Red Valerian in front of the Shard

For seven months, or maybe seven years,
I sowed a secret hope.
Two perfect leaves it made, my hope,
Before the stem turned black
For lack of care.
But still, I dared to dare
That we might find the door
To our success, and strip the peeling paint
From things, to see the grain beneath.

Two perfect leaves of green it made, my hope,
That withered on the rotten stalk.
And the little I had left I lost.
So now I’m stood alone upon this rock,
Waiting for the coming tide.

I wasn’t chained in rusting iron for stealing fire,
But still my gut is opened up each day by eagles.
Neither was I tied for purity, with knotted ropes,
But yet by night those howling monsters
Surface streaming from the sea.
Every day I stand here bare,
With just the east wind, in the black gulley,
And this rock that digs into my back,
This fucking rock…

Well I can see the end of me
In the sea that boils below.
For here past shame and lurking horror
Meet in crushing waves,
And no amount of red valerian,
That rockets red from ruined walls,
Can make it right when winds blow hard
Against the rising tide.

All our ends are here.
Scudding on the tops of endless waves,
Splashed on the sucking sand,
Sluiced through cracks of frozen fire,
Sloshed and spat in the black gulley:
The spume and washed-up suds of longing.

I would I could be filled with something more
Than bitter grouts of yearning,
This stinking lees of memory
That stings my eyes.
And I wish that I could seize the day,
Soak the hurting heart in fizzy wine,
Souse the soul with golf,
And lagers with those grinning lads,
Those grinning boys with heads like skulls.

But oh how Queen Anne’s musky lace
Recalls warm sheets,
And one who rolled towards me smiling,
And look how Iris trembles with the wind’s caress,
And how she opens to the dreaming sun.
Is that a scent of elderflower?
It is the song of small birds,
Heard as one hurries past a courtyard,
Late for a dull appointment,
To be remembered at twilight with regret.

And when at twilight owls stir from hollow oaks
And mushrooms rise beneath their mossy sheets,
We sit in the yellow light of the restaurant saloon
(Muffled jazz, three types of butter),
We sit in the light of the yellow lamps,
And between the pan-seared scallops
And the oak-smoked brie.
What fun we have with history,
Out of our class, up too late,
Perhaps a little guilty,
A little lacking in respect
For the pretence of it.

The red-cheeked matrons’ hearty laughter,
The bonhomie of blazered engineers
From pampas-dull parades in Basingstoke,
Fades away for blackbirds singing down the day,
And then the wood wet night,
In which, with hooting owls
And fingers tightening on my arm,
I feel at once a man,
And not a fool.

And how I would turn,
And how you would turn,
And how we would turn to the other.

I heard your voice as I sat on the bright beach,
The one that glows in thunder.
I heard your voice in the murmur of the waves that whisper ceaselessly,
In the dry fronds of palms that rustle as the skin of snakes.
And I slept, for once, and waited for your sigh.

Once I heard the poplars sigh of waiting
And I ran away with tripping fear.
Now I welcome in the roots
That quest through bones,
That reach through ribs,
That wrap my shrivelled heart with woody fingers.
My breath will be perfumed
As the resin of poplars in the Spring,
As sweet as mint in the Medina
Dropped in bundles at first light.

Seven years and seven days
He searched,
When the dark man took Sadbhe
From Fionn mac Cummhail,
For seven years he split the angry sea
And sought behind each knotted tree.
For seven years and seven days
His sword grew spots of rust.
And that is all the growing we should do in grief:
The vine we tend
Lies black with rot.
The horse we ride is
Thin as wire.
The song we sing is
Raven hoarse.
The shame we feel
Is red as fire.

And yet, and yet, although I sing my raven’s song,
Still I walk from here to there,
And still I listen to the dew.

I wake, wet with the dew.

In seven thousand years, or more,
When the blind white desert is blown away,
When runners run to see the morning sun,
Rising on the red valerian at Rocquaine,
Then the king beneath the hill may ride once more
With fresh intent,
And find geraniums flowering on the terrace,
And one who descends the sandy stair to the yellow beach,
One who will turn to him and smile,
One who will turn.

Red Valerian

Sadbhe is pronounced to rhyme with ‘Five’.
Fionn mac Cummhail is pronounced something like Fiune maCool.