the distance dulled. clouds hang oddly permanent,
fixed. the wind no longer expects anything;
neither do the drunken fishermen lament
each huge, unblinking catch, and how it went,
or how their lives tangled among pieces of string
drowned in the dirt.
flies do not dare. wings abandoned now, inert,
like cattle they soak in some far-off song
that the earth spreads across the world--a blanket,
thorn-thick, that keeps the hidden wolves alert,
the secret foxes fearful, till like a soundless gong,
above, the sun.
and thick houses like great engine-blocks, as one
melt from the mist. ungainly, broken chapels
abandoned by their priests; the children gone,
the streets fade like the echo of a gun:
the memory is lost, but some scar deepens
along the ground, the skin; unfurled, at last,
like some dead flag, or flower, our failed past.
at one he came riding in a black car,
its headlights dimmed, its wheel-hubs blank as bones,
he passed the house, heading west. all your phones
rang once. the river was a lighted scar.
at two he came through your mail-slot, disguised
as a white envelope, blank, the usual kind
some caring relative would leave behind
asking that you would look after her prized
cats. at three he tapped you on the shoulder,
asked why you were not dressed, put on your gloves,
your shoes, your scarf--the room was getting colder.
he briefly recalled your more successful loves,
the rivers or the bridges you had crossed.
he stepped into the street, and then was lost.
a darkness clusters
in the locks, steep
with many teeth.
the low things hid,
the covers pulled up
to the eyes,
and higher still
up to the morning
ripening on branches.
how bright the balconies
with no locks,
the swinging wooden
gates of gardens!
mouths dumb with
memory, oh sleeping
cellars, left sleeping
for longer that our hands
would have allowed,
if they had remembered,
oh, if they had remembered
fragments of songs,
worn keys, snapshots,
the locks of hair
at the hearts of books
forgotten on balconies,
like doors, open wide.
to Philip Larkin
"Bill was a nice guy: he died alone. Strike one."
the bearded voice said around a ring of smoke
"See, this is how I see it: as a good bloke
you've no reason to expect more: when you're gone,
you're gone. Assets to assets, debt to debt.
It doesn't matter who you screwed, or why,
or how you banked your coin, you're gonna die,
that's that. If you're unlucky you'll be kept
around in some grand dustpan, on a mantel,
but really, it's not like it still matters--"
the waitress came to take away the platters
"anyway, that's it, you're on a candle:
burned down to the wick or snuffed out soon, both ways
you'll end up in one place. No pearly gates."
The cigarette-butt joined the army in the tray,
and I suppose that who someone loves, or hates,
won't have much of an impact when he's dead.
It seems like such a simple fact. And yet.
the lions were at once alert. a twig
snapped somewhere in the dark, so far behind
the daily, worthless clutter of the mind,
they hesitated. the waitress wore a wig,
or so it seemed, or else her breasts were fake,
and something didn't seem to work at all:
too many people breathed, or spoke; the hall
dribbled across their chins. none stayed awake.
it was as if a giant mouth fell wide
with awe, or pain, but no sound could come out
since all words, or none, crowded into that shout,
and all the eyes turned down as if to hide
the lions at their backs, that could no more
shake out their wild wide manes, or bare their teeth;
and suddenly the darkness was a shore
on which you shook with silent laughter, or with grief.