The Good Neighbour
by John Burnside
Somewhere along this street, unknown to me,
behind a maze of apple trees and stars,
he rises in the small hours, finds a book
and settles at a window or a desk
to see the morning in, alone for once,
unnamed, unburdened, happy in himself.
I don’t know who he is; I’ve never met him
walking to the fish-house, or the bank,
and yet I think of him, on nights like these,
waking alone in my own house, my other neighbours
quiet in their beds, like drowsing flies.
He watches what I watch, tastes what I taste:
on winter nights, the snow; in summer, the sky.
He listens for the bird lines in the clouds
and, like that ghost companion in the old
explorers’ tales, that phantom in the sleet,
fifth in a party of four, he’s not quite there
but not quite inexistent, nonetheless;
and when he lays his book down, checks the hour
and fills a kettle, something hooded stops
as cell by cell, a heartbeat at a time,
my one good neighbour sets himself aside,
and alters into someone I have known:
a passing stranger on the road to grief,
husband and father; rich man; poor man; thief.
From the Good neighbour (Cape, 2005) © John Burnside
Amor Vincit Omnia
by John Burnside
Find me when summer ends and the lamps
I have practised being the one
to whom you return,
if not the betrothed, then at least
the autumnal familiar,
the almost unveiled.
Songlike and lost in the mist, I have made you a bed
of fingerprints and outlook and those
footsteps that go in the dark
through a litmus of snow
to seek benediction.
Call it a house of cards,
or a hall of mirrors,
but nothing will measure you here
and find you wanting.
The Real Work
by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
The Peace Of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
On Being (Sometimes) Vertical and Verbal
by Carol Rumens
What on earth is it that explains our gait?
Even in coupled poise we walk half-cock
And crabbed with verbs: “regret”, “anticipate”.
That leaves explain how cups originate,
And sunlight on a swirl of crags, the clock,
Is clear, but what on earth explains our gait?
The lexis of young verbs: “text”, network”, date”.
Did brains refine our paws, or hands add freight
To brains? Do our pained feet insist we talk,
Or is it language that explains our gait?
And still we genuflect, or fall prostrate
To gods we’ve carved ourselves from logs or rock:
Why do we serve, who also say “check mate?”
Hands are our learning outcomes, but too late.
Old hands make gardens grow. Little hands walk
At dawn. The want of earth explains our gait,
Our lonesome hands that plead “explain”, “translate”.
by Wallace Stevens
The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one’s desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel. The…
As I Walked Out One Evening
By W.H Auden
As I walked out one evening, Walking down Bristol Street, The crowds upon the pavement Were fields of harvest wheat. And down by the brimming river I heard a lover sing Under an arch of the railway: 'Love has no ending. 'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you Till China and Africa meet, And the river jumps over the mountain And the salmon sing in the street, 'I'll love you till the ocean Is folded and hung up to dry And the seven stars go squawking Like geese about the sky. 'The years shall run like rabbits, For in my arms I hold The Flower of the Ages, And the first love of the world.' But all the clocks in the city Began to whirr and chime: 'O let not Time deceive you, You cannot conquer Time. 'In the burrows of the Nightmare Where Justice naked is, Time watches from the shadow And coughs when you would kiss. 'In headaches and in worry Vaguely life leaks away, And Time will have his fancy To-morrow or to-day. 'Into many a green valley Drifts the appalling snow; Time breaks the threaded dances And the diver's brilliant bow. 'O plunge your hands in water, Plunge them in up to the wrist; Stare, stare in the basin And wonder what you've missed. 'The glacier knocks in the cupboard, The desert sighs in the bed, And the crack in the tea-cup opens A lane to the land of the dead. 'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes And the Giant is enchanting to Jack, And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer, And Jill goes down on her back. 'O look, look in the mirror, O look in your distress: Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless. 'O stand, stand at the window As the tears scald and start; You shall love your crooked neighbour With your crooked heart.' It was late, late in the evening, The lovers they were gone; The clocks had ceased their chiming, And the deep river ran on.
by Carol Ann Duffy
‘Item I gyve unto my wife my second best bed …’
(from Shakespeare’s will)
The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where we would dive for pearls. My lover’s words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he’d written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer’s hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on,
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love -
I hold him in the casket of my widow’s head
as he held me upon that next best bed.
I say I say I say
by Simon Armitage
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.
I’ve Made Out A Will; I’ve left myself
by Simon Armitage
I’ve made out a will; I’m leaving myself
to the National Health. I’m sure they can use
the jellies and tubes and syrups and glues,
the web of nerves and veins, the loaf of brains,
and assortment of fillings and stitches and wounds,
blood - a gallon exactly of bilberry soup -
the chassis or cage or cathedral of bone;
but not the heart, they can leave that alone.
They can have the lot, the whole stock:
the loops and coils and sprockets and springs and rods,
the twines and cords and strands,
the face, the case, the cogs and the hands,
but not the pendulum, the ticker;
leave that where it stops or hangs.