Friday, 20 January 2017
Thursday, 12 January 2017
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.
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!
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
Beating on skin,
The punch-whistling wind
Numbs your chin.
Hiss-dances on roofs,
Noxious as gas.
Flinging off finches
Like souls in the sea.
Daub across fields;
Friday, 9 December 2016
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
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.
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.
Monday, 14 November 2016
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.
Clutched leaflessly at the floss-bunched clouds
Like suds on water circling by.
Tits and starlings were turfed off twigs,
Blackbirds jeered at until they adjourned.
Come March, with heath and glade for food,
He’d want a mate, and young begot.
The gossipy starlings in busy groups
Bounced through the tree quite undeterred.
In a botched escape? Was he sick? Did he starve?
The thrashing sycamore will not say.
Saturday, 15 October 2016
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.
Blazons of triumph hoist on poles –
Clytemnestra slams the doors.
Knife-struck in his sweetbread gut,
Leaking blood, Agamemnon crawls.
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.