Thursday, 12 January 2017

On Death

For the reference to Ezechias see Isaias 38 and 4 Kings 20 (Douay-Rheims).


Death, you are everywhere; you have claimed me.
Your long-toothed mortician is always strolling
The busy streets, thrusting a hand of friendship
To such-a-one and such-a-one who by
The time they hobble to their lodging know
Too well the crusty leprous wart upon
Their wrist portends the whispered midnight meeting,
When the veiled clinician with his piercing eyes
Will cast a pall across their withered faces
And barely-pleading lips, and with a lurch
Unmanning all the stubborn struts of place
They’ll hurtle horrified into a soot-black
Otherness where neither span nor compass
Provides a measure to define their state.
Their bodies heaped upon a flustered bed
Or slumped like thrown-off clothes upon the floor,
They’ve gone into a glade where none who tread
The path’s unctuous mud can follow – yet.

Oh why then, why, should Ezechias beg
The Lord that, sick to death, He drag him back
From midnight’s poising to depart? The tock
Of fifteen years was granted, sweated with
Anguish that summer’s drowsy, fly-pocked stream
At depth was flushing by in dailiness,
Until once more, his face pressed to the wall,
A hand would seize his elbow and require
He turn his eyes to parley with the doom
Prevarication had trumped up in terror.
How blessed are those whom death took cleanly young!

Therefore young friend, spared now, one day you’ll know
On waking that unwelcomely besieged
By these pains and those pains you’re fit to die,
That ill-health’s ashy skin, ebb energy
And slacken-mouth despair are preludes to
The pitiless denouement of extinction.
Be it dog, absconded ram or palsied man
Fallen in briars, those carcases will rot
To stenching muddy molecules; and if
There’s any glorious rassemblement,
It’s only after Physics’ glossy strings
Cut by the weaver have snapped back to allow
Your plummet like a splay-limbed infant slipped
From the goodwife’s hands. Oh friend, sundered in
Extremis, pinioned against death’s gate,
Sorrow’s quittance beckons; go through, why wait?

© March 2014

February Rain Storm

Painful as a knotted flail
   Beating on skin,
The punch-whistling wind
   Numbs your chin.

The spume-spinning rain,
   Glittering like glass,
Hiss-dances on roofs,
   Noxious as gas.

The bare-masted sycamore
   Wallows ungainly,
Flinging off finches
   Like souls in the sea.

The dirt-dark clouds
   Like heavy sponges
Daub across fields;
   Lightning lunges.

© February 2014


Friday, 9 December 2016

In Memoriam: Barrington Milson, d. 2004

Barrington Milson was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. A high flying executive in international business until a complete breakdown or spiritual experience, the reader must decide, reduced him to footloose penury, he had settled and found a certain calm in Penzance, Britain's most westerly town. He had wonderful 'presence' and a mind well-stocked in theology, philosophy and spirituality, and the times we spent together discussing ideas and the world are, for me, an indelible memory. In the space of four quick years Alzheimer's destroyed him. I miss him to this day.
   This elegy is written in my simplified version of classical elegiac metre, i.e. alternating dactylic hexameters with dactylic pentameters. The metre of Longfellow's 'Evangeline' is similar - although Longfellow, following common practice, replaced the final dactyl with a spondee, whereas I have kept the final dactyl.
   Note: Wherry Town is a seafront area of Penzance; Penwith is the wider administrative area which includes Penzance. 


Years ago, bunkered in granite, those misted and rain-shallied alleys of
   Wind-hit Penzance, giving shelter to fishermen’s families,
Mingled with self-doubting artists and awkward Joannas from whom the world
   Turned away, Barrington – God-sunk announcer of spiritual                          
Terrors – we met, and with wine and the mind’s busy raids on the Absolute
   Firmly were pals until death showed its teeth and so snatched you off.
Friend, you knew well your advantage in looks, pliant charm and authority –
   Spirited ladies were limply susceptible! Worldliness
Gifted you, youth no objection, with status and money, executive
   Power which arched over continents – plane travel, meetings to
Settle expenditure, marketing targets and fire up the laggardly.
   God intervened – call it Fate if you wish – throwing down from that
Height careless pride; tumbling soul to a valley of horrors where satyrs and
   Beelzebub rummaged in guts, twisting spirit so only a
Vague simulacrum survived, to be thrust back at life barely able to
   Manage as visions and voices enthralled you with secrets – those
Riddles from God which, unwrapped like a codex, but hinted at more and yet
   More shrouded knowledge until weary-eyed, become shriven of
Flesh, you erupted in anguished revolt, spinning hard from, yet seeking out,
   God’s unresponding, sustaining, emotionless majesty –
Merciful, merciless, seemingly one and the same. And so, broils upon
   Broils overwhelmed you – the insight that only by breasting the
Absolute’s merciless absence and hopelessly clutching it, fevered and
   Retching in pain, might one flush out the merciful Presence which
Maybe is but to collapse, bone and skin, on Its breast and to sink without
   Stain into Being’s eternity. Barrington, who can cross
Chasms like that? All position, respect and your place at the tables of
   Influence, home and possessions, were lost, and good-manneredly –
Suavely, perhaps, for unable by code to be vulgar – you took to the
   Lanes and the mudways of England and Wales, even sleeping in
Snow-drifts in fields, and avoiding a soaking by dodging in barns, ever
   Loath to see people, so stirring those torments you bore in your
Heart, until foot-hurt and blighted in brain, seeking solace in salty-aired
   Cornwall’s far west, you dropped anchor in old Penzance town, soothed by
Scurrying winds and the howling insurgency gulls frankly flung at their
   Maker – such Nietzschean graspers of life! In your bedsit I
Found you engaged in deciphering messages hushed in the Gospels by
   Formulae shown you in dreams though each fragment of insight but
Pointed to further conundrums. Blind writings and sortilege offered no
   Breakthrough and day after day you entreated your neatly kept 
Musings to flare to transparency, showing at last the lost reason why
   God had destroyed you, abandoned to ridicule, penniless.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Spring and Meaning

This is in blank verse rhyming ABCB etc. and using half-rhymes. A much earlier attempt to capture something of spring is my free verse poem, "Before Spring," posted on 22 March 2012 and linked here.


A morning walk before the daily prayer,
Desk said, that words might purify to meaning:
The peak time traffic on the major road
This January day, spray wet, is streaming
Workwards urgently, grumblingly subpoenaed.
Across the road after a wind-taut night
Of slicing rain, opaque as cataract,
The common dazzles green, primed from that nought
Of winter’s mud-dull monochrome to freshen
Apprehension, hinting to creatures that
Strenuous pioneering calls them springward.
Swamping with crumpled shot-silk cloths the flat
Beside-road land, a rain lake, stippled languidly
By black-head gulls, theatrically shivers
Beneath a backhand cuff of wind. Above,
Astoundingly, a mighty vortex hovers,
Drifting around a core-hard eye of sun,
Gone grossly orange, lodged on the low horizon.
That iris, moist and flexing like a lens,
Alternately arranged its damask-blossom
Flounces of cloud with ribbons, lapis-blue,
Of the high sky. Time-slow in a staid motion,
It edged across the landscape, calming air
To lotions upon skin as if some Titian
Tawny-watered cloud scene, eirenic but           
Imbued with barely-leashed ferocity,
Had been transposed, stiffly to oversee
The purple bud-bulge poxing bush and tree
So that the whey-barked rowans, puddling in
The glossy rain swamps, or the piling wreckage
Of brambles, gauntly-limbed and cindered like
A burnt-out car, might, urged by the crow’s savage
Delight, embodied in its gear-jam scream,
For fruit and fledglings, mesh themselves once more
In the north-striding sun’s largesse of heat
And, leaping into leafage, haste to bear
Flower and seed. Then winter’s remnant creatures –
The starveling finch, the cold-eyed pouncing squirrel –
And panting homecomers like the screech swift,
One-mindedly build in a fecund quarrel,
Pupping, fledging, taking tooth to vermin,
And spring and summer in their busy doing,
By ligament and instinct thus become
The teeming sun-hot revelry of being.

Surely those cursing, short-fused motorists,
Racketing through spume, tight-necked at the wheel,
Brittle and drained as winter’s worn out husks,
Might cheer themselves by thought of the sun’s ball
Powering to intensity and largeness
Each passing deadpan day. And I, with sight
Of that light-pure funnel, spring’s blazon, in
The sky, turn to my desk indoors, that fraught
Plateau of struggle with guerrilla words
Which dash for camouflage within the gate
Of horn, hence finally to win a meaning
For which expression might be adequate.

© February 2014


Monday, 14 November 2016

January Robin

Another poem built around an observed robin, but which took a markedly different tack, being a meditation on length of days and mortality, is 'Longevity,' posted on 22 June 2015 and linked here.


January long a robin clung
To the cloud-high wands of a sycamore;
From morning dusk to evening gloam
It swayed in the sky and sang and hung.

Those wands, red-skinned in the low-sun sky,
And shaken like reeds by a slapping wind,
Clutched leaflessly at the floss-bunched clouds
Like suds on water circling by.

Absent to feed but soon returned,
That red-bibbed robin challenged all;
Tits and starlings were turfed off twigs,
Blackbirds jeered at until they adjourned.

A song so sweet, an ire so hot,
His fiery breast like glowing coals,
Come March, with heath and glade for food,
He’d want a mate, and young begot.

But by month’s end he disappeared,
The wands waved emptily through the day,
The gossipy starlings in busy groups
Bounced through the tree quite undeterred.

That robin, was he pinned as prey
By a rushing cat? Did he twist a wing
In a botched escape? Was he sick? Did he starve?
The thrashing sycamore will not say.

© February 2014


Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Commination

Agamemnon, journey-worn,
Enflamed himself with meat and wine;
Hearth fires’ flaring greasy heat
Revelled on walls at the king’s return.
The fruit-piled table, the roasted chine,
Drowsed his wits as he mused in state.

The spoils of Troy-war stacked on floors,
Cassandra dragged within the gate,
Blazons of triumph hoist on poles –
Clytemnestra slams the doors.
Knife-struck in his sweetbread gut,
Leaking blood, Agamemnon crawls.

Iphigenia wailed through rooms,
Ghost-joyous at his thrown-down fate;
His pouring blood upon the stones
Raged for vengeance and many tombs;
Those flags which, dried and browned like peat,
Had known Thyestes’ dying groans.
And still it is as then it was:
Orestes scorned the Furies’ wrath
To thrust his flesh-kin down to hell:
I in mind sweats, flecked and gross,
Tasting resentment’s bitter breath,
Long to requite what I must not tell.

© February 2014


Friday, 7 October 2016

Winter Night

My early free verse lyric, 'Mid-Winter Sun' gives a very different approach, more romantic and less tough, here. For an even more different approach one of my few poems from my early Marxist phase (how astonishing to think I had one), 'Going for the Paper' is here. In this, nature is very much subordinated to the material world. If I recall aright, the poem appeared in 'Tribune'.


(Sunday 19 January 2014 at 6.15 pm)
   This January night a rime
   Has blanched the brittle heathland grasses.
      A frosty mud-black track
Is picked by birches, bleak as frozen time; 
Their cranked branches deface the moon which passes,
      Frigid as Janus’ back.

   A high clear sky, a violet dome,
   Pocked by the stars’ rich sulphur-spots,
      Glints silently and still;
Cloud in a gauze-thin eddying of foam
Untidies the sky which, thickening, clots 
      To Venus, white and shrill.

   Spores of my breath, like new-mint worlds,
   Limp in the awe-hushed, gasping air;
      A coal-brown wall of woods,
Dark and visceral as to what it holds, 
Muffles all sound or stalking, though that lair
      Was burrowed in spilled bloods.

   Except, alarmed, a blackbird rackets 
   With a hard clap of wings on branch,
      Escaping threat; that crash – 
Ur-noise when blood and woods were young – jackets
Me in the hunter’s impulse-drop to haunch, 
      Kill-poised, eyes in a flash.

© January 2014