I saw many things done by heart –
days were counted on an abacus of mesh,
the wire made up a crossword minus clues,
men wore walkie-talkies like campaign medals
while we longed to be where fish drift
between weeds, to speak in water vowels
and master the diphthongs of silt.
The river spilled night from its haversack
and packed instead reflections of three deer
at first light, hooves in mud, drinking.
A boy with shaven head saw this
with his own eyes, he told us.
When sunrise warmed the hills’ shoulders
they rippled with pleasure – such
a treat of heat after darkness.
I was studying for the role of my father
and found hesitations – a glance of unease –
worked like a breeze
stippling shade under a lime tree.
Soon I wore the part like horse skin
visible only when bleeding or pestered by flies.
Not a day
I wanted to write not a day
will go past when you won’t
think of your father – your body
older by years now than ever his was.
Crossing the park under grey skies
maybe for morning rolls it seems
you are walking to meet him.
And even a day
when you think he did not cross
your mind you think now possibly
yes – only his thought escaped you.
He is around here often like the trees
up on that slope standing on tiptoe
to follow the fate of a rain cloud
over each other’s shoulders.
Water in the pond this morning
has camouflaged itself as clay.
Moorhens scratch rules in cuneiform
from a survival book of reed-running.
Their vees of ripples
soon slip back into smooth opaque.
Fathers or mothers pushing go-chairs
bring toddlers to the edge to look –
ducklings and chicks at swim.
Who kick both legs together
rattling their buggies in delight.
I pass them by – just some old guy
of indeterminate age with a grey
beard but still looking not too bad
considering in these Original chinos
with the expanding waistband
‘built for durability and comfort’.
Preparations for Easter
She was sheltering in the church porch
from a sharp wind and the gossip
and he was there in its half-dark too,
taking a break from his mowing.
Holy Week notices, posters for pilgrimages,
a diocesan letter twitched in the draught
as we opened the outer door and stepped inside.
She had a beautiful head, and was taller than he was
and heavier too, I’d say, her jeans were tight
across backside and thighs. And she was hanging
on his every word, and hanging on his every silence.
Magdalene mistook her risen Christ for a gardener,
but there was no mistaking the reek of grass and petrol
off this one, overpowering the perfume from her blouse.
In church, all of the statues were hooded in purple
for Good Friday. Out in the porch, her eyes were starry
for the wee gardener with the crush
of the first mown grass of April on his boots.
Which man here among us would not turn
from his own devotions at the thought of hers?
The Half-Awake Soul
The years of my soul have passed
like the warmth of a bed
under sheets of moonlight or rain.
The length of my soul has turned over
from one side to the other.
The best months were spent in silence,
they were passing over into silence.
I’ll say no more about that
breath silvering life’s mirror
not tell who was glimpsed there.
I remember whole weeks passed at ease
stretched out on the new grass in May,
or awake as the sea is now
turning waves to a lather of light
in the channels of night.
The best days all had their moments
caught in birdsong or bird flight.
The last look of a cloud leaving the hill behind.
Ourselves making little of it,
turning back to the work of tomorrow.
The years of my soul have come to this
chill morning in a long bed.
Under a duvet of sunlight or snow,
is there strength enough in ankle and thigh
down narrow paths to go?