Down the hill I walk to silence, To where the Mother And the Father lie, To where they lie in ruin.
Sometimes a stream runs quietly by, Running light through wet black woods, Beside barbed wire that guards, That holds and bars the dull green farms, The fields that yield the lurid meat, Pallid oats and poisoned wheat, The fattened profits of deceit.
Yet sometimes, in my fancy, I see sparks, as if the Father woke To prod a glowing log. I follow them, I laugh, I dance, I dance beneath a melting moon, But then I’m back upon the hill, The silence of the afternoon, The empty trees, the dust Of ruined soil, The vapid monuments to oil.
Although they tell us not to need a home, To live instead inside ourselves, I crave a cottage by the sea, Paint peeling from a door of green, Alexanders in the spring. Then fennel growing through the stones, Sea-sand blown on quarried floors, Wood twisted, bleached and bored by worms, That pokes like bones through drifts of kale. Here too some dismal asters grow, And fronds and thongs of pungent weed, Tossed by westering waves and wind, Which blows the seed in holes and cracks To burst, astonished, into gaudy bloom. All these will make our marvellous living room.
For there, in every echoed cave, the Mother lies, There the Father swims, in every shining wave, There you and I can build a fire, And cook a pot of roots and herbs. We’ll give a mug to all who come, We’ll sit together with the sea, The turquoise band that splits the sky and earth, Not thinking what things might be worth, But sipping slowly on our broth, Braced in wind, our faces wet with rain.
Then the sun again, that chases ragged clouds. The Mother and the Father dream once more, And so with them We spend our days and nights. With books and paints we play, We play to crabs, and crowds of shining rocks, We sing to saints of earth and sky. No one here will pay a tithe To see the slippery conger writhe Below the pier, Or see the murmurous starlings wheel as one Against the orange sun.
Come away, come away. Forsake your days of toil and fear, Come with me, Down to the bay, Down to the sea.
An auto-da-fé1 (“act of faith”) was the ritual of public penance of condemned heretics and apostates that took place when the Inquisition had decided their punishment, followed by the execution by the civil authorities of the sentences imposed.
I wrote this poem to be read aloud, to be performed. It is not a kind thing – it isn’t calm, it isn’t polite. But it comes from the heart.
1. The ruins
A river bed, stick dry. There above a pale pavilion The purple pennants fly, But limply in the mouldy air, As if asleep. And under there’s a toothless tramp Whose gaping rotten maw Emits a stink so raw, So base and vile, That you recoil. Quick, turn away. Let him lie. Police will move the geezer on, And now you’ll never fathom why You couldn’t ask him How he was, Or even look him in the eye. His wretched dog knows better, Though Buddhists warn us of Attachment, Preach a mantra of detachment, Only toil wins peace, they say.
But in my plot I never mow, I neither dig nor weed, And barely break a sweat, While all around Ripe apples grow. Or when I’m by the tumbling bay, There as well, Six limpets roasted in the shell They’re all I need.
But you, You stoke your pride With sharp black coal, And when it burns I choke on bitter ash. Ash blows all around me now, That sour tang is in the air, It’s in my clothes, it’s in my hair.
And so I stoke my rage With hard black coal, Though I could stroke it With a feather Until it rolls And bats at flies, As a leopard stretches In a sunny glade, Blinks surprised, Then slinks to Watchful shade.
We feed the furnace Every day you see, A plate for you, And one for me, Steaming juicy hot, We love it so, we love the taste, Pin the blame, act in haste, Give a sorry little sigh Send the withered goat to die. A look askance, Is all you need To burn the bitch, To do the deed, ‘Alright mate, The fire’s lit ready.’
Light up the witch.
In hot wind and sour ash Love dies a twisted death. Who might be left, I ask, To hold your hand, To listen to your shaking breath? On Mondays you go back again To see the pale cadaver. Who then will stay to walk Beside your racking fear? The fear you know so well, The doubt that grows, That belts your belly As a deep dark wave slaps Against a ruined pier, And sucks the air from the support. And who is there to show Your crumbling cracks, Your weed-green growth? Who dares to point? To say, There, in that pile of coal, There in that false smile, There, there is the wet ruin Of your soul.
2. The many deaths
So let us stroll together, You and I. Let’s look one look, With sharp bright eye Of rook and crow. Let’s amble down this modest lane Of suffering and hidden pain, Can we sit a while with death, With each last laboured breath? See that bright soul flicker out? No need, it’s just a rat, Poisoned in a musty hole. Like you and I, it dies alone In agony and shaking fear, But never mind: An update on your phone.
In this field, rare flowers once grew That looked like flies, or bees, or frogs. Who cares it’s bulldozed through To make a box for men to look at screens, Or that once the sparrows chirped In every dusty privet hedge, But now they’re quite usurped By silence (Such silence as we have never known). And as you’re taken to the edge, Are you then to look away as With a tearing groan The rotten pier slides beneath the Dark deep green?
A shriek, and nothing more is seen.
Now seas of traffic hiss And swirl around the island blocks, The rocks of marketeers And City types. The morning runners Breathe deeply of particulates, Cycle fast to action points. Weekends in the four by four, We must protect the kids from harm, Take them safely to the tomb, Bury them in brick for hours. Be careful, watch your shoes, You’re no longer in the womb, It’s up to you to choose. To each according to ability, Be prepared to slice some throats, But you should do it with civility. Yours is the path, no help from us, Lunch at your desk, Bathed in blood, Or what’s permitted In the windy pit Between two towers That cast a baleful shade. Discuss the game, work ’til ten. Again, again, no curlew’s call Aching on the mournful mist Of mere or fen befalls thee, Broken child of angry witless men.
Tell me when Did you forget the sound of stroking skin? The sand shivers at the fingers of the unstill sea, A thousand thousand leaves sighing in a tree.
3. Three o’clock
There are tearooms here, In the old monastic close. Another life: a wrought iron chair. One of a dinky little pair, Donated by a sweet old thing. ‘I said, you know, I said’ Jackdaws nest behind the saints. And in the shop A set of gaudy watercolour paints. ‘I said, just nice.’ But that little brush is bristled like An ancient swine. Use the silly tuft To dust the bone You gawk at In the crystal shrine, The dismal relic of a conscience That you’ve long forgot. But not to gild the crumbling monstrance of your heart, Not to limn a crimson line.
The teaspoon rattles, The saucer grinds against the cup, ‘Better than bought, I said’. And then the peace of the dead.
4. The fires
November. Robins guard the autumn lanes Rain drips and drips from leaded panes. A mournful trill grieves ruby hips, Bright drops of blood hiss in the heat, Yellow fat melts off the meat, Full lips burst and bubble, Branches snap and sinews crack, In coils of silver smoke burned black, From fires lit of dampen leaves. And still the rain drip-drips from mossy eaves. Forget the screams Ignore the tortured flesh, Regard instead the brass that hangs From sooty beams around the inglenook, Enjoy the pint of bitter That will, perforce, refresh, And talk of things you own. “So and so’s a heavy hitter Must dash, need the shitter.” Leave a ripe and fruity fart, For there’s no art to find The mind’s construction in the face.
Your man who does, Has murder in his heart. Your tenant too has knives – And just in case You still survive There’s poison, Wrapped in yellow lace, Buried in a little drawer, Hidden in your cleaner’s place.
Do you ever take those walks? Do you watch the berries glisten, Brush against dry hogweed stalks? Do you ever truly listen?
5. The twisted path
You talk your talk, You raise the bar, How fine and kind you are. But you disown so much Of what you cannot clutch In both your shaking hands; Break and destroy The things you fear, Much as a wounded boy Will pull the wings from flies. Thus and thus You spit and whisper lies, For in the tawdry race To take some power You drop your superficial grace And show your secret face. The dreadful mask that horrifies.
This is the quest you need to take: To ask what ails a sickening King. And do not ask which one, when realms Of Sea and Land and Air Are Waste. But just like Percival, the fool, You ride to hounds and do As you are told by older fools, Take some heads and lop some hands. O you so long to be a Knight And do what’s right (as you’ve been told). What will you do in winter When you meet the Sorceress? Can you kiss those yellow tusks, Or will you hold her gift in scorn? As when in snapping frost You find a rose, Wrapped in the freeze, Blood red and torn, And loathe it For believing In the light: So you hate your heart That dared to love.
O go, just go, Down from above, Down to the sea. Revel in idolatry. Spend your money in arcades, Forget all lustre fades, Until one day you wake To cries of gulls and scream, Scream to find the beach Is strewn with bones And there are skulls on spikes. And even then, with all your Hikes on twisted roads, The path you take May be your worst mistake. So sing your songs beside the fire, Rake the coals With bards in musty tents. Drive back to town, and check your rents. And then perhaps, When all your hope is gone When the kids have moved away, And at last you stare at death, You may, In some small silent fashion Find something like compassion, And ask the man with rancid breath What ails him.
Fuck wild geese. Rather a coal tit in a bush That sings “Be dew be dew, be dew” Again And again And again.