Aug 18 2011
I’m transfixed by a pair of bees, not bees
searching for pollen, gold bees in the museum
at Heraklion, each with a leaf of wing and circle of eye
balancing the other. The beautiful segments
of their abdomens curve until they conjoin
in copulation. The two nurse a drop of honey.
When I try to imagine the refined lady who lived
in painted rooms being robed, then adorned
with the necklace on which this jewel hung
what I see is the gold that lay behind this gold –
bowlfuls of fruit with matt green and glistening
black skins, fruit which pleased the mouth
or was pressed into lucent liquid, poured into
amphorae taller than men and stored in the depths
of Minoan palaces, a gold which cooked food
and fed lamps, that cleansed sweating bodies
and cured the sick, a gold so valuable that scribes
recorded it on tablets: the oil as a pair of rivering lines,
the crucial tree with its arms stretched out,
the plump fruit dominant on branches. No wonder
that Athena’s gift to the Greeks of olive trees
was prized above Poseidon’s war horses.
And I’m not surprised when the girl calls me
into her shop brimming with long-necked bottles
and soaps in wicker nests, softens my hands
with olive cream, when every restaurant owner
greets us with gold: a gleaming smile, a dish of olives.
Le Vieil Homme Assis
He’s taken possession of the hat Van Gogh wore
to keep the crazing sun off his head. On him
the crown’s bottle green but its brim is soaking up
the straw-and-sunflower heat which has found its way
into the background. His chair is having a love affair
with mustard yellow. His huge crab hands
emerging at the end of the sleeves – one viridian
and one ultramarine – still exhibit their strength
but the energy in his black eyes is turned inwards,
maybe to contemplate his small future. Yet he still
makes lines swing into laughter, is still a dab hand
at shaping love, goes deep whenever he chooses.
This is old men, truculent, not caring a damn if buttons
are undone, their years of knowledge shut away
in a drawer to be pulled out for anyone who will listen.
This is mon père – my father dressing-gowned
on his throne in the Home, joking with the helpers
he trusted, failing to rule the others, complaining
about the world and its incompetent governments.
God knows what he’d have to say if he saw us today…
I look again at those hands, want their grip to be mine.
Myra Schneider’s most recent poetry collection is Circling The Core, (Enitharmon, 2008). Her book, Writing Your Self (Continuum, 2009), co-written with John Killick, is a resource book of personal writing and literature with a major focus on poetry. She is a core tutor for The Poetry School and consultant to the Second Light Network of women poets.
A rich mélange of red and yellow,
damp in parts, is corrugating
as it dries. “So what’s it called?” I ask.
Wrong question. For a six year-old
a painting’s all about sensation
not portrayal. All the same
she humours me and lucky-dips
a pair of referents. “It’s blood,”
she says, “and melted butter” –
daring me to disagree.
Keeping It Simple
after a sketch of a bull by Pablo Picasso (in Zervos, Vol. VI, no. 948)
How much practice does it take
to be this effortless?
Lazy as a signature,
his sleight-of-pen beguiles the eye
along a line of least resistance
through imagination’s china shop.
The card’s already forced:
our brain supplies the missing strokes
to close those broken curves,
his secret code for neck and calf,
until we grasp the point he’s making,
as we have to, by the horns.
Thomas Ovans is an Irishman who now lives in London. He has been writing poetry for several years.
From Letters from Portugal
Walcott is inspired by train journeys,
letting the lines set sure parameters,
but I challenge anyone to make poetry
from the sweaty scrum of airports
where nothing you feel about meeting
or parting translates to those hours
favoured pun was ‘pena’, the quill
he wrote with and the plume he used
to transcend pain. He wrote of Phaethon
scorching the city states of Mozambique
when Apollo’s horses bolted. Icarus,
too, who fell from the sky into Auden’s
nobly insouciant poem. Poets are wary
of soaring these days. The sublime’s
for academics who want religion
without too much by way of belief,
or parade non-religion by killing off
authors, God being alive in Uruguay.
But we deserve a poetry of airports,
Miltonic or Dante-esque, grand style
or plain, the common element hell.
committing this affront of travel? On
who’s authority? With what baggage?
Report to the gate. Be identified again.
pace 25 yards to the left, 25 to the right,
this a dozen times until finger-printed
and retina-scanned, stripped of jacket,
belt and shoes, coin-less and key-less,
X-rayed and intimately body-fumbled,
you ascend to a paradise where every
luxury is permitted – Pride that you’re
in with the jet set, Gluttony at Harrod’s
or Fortnum & Mason’s outlets, Lechery
eyeing top shelf magazines, Envy
you can’t afford the Ralph Lauren
or Versace scarves, Greed you’re getting
all this duty free, compulsory Sloth
as your flight is delayed, Wrath about
the whole damned Eighth Circle – all this
before boarding, belt-clipping, studying
the hostess’s figure-hugging uniform as
moving like an Indian dancer she conjures
what is not to be faced.
cold-shoulders like air travel. Those
stilt-walking villages of the green delta,
worlds away from watersheds inked
with tarmac, are hard to keep in vision,
even as the shape of poverty is chartered.
Precious people over-flown, staring up
at our jet stream scribble, belong to another
hemisphere. Dirt roads circle boulders
with their own scribble I could wipe off
with my sleeve, and the white-sand beaches
with their fishermen’s dhows, scythed
by the plane’s shadow, are tremulous
sickles between mangrove lagoons
and tsunami. Our destination cities
are increasingly like airports, whether
besieged by hills scarred red with shanties,
or by high rise dungeons on metropolitan
ring roads, rattling in our wake as we tilt
for landing. Our captain wishes us
a pleasant flight, reeling off height,
speed, temperature, time of arrival,
his numbers not Walcott’s abacus,
As for Icarus
a.k.a. Yuri Gargarin, I derive
wonder (not the sublime) these days
from the New Scientist, not Poetry Review.
How come magnolias are pollinated by
beetles? How do we know pre-Homeric
cavemen were intermittent residents?
They evolved before bees. Their deposits
of bones and tools are separated by layers
of bat droppings. That kestrel rippling
on his thong of air has X-ray vision,
alert at 50 metres to a beetle’s sheen.
Poetry can’t match such news, its
virtue to keep us sure-footed, especially
when, as always, we’re on the move.
Landeg White was born in Wales and now lives in Portugal. Among his various books are eight collections of poetry. His novel Livingstone’s Funeral has been reviewed in London Grip. www.landegwhite.com
I find it in the grove, a stone,
among the rusted sacks of oranges,
charred wood; its surface rough,
a piece of sandstone – sedimentary,
igneous – the colour of shaded earth,
the walls that cut into the terraced hill,
but breached, so I can see the glint
of quartz inside, little diamonds,
fluid gas forced to burst to crystal,
broken by someone’s shoe, or a tool,
the sort workmen here might use,
primitive and sharp.
It traps the sun, like the crystals
we hung in dormitory windows
to grant us power and knowledge
or that ring – its surface swirling –
a planet on my finger, which I wore
every day one summer and then lost,
the way you always lose things
which defy the need to own them
and somehow make you sad.
I hold it to the light, an ancient world
cracked open, like the inside of a tomb
that hoards a secret treasure:
golden sun, the golden orange grove
in Spring, fruit already turning.
I put it in my pocket,
a relic, like all those other stones
gathered on beaches and on mountains,
even a black chunk of volcano;
which mass on shelves, fill bowls and drawers
and jackets, enough to build a wall
to shore up my forgetting,
souvenirs of a collected life: people, random
words, ideas; some, flinty cliffside shale,
others, tough rock to weather storms.
after Willem de Kooning
Her flame of notes
scorches the bar.
Stilettos, lips, nails
in Fire Engine, Hot Tamale, Cold Blood.
Naked under the strobe
that dissolves her dress,
fires her skin, brings her back
from the dead,
from the flat white
of an empty room, out cold, blood
oozing from her lip:
the kind of broad you want to hit.
Floozy. Hot Tamale.
Violence finds her
again and again, needle stuck,
a groove scratched by
Camels and coffee, a gin too many.
down; the falling scale
lower, lower, as her angel
rises on a puff of smoke:
what you’d call
a torch song, tremolo of pain.
Tamar Yoseloff, an American poet now resident in London, is the author of three books of poetry: Fetch (Salt, 2007), Barnard’s Star (Enitharmon, 2004), and Sweetheart (Slow Dancer 1998); a collaboration with the artist Linda Karshan, Marks (Pratt Contemporary, 2007); and the anthology A Room to Live In: A Kettle’s Yard Anthology, which she edited for Salt, 2007. Her forthcoming collection from Salt is The City With Horns. She was Writer in Residence at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and is a Core Tutor with The Poetry School.
Halfway along the pavement
framed on a plain unbroken slab
the pinched butt, gold-rimmed
with its contiguous ash
from which the last, the finest
tailing of blue smoke
rises to taint the morning air.
Once all too commonplace
a detail, now it draws attention
to itself, indicative, a clue
this throw-away become a loaded
intimation, tip-off, whispering
of her recent presence, though
now vanished from the scene.
After the Revolution
It is the greasy grey deposit dribbling from
a broken pipe, smearing down blackened brick,
back corner of a building – where steam issuing
through a vent, the dull throb of machinery
confirms that manufacturing survives –
that is enough to summon, suddenly,
lost smells of oil and smoke, burnt metal, cellulose,
or macerating pulp; even enough to catch
the swish of bikes along wet streets, or boots
on cobbles, see the patched overcoats,
the pulled down caps, bait bags slung over backs,
all funnelling toward an entrance way
panelled with serried racks of beige cards
flanking the clocking-in machine, admission
to a functional domain that fed
and used, could finally consume them all.
Yet it has almost vanished now, that world
of heavy industry, landscapes defined
by coppices of chimneys, austere columns
carrying the soot and stench up high enough
to see it evenly deposited
across an entire town; and all that acreage
of sheds and yards, the vast basilicas
of engineering, noisy contraptions that
cut board, wove fabric, beat out plate, the scores
of workers tied in production lines, turning
intractable materials into product
that would sell. Those who worked hardest gained
the least. Profit engendered shops and mansions,
churches, town halls and libraries, all
uniformly patina-ed in black.
How odd it seemed, the first time they were cleaned,
after the banishment of coal. Pinnacles
of limestone, marble porticoes, emerging
in a gleam of burnished whites, soft-textured
honeys and veined creams. Now they themselves
diminish with the world they served. The mills
and the municipal bravura all
give way before reflective walls of glass,
or undergo conversion into restaurants,
smart apartment blocks, with, here and there,
the thin vernacular of retail parks,
their bright halls stacked with gaudy merchandise
originating – who knows where?
Anthony Lucas is a regular contributor to Ambit and other magazines. His most recent collection, Rufus at Ocean Beach, ISBN 978 0 9561521 0 7, is available from Carmelyon. He lives in Bermondsey.
His Other Half
As we drove towards
the crater and
volcano she explained
that if the driver,
next to her, had not
got a ring on her finger
before he left
she’d have married some
other man, maybe
a Destroyer captain
So I’d never
have been born
or only half of me
perhaps and that half
not knowing where
his other half was,
and all the while
my father held the wheel
and steered us
I could not see
from the rear seat
as he looked ahead
into the past.
Chris Hardy’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including The North, Poetry Review, Rialto and Tears in the Fence; a new poem is in the 2009 Forward Prize Anthology, and his collection, A Moment Of Attention, was published in 2008 by Original Plus Press. He is also a musician: a CD of solo acoustic music, Health To Your Hands, is available from www.cdbaby.com and he plays in the trio LiTTLe MACHiNe,
performing settings of well known poems: http://www.myspace.com/littlemachineuk
We welcomed the withering,
the first thin jacket of frost,
the last leaves
loosening. We walked
in those diminishing days,
grateful for the turned earth,
the empty beds. We knew
too soon spring’s warm breath
and swell the knotted tubers,
the knuckled mass
of bulbs beneath. We knew
there would be a morning
of anemones and aconites,
snowdrops with their lowered heads
crowds of daffodils
trumpeting your loss.
Since his loss,
this day is marked –
He wakes early, feeds the dogs,
listens to the clamouring of rooks
behind the house, the wind
worrying the orchard.
He spends the day alone,
seeks out the silent weight
of tools, takes a cloth to the brass,
a stiff brush to the yard.
He gathers logs, pours a drink,
sits late into the evening
tending flames into fragments
of that once familiar face.
Then he rises, rinses his glass,
lets the fire die in the grate.
Josie Evans is a graphic designer, artist and writer. She was born and brought up by the sea in Wales but currently lives and works in London.
I lie here, again, counting over and over
my ten toes at sea in the shipwreck of night,
caught between the horizon of quilt
and the black bedstead sky. At the passing
of trains there’s a hum in my sternum,
as brittle as sound and the clenching,
unclenching, the thick fist of gristle that’s slung
between ribcage and back, like the quiver of frog
at the touch-tip of Galvani’s probe.
In thrall to the clock’s second hand, drums
my heart as it rows through the waves
of the night and gaspingly lolls like a fish
that’s marooned in a boat’s wooden belly.
I tap out the tales I’ve been told of its ticking:
this is where love lives, and receddreams now
receding reside. Each old bedtime story
urges us listen to whispering truth
in our hearts. I lie here unknitting each limb,
bone and organ, each giblet, each gurgle,
the thudding red timepiece, the strange trick
of ears rushed with blood full of ticking
to listen to darkness and spaces between –
and the fish slips the hook, and the line of night
slackens, and something slips out of my nets:
that the bed I lie and fret and love in
the lines of rhythm learned by heart
the granite hills, the sun we tilt towards
and every synapse, loin and hand that ever was
were once condensed into a coin of nothing
an ovum forged of absence still expanding
into places eyes will never see.
But still some tiny corner of that endless
unbegotten nothing shuddered into wakefulness
and one brief fragment of that fluke
now lies awake and counts the pulses
of a subdivision of himself: myself soaked through
by night, my hand upon my heart. Without this
glimpse, like a bright white snowdrift
slumped to grey beneath the glare of sunlight –
I am just hydraulics, built-in obsolescence
and the mind cast forward to the limits
of all reason dredging the horizon and those
lapping waters cold and black beyond my sight.
the blue the depths the waves weeds fish
beneath the bobbing plastic yesterdays
beneath the dark
beneath the silt-slung depths
beneath the places where the light no longer lingers
is a silence no-one hears
here there is no language of vowels and breath
no language no breath
no weight of arms no creasing of skin
and earth into maps of night
there is no darkness here
set singing with light
no tangle of legs and yesterdays finding full stops
in the gathering of eyes and lips into the familiar crook
of an unknown other no eyes
like moths set flickering against sensation and skin
Just water. Skies full of water.
And a bed empty forgetful
and wide as the waves.
This poem is drawn from a long series of poems exploring an imagined memory and mythology of Doggerland. Doggerland is the name given by archaeologists and geologists to the lost landmass stretching from Britain’s east coast to the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark which formed a rich habitat for animals and humans in the Mesolithic period. Since that time it has been submerged beneath the southern North Sea, the remnants being Dogger Bank. During the last era of dramatic climate change at the end of the Mesolithic period, Doggerland and other lowlands of the ancient world were flooded, never to be seen again. It is thought that the folk memory of this apocalyptic flooding is the root of the many flood myths that reach us from ancient cultures around the world (Noah, Gilgamesh, Atlantis etc).
Edward Mackay lives and writes in east London, where he manages a conflict-resolution charity. His poetry was shortlisted for the 2009 Eric Gregory Awards
Michael W Thomas
Weddell’s Soft Drinks, Telford, August 2nd, 1967
Sometimes there’s a fault
with the hooded machine that tops the bottles.
The capping-head should retract
once each seal fuses.
If it clings, a bottle rises two, three feet,
a warrior mod’s overture,
and comes mindless down, discharging
its followers on the line.
Glass clouds the factory,
Cherry or burdock sluices the rollers,
an artery’s yell.
Bets are forever on: how long
before Peplow’s maljointed, almost-pensioned thumb
will squish the button, lay calamity to rest.
Four minutes this afternoon. Young Inskip wins.
We hang about as Peplow descends
from his rust-embattled eyrie,
paws the bottleneck free,
cranks back the capping-head,
asks Gullick, Inskip and me
if we know what a broom looks like
and why in buggering heaven we’re stood
like a chorus of mental fairies.
Gullick’s turn today, leaving me
and young Inskip to clear the line,
re-set the flavouring chutes.
To Peplow alone falls the scrutiny
of carbonator, water-feed,
a last vae victis glower at the capping-head.
The hum restored, young Inskip asks
when this new Radio 1 is supposed to start:
September, I answer, October.
He watches Peplow reascend
to where a Ferguson wireless keeps faith
with Edmundo Ros, Semprini, Charlie Chester –
and his grin is that of a custody-boy
who knows a handy bottle when he feels it.
Michael W. Thomas is a poet, fiction-writer and dramatist. His work has appeared in such magazines as The Antioch Review, Stand, Other Poetry, Staple, Magazine Six (Key West), Irish University Review and English. His latest novel, The Mercury Annual, was published last summer. www.michaelwthomas.co.uk