The line came out of nowhere as I woke.
I rose and wrote it down.
And then I lost it,
And ever since have rummaged everywhere
Trying to find those few good words I’d found
Without knowing I’d found them.
Walking at night
Or waking at dawn, my mind is busy
Fretting to find again those lost few words:
They had authority, and a fine tune as well,
Together in one line that would lead on
To others just as fine, a solid shape
Not to be shifted.
But all of it has gone
Into a nowhere that I cannot reach,
Drifted away, out on the furthest edge
Unambiguous signs: crossed twigs on pavements,
Leaves pointing a certain way, words through the wall
Dictated by Dr Ernst — these are all
Clear indications of what is going on,
All adding up to truth, all making sense
Until all sense without patterning has gone.
When there is nothing else a single bulb
Burns in the brain all night, all day, to light
The certain darkness. The uncertain self
Searches for what it is certain must be right.
Out in the street the wind blows all one way
To point the trees where they and you must go.
Their lifted leaves all mutter to and fro.
Now there is neither light nor night nor day.
(a memory of China, 1980)
Emerging with gallery feet
From the Beijing Museum
(All later than Sung curtailed
‘For one month’s repairs’),
I walked to the empty square
(Parade ground; no parade),
Sat on the steps of the Monument
To the Peoples’ Heroes, lit a fag,
Read the guidebook — and looked up
To see four soldiers watching
At a polite distance.
Then old and young came by,
Dragging reluctant children,
Clutching a baby or two.
They stopped, and began to stare.
More soldiers, more grandads, until
Forty or so stood there,
In a circle around the steps
Where I sat like a statue on show.
‘I am English’, I said, in English:
‘I am a friend’, I said.
They stared as I blushed and shrugged,
And watched as I stood and walked
Out of the square, alone.
The version that says ‘Six Days’ is still up for grabs
In certain Southern states; though the Big Bang’s
More popular along seashores where the crabs
Seem to be mutating, and life hangs
In the balance. Where do you stand, or fall, or rise
On this long-teased-out question? It’s absurd
To ask it, maybe, when most mysteries
Are swept under the carpet, and the Word
Is seldom spoken without silent doubt.
As if it might go away with no trouble,
A huge amnesiac door marked IN and OUT
Turns on its hinges through the crushed rubble.
God as Moloch, or the great inventor,
Presides over Creation, the Fall, the Coming Again,
As you press the button, the button that says ‘Enter’.
Nothing that happens ever happens in vain.
The Seventh Age
Envy, the sour sister I never had:
Anger, my fitful brother never known —
They come now, late in age, and make me sad,
Familiar siblings who left me on my own.
The others I once knew have dropped away:
Lust, greed, and sloth — I recognise them all
But know them no longer. If they meant to stay
They never told me; and they never call.
A little covetous, a little proud —
These I admit, but as an only child
Had little need to hide them. When allowed
I hoarded coins; was priggish, and not wild.
So I am left with only these close kin
In my imagination, hard to face:
Envy at those who effortlessly win,
Anger at losing, lacking that good grace.
Light bulbs, parties, jaunts, the final things —
The last most thought about at eighty-three,
Now as I gingerly change one of the first.
As for the second and third, not much these days,
Lacking an appetite for either. Drink —
A pale dilution, watered wine; no taste
For bad behaviour, mad hilarity,
Or staying up too late.
Or fashions, either —
I never paid attention to such things,
Not noticing when skirts went up or down,
Or poets began each line with lower case.
Last orders, ending up, or final things —
All titles with a flavour of last words,
All leading up to this one: going out.