Authors: John Glenday
The Golden Mean
For Garry, Daniel, Didi, Jack, Matthias
and again, and always, for Erika
âI know that love is life's best work.'
The Golden Mean
If you must carry fire, carry it in
your heart â somewhere sheltered but hidden,
polished by hands that once loved it.
The lining may be scorched and blackened
but only you must ever know this.
That easy hush you sometimes hear at night
as the darkness stirs in you, is not
the accustomed ache of blood, but a flame
shivering against the wind â
a meagre flame seeded long before you were born
which you have always known must be kept
burning forever, and offered to no one.
(from the Greek a, not; baino, I go)
Let's head for a place, neighbouring and impossible,
that city neither of us has ever found;
it swithers somewhere between elsewhere
and here, anchored to the leeward dusk
fettered in cloud.
Look how it flourishes in decline â
no buttresses, no walls, no astragals,
only those luminous avenues of weather
gathering the cluttered light like window glass,
all furnished in the traceries of wind and rain.
A Pint of Light
When I overheard my father say
it was his favourite drink, I closed my eyes
and imagined his body filled with a helpless light.
Years later, I watched him pour out
the disappointing truth, but still couldn't let
that image go: he's trailing home from the pub
singing against the dark, and each step
he steps, each breath he breathes, each note he sings
turns somehow into light and light and light.
Self Portrait in a Dirty Window
after James Morrison, âThe Window 1961'
Don't grumble if this window grants
you only what you see in it.
If you must have light, step out into the world.
If you need shadow, step out into the light.
For once, there is no weight in detail. Who cares
if that's an oily handprint, a belaboured
field or far-off hills? The dirt stain of uncertainty
is all that matters. It fills the room
with neither light nor dark, but the promise
of meaning, which, in itself, means nothing
though it's what you came here for.
after Sir William George Gillies
Picked flowers on a rug are dangerous
beyond reason. Their mouths hang
empty of pollen or scent. Such a clamour
of petals, each cut throat challenges
the room, renders it uninhabitable.
A shout, a condemnation, a curse, a denial.
What use is Spring to us now? What purpose
a room charged with such desperate light?
Even as we abandon it, their small voices
will follow us, their bitter faces gape.
for GH and RS
Each dusk is the final dusk. Late mists
forget themselves above the lake.
A crowd of hemlock, shoulder-close and motherly
whispers as its own reflection drowns.
Somewhere not here, a loon calls
out the word for darkness twice,
then turns into the silence and its song.
I kneel where the water frays, and from my hands
build the cracked prayer of a cup.
Let me drink once more; just a little â
one mouthful, one sip would be enough.
Just this time let my hands not leak.
Let them be brimming when I raise them
to my lips, like this.
This burn runs dark and sweet
as the lining of the soul.
Drink from me
and you will always be thirsty.
So. First night of the filling moon
I took me to that spoiled oak, skewed
on its fold of hill above my father's farm.
This left hand hefting his pigman's maul
and under my tongue an old King's penny
vague with spending.
Watched while the sparling moon kicked free
from a trawl of cloud, swam on. Then hammered
the penny to its rim in the faulted grain
and wished down the worst on him by three times
âTree, by your own dead hand,'
âwither that blown onion in him no one calls a heart.'
All the path home the stink of night
in the yarrow and dwarf butterbur. Shriek
of the hen-owl restless in her nothing.
Days passed; something he couldn't rage against
whittled him to a skelf, laid him out hushed
and bloodless; grew him his stone.
All this in the month that wears my name. Meanwhile
I followed ploughshare's hunger through his fields.
Whistled in the old mare's wake. Tasted coin.
Remember that old tale
of the half-blind angel
fell in love with herself
in a frozen pool?
âtell me your name
more smoke of skin
or skein of hair than man
âLove is the self dissolved
Lift up to your face
the mirror of my face
and you'll see nothing.'
for DK and SB
If I were given the choice,
I would become that bird Noah
first sent out to gauge the Flood.
But I would never come back.
I would never come back because
I would find another just like me
and the two of us, casting ourselves
for shadows, would sweep on like a thought
and its answer over depths and shallows
and never rest until the last waves
had unfurled, beating our wings
against the absence of the world.
Song for a Swift
my oldest night
my selfish grief
my hidden path
my weary fist
my only soul
my only soul
Field Collection, South Atlantic Ocean 1949
Big as a dead man's foot, but closer
to tripes or dough than meat.
Just to be sure, they folded her around herself
head-down in formalin. Her one brief sea.
Note that fluke-stump nicked by her mother's
flenser's blade; the flipper's grace.
Day after day, she grows the milk bloom of a thing
that never moved in cold, green, deepening light;
like most of us. The eye-slit weary, delicate,
beyond insult and closed against our looking.
Mussels in Brine
Their ten-a-penny cunts bob in formalin;
the lips slackened, fading to olive drab.
I imagine them weary of being mouthed,
pickled on tedium, flaccid and tired.
They reek of estuary dirt; a tang
of sediment and brackish wine.
Lord, let their valves be opened to me;
let all things preserved be consumed
all but that single grain of sand
gritting between the teeth; flinty, neglected,
enduring as regret, reminding me of you.
How to Pray
If you ever decide you want to find God
look for him in a ploughed field, not high
overhead, in the drift of the distant weather.
And if you ask me how you should pray
to a buried God, I would say press
your lips into the earth, weight your voice
with the silence of earth and root and seed
and pray that all your prayers may be stones.
The Flight into Egypt
after Policarpo de Oliveira Bernardes
Like so much of the Bible, it's predictably domestic:
just a family on its way somewhere, skirting
a thread of towns. Everything is rumours of blue,
because they are in history. No one has courage
enough to look ahead. Joseph glowers
at the chafing calf-boots he bartered for in Bethlehem.
Mary pretends to doze, her fingers locked
around the swaddle. Even their guardian angel
has turned to look back â his know-all smile
encompassing the dusty road, Judaea
diminishing and the almost-new-born who stares
complacently over our right shoulders into today.
Only the old donkey gazes towards Egypt; head down,
ears back, grudging a burden that is worth so little
and a pointless journey he knows has barely begun.
Lest We Forget
Sari Ãizmeli Mehmet Aga â Peder Ã
s â Tommy Atkins â Chichiko Bendeliani â Joe Bloggs â Jane Doe â JÃ¤ger Dosenkohl-Haumichblaue â Fulan al-Fulani â Kari Holm â Hong Gildong â Aamajee Gomaajee Kaapse â Kovacs Janos â Janina Kowlaska â Lisa Medel-Svensson â Madame Michu â Jan Modaal â Erika Mustermann â Numerius Negidius â Nguyen Van A â No Nominado â SeÃ¡n Ã RudaÃ â A N Other â Vardenis Pavardenis â Pera Peric â Petar Petrov â Juan Piguave â Ion Popescu â Vasiliy Pupkin â Imya Rek â Mario Rossi â Joe Shmoe â Maria da Silva â Sicrana de Tal â Tauno Tavallinen â Manku Thimma â Jef Van Pijperzete â Wang Wu â Moishe Zugmir
Study for the Hands of an Apostle
This loophole where the light lets in,
and my own breath leaks through my hands,
has damned my words to words or less.
That shim of air is God, of course,
who made us all, and all but whole
then set the wind against the world.
Like a gutting knife lost overboard,
or a tin flag hoisted against the gloom,
or a lime-white flame lit in the heart
of nowhere, the coalfish waits.
He's watching for us. How I wish he had
been named for the perfect
darkness gathered in his eye â
that bead of obsidian set in mother-of-pearl
so perfect it could hold the world.
A tin flag. A white lamp burning
in the founds of the sea.
The gutting knife's quick flame.
All that awful mess still lies ahead of him of course:
the silly posturing and bombast, those terrifying
stylish uniforms, the sticky end. For the time being
he's sitting by his mother now her illness has finished
its work. The sickroom carpet ankle-deep in his mediocre
sketches of her, endlessly rehearsing every incidence
of light â all those angles and shadows suffering worked
into her, as if somehow one loss might be lost in many
versions of itself. The traffic dims to a respectful hush.
Echoes skitter in the stairwell, then the impatience of a single
knock. Yes. The time has come to put the pencil down.
From this day forward, the only pages will be blank pages.