Workshop Date: 1966-1972
Poet: Michael Longley
It told us, through the histories it lacked,
That always it grows harder to make clear
We loved, however carefully is stacked
The precious lumber that we shoulder here,
However biographical the gear:
That lives and where they end can so contract.
The sad allotment and the words we read
Owned not one date or title to undo
The silence of those people in their bed:
But someone kept like us this rendezvous -
The sinking he had launched their coffins into
Prolonged by love, till death mislaid his dead.
So much is implied on that furthest strand -
The stranger's face of course, his outstretched hand,
Houses and harbours, shillings, pence and wars,
Troy's seven layers, the canals of Mars.
To lighthouse-keepers and their like I say -
Let solitude be named Man Friday:
Our folk may muster then, even the dead,
Footprint follow footprint through my head.
The eggs are incubated
By the male of the species,
Heraldic the horse's head
Though his body convulses
Pumping into the sea sons
And daughters - his stomach's
Hundred tiny versions -
Their death a dignified drift
And a slow coming to light
On the shore - an ideal gift
Or dropped off a charm bracelet.
2. Bikini Atoll
On to whose bridal sands
And out of the sea (insects'
Wings confetti on the waves)
A turtle into famine steers,
On her slow shoulders heaves
The burning hinterland,
Her ancient face hung with tears.
You are sheriff of our town -
Your movements silvery,
Dark your whereabouts.
Your tiny star catches fire
Where the railway tracks converge
And your face dissolves.
Dragged by wild horses
As it were, you slip
The circuits of the vaudevilles.
All our breakables - clocks
And crockery - whirl about you
Like a solar system.
And yet, who could tidy away
From that dressing table? Or put out
Her little light on the subject?
Who, when it comes to the bit,
Could hustle along those heroes
Deteriorating to stones
And clay at intervals?
Or, from her slack vagina,
Disinter what is close to love,
So much mythopoeic gear
Dwindling in the end?
For she is open house -
Each smutty story's punch-line
Opening out to laughter
As to a landing
At one with the dusty prospectors
And safe now from whooping indians,
I have only to manage
All the girls in the saloon
Rolled into one,
Falling like gold dust through water,
Emerging in the bottom of my pan.
Or, John Clare's Escape
From the Madhouse.
I am lying with my head
Over the edge of the world,
Unpicking my whereabouts
Like the asylum's name
That they stitch on the sheets.
Sick now with bad weather
Or a virus from the fens,
I dissolve in a puddle
My biographies of birds
And the names of flowers.
That they many recuperate
Alongside the stunned mouse,
The hedgehog rolled in leaves,
I am putting to bed
In this rheumatic ditch
The boughs of my harvest-home,
My wives, one on either side,
And keeping my head low as
A lark's nest, my feet toward
Helpston and the pole star.
It's the wading on skeleton's legs
For a split second that gets me -
That outpurse crew at your soft places!
I'd go, given the nasty choice,
Head first, expose my boney angles,
My skull - something for them
To think about, to break their teeth on.