment
considers with renewed respect His dumb
creatures, dogs in front of stores whose minds
are stupid and patient, every animal
waiting in abatement, and trees
who translate the wind and even the saw’s whine
into their innocence, all silences
and guileless noise the slide
of the encapsulated fish whose cloth
of water fits continuously, the radiant wing
of a blackbird sleeked down as it settles on a wire
its cry
is beautiful to Him He has sealed
their mouths they have no devious wisdom
right now He appreciates them

6. God in the eye of the storm

God has gone out of the eye of the shield
and into the eye of the storm He regards
maneuvers (as always
rejecting Lo here and Lo there)
he would have preferred
old lines but they’re blurred
divers fool around after mines
in the churned-up offshore waters
and up against the ruins of Sumer two jets
nestle like chicks
as for the border
it’s a mess huge balls of fire
soften the troops God’s finger
has no need to write
where funny little tennis balls
arc perfectly and ineffectually
against the gameroom green
and friendly fire
the nosedown helicopter crew’s surprised
embracement to His bosom


Kasabach-Merritt Syndrome 

The anticipated twofold name
part Prussian even, the stacked pages and graphs
are beyond me, the blackish photographs,
words like hemangomia, vascular,
primitive angioblast,
self-limiting, transient, cosmetic and benign
and then to scare me: or
morbid and cavernous.

I turn back to the table the harsh light
where you lie without protest
naked, new born
your skin is gray and ill
like fine sand weightless/ weighed down
your life’s violence and possibility
presenting only
in this scattering of dark lesions, visible and terrible.

Described as warm to the touch,
taut, pulsatile, without audible bruit.
A string of three across your brow
blood-red and shiny, so my pencil
leaps and cringes. More on your belly, your side,
while down your gauzy arm and at your throat
swarm the enlarged and involute:
black, foamy, petrified.

I draw a listless hand
finger by finger, the forgivable
minutiae of nail, knuckle, and on the third, there –
a berry, a sudden ruby!

Ruby. In a word I see you, the air
goes clear as water, you’re
bejewelled then, bedecked as with coral
rising, its gems and encrustations
islands of breathing silence, you are star
studded, manifold, and my hand
steadies, my vision
writes indelibly, as with points of diamonds.

Edmonton, 1998

M. temporalis 

If you put your head to your temples
you will find
them covering up two other hands
forever yours, as much as ever is,

temporalis, stretched
over the almost windowed mind
as if behind such beaten alabast
the minnowy temporary tick
of neurons could be counted, visible –

and time
touches first here with its white hair
who knows why? most beautiful
name, and shapely too the way these lie
steep at the caving in behind the eyes
two simple slips along the bone
and hold the head in secret, and mean no harm.
As if a voice said, Look, look forward, that
is what is coming,
do not flinch.


Biking With Skulls Through Copenhagen  

5: 2 on my back
and 3 on the rack behind me the fingers of my left hand
signing each box through the soft vinyl bag
to steady me, my right hand steering,
upright against all odds and wobbling forward–
not a good plan to run the yellows
today, with such cargo! who’d come
to pick up– wheels spinning
and everything spread, as the other
bikers swerve to avoid bone bits
curved like shells, a scatter of long teeth?
So I’m taking extra care, let the speedy crowd
pass me in brilliance, thread into distances,
my mind’s on the near curb, by Panum the patch
of wet cobbles where the bike path
crosses the sidewalk and my gritty hoard
jolts in the gauze, past Sankt Hans Torv
and the concrete ugly fountain,
I’d head casually here,
nip over to Elmegade past the antikvarium
try to make the next light, but instead
I slow, reach back for another ritual touch,
and check the weightless weight across my shoulders.
Past 70’s housing and easing around the corner
into Prins Jørgens Gade where once
squatters threw toilets from the fifth floor
windows and then escaped by a tunnel
under the urinals–
all new fronts now, the socialist café,
minor graffiti, fruit stalls, ‘habibi
says the Palestinian to all his customers
the way they say ‘love’ in London
I won’t stop now for his portughali here comes
the Number Three behind me, this time
let it pass, wait in its stink at the stop
while the others go streaming by,
more sleek and cautious than I’ve ever gone,
nearing home and my mind
retells them even now: 2
on my back (infant, child)
3 in a row on the rack
(woman, woman, man)
that makes 5–
then I remember
it’s 6 actually,
and as valuable.

Human Acts

Twelve men and boys
taken in a raid
driven to an olive grove away from the village
the orders were to break their arms and legs.
Soldiers who didn’t want to do it
could go and sit in the jeep.
As for the last man,
They broke only his arms.
That was / so he could walk back
and tell what happened.

Was it nearly dawn when he got there?
These paths, the twisted road are known to him
like his own hands, like the faces of his children.
He cradles the split arm
with the one he can still move
high against his chest, it has become
outside himself, he could be carrying a lamb
or a child. He whispers.
There is enough light, anyway,
and over this ridge
the village in terrible silence.


Earthquake time

Is unlike ordinary time, or reminds you
time is not ordinary
looking at the precarious hills
pinkish with smog and menace
or driving on the freeway, its brilliant flourishes,
swift gestures and cadenzas,
or going up in an elevator, a box of rapid prayer,
or staring out at low flat buildings
already disordered and spilled into their yards.

the structures are afraid, if you are not,
they are deep in thought, they are considering,
crazed, slow, volatile and unreasonable and human –
with such neighbors in your near future
you are definitely on your own
your certainties contract
into a small hereness, an hour in the afternoon,
an orange on a white plate,
a siren somewhere, voices,
the radio playing music and saying
unimportant, sufferable things.

is not even that, the moment itself is suspect,
its hold on the past
is its only solid taste and name
what’s here has a brim, and it’s trembling,
you’re asking for it
every time you walk forward
and deja vu, whatever you’ve been told,
is only the right brain
coming in a split second after the left
here you are in earthquake time
wavering between the hemispheres
you can walk all right
but only because walking is
a way to project yourself forward
by continually falling.

Osteogenesis Imperfecta 

Imperfecta, delicacy of the word –
then what’s perfect? the long black wisps
of baby hippy hair, the ear with its newborn fur,
the lashes, the tremorous fingers
of the broken hand
lying across the breast? the face
so dark, terrible and silent?
Nothing matters here except the fact
of this one child no its feathery pillow, tended
as seldom as possible and then
with the impossible caution of helplessness.
Whose skull in the pictures
‘is in little pieces.’ Whose ribs
‘break if you look at them.’
Who was, unimaginably, born.

I am compelled to this, my line
transverses the glowing skin
as if it wept and held its breath,
and with each stroke, repents –
I have to remember,
‘He has a headache,’ says the doctor in a dead voice,
and we are as grass.

After he died, I met a nurse on the ferry,
The sea was flat past the bright windows,
she was knitting something, we talked.
I told her I’d drawn
the one with imperfect bones.
‘You mean, glasbarnet.’
‘Is that what they’re called?’
the glass child.


Sentences not sent 

Is this guile, that the hand stalls
at the page, the headlong words
prohibited? Not to tell
how I dreamed your head
in its ochres, your colourless eyes
for once engaged?
You taught me about attention
as if I were reminded.
And when you saw me,
with that conscious, difficult effort
it was unearned –
another voice, inaudible
spoke almost always so you looked
slightly away.

No one, reading this, would guess
it was written in Prince George.
The house is slightly Scandinavian.
The quilt on the bed
has a thin red and thin blue stripe.
Road maps. I wrote:
‘I would have taken that highway
between Banff and Jasper
but I no longer believe
it exists on this planet.’

The Angel at the Annunciation
(Frederik at Studiestræde) 

Posed in a shirt so white
I have to use a naples yellow
to match the pallor of your face. The various shades
of light on skin, the vein green
thumb smudge at the eyes’ bridge, the cold
furred gold of your eye lashes lowered
over eyes whose irises are as colourless
as the bluish whites they swim in,
toneless flowers afloat in a Monet poolscape.
And all made insignificant, outfocussed by your hair –
thick, long, red, the whelming of it, so my brush
staggers in ochres and alizarins,
wades out deep into blood shadows, surfaces
to strands like fire in sunlight.
You are vain but you do not know
the extent of your beauty, or how in my eyes
the great white wings pour upward from your body,
massive and weightless, shouldered in paradise.


How to live in this world 

There is a face formed in me
thin as paper, and cautionary.
She might be female, but chill,
like the earliest flowers, that seem to breathe
a transparency out of the earth.
She lies lightly on my tongue like a wafer.
She permits me to live.
She traces a line like a thread around my choices.
She tightens it.
There is no harm, I am to be preserved.

You have seen her,
she is my aspect
when I will not scare or be comforted.
She is like the faces of the blind –
how they infuriate!
She allows me to love you
but she is not concerned with love.
She intends me to outlive it.

The self seeing 

My ballast shifts, eases to a new balance
in the hold, in the thick of it.
Where were you when I was you, restless at edges,
blurred and unravelled?
How I regard you now, my eyes
steady and speechless, erased of reproach.
You have misinterpreted the delicate world,
its manifold messages that opened to you like leaves, hands.
Nothing deserved the sense you made of it.

Though it came clean – how your stain
spread at your boundaries, the sound, smell of you,
where you walked, looked!
This is over. Seen,
you have surprisingly lived, and my silence hallows you
like a beatitude.

I have become my ally, I am here
and not hence, my becalmed head
is the beach of my body, whose dark familiar waters
mercifully flow and ebb.

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