New Poems

Two new poems

Clive James

A Spray of Jasmine 

Political developments in South East Asia, 2010

The day of her release, Suu Kyi wound flowers
Into the hair behind her head: a spray
Of jasmine. She looked lovely doing so,
Something a man my age can safely say,
For she is no child. Who knows if her powers
Extend to the real world? We have to go
On what we see, the people’s thirst for her.
Today no junta general would look good
With floral attributes, or hear his name
Made music by the crowds, and if it were,
The reason would be drearily the same
As always, and too readily understood: 
The crowds would be afraid. Her graceful calm
Means gentleness, as long as we recall
That Comrade Duch, who also has his poise
And clean-cut looks, for all he lacks her charm,
To most of us meant nothing much at all
When separating children from their toys
In his quiet way. Brought to the killing tree
And smashed to death, they saw a face to trust.
As cool as ever, all humility,
He now denies his guilt. Because we must —
Led by the hand of history as we are
Into the prison where the innocent
Die of their agony so very far
From all our thoughts, no matter how well meant —
We give our hearts to her for being there.
Such beauty has to be benevolent:
Look at her face, the flowers in her hair.

A Bracelet for Geoffrey Hill 

A standard day’s haul from the burial mound:
Quartz cat’s eye cuff-links for a chain-mail shirt,
A Stalin button and an Iron Cross.
Small treasures liberated from their dirt.

Elsewhere in Mercia, a king prepared
For death took off his belt and doe-skin shoes,
Unzipped his lap-top, cleared security
And in the lounge sat back to watch the news

Until his flight was called. The galaxies
That showed up in the Hubble Deep Field frame
On long exposure shine like pick’n’mix
Sweets in their coloured shapes, no two the same.

Thus thrives the densely wrought. The cloth departs
And leaves the cinch more complex on its own:
An all-star inscape spinning precious wheels
In lattices of bronze, gold, pearl and bone.

Subrius Falvus, Tribune, last to die
When the plot to topple Nero came to naught,
Knelt by the grave that had been dug for him
And saw it was too shallow and too short.

Ne hoc quidem ex disciplina. So
He speaks in Tacitus. “No discipline
Even in this.” When stripping a Bren gun
Brush clean the butt-plate for the firing pin.

Coherent multiplicity takes force
For which the reader must be made to care
By how it sounds, or else it’s just white noise.
The symphony that lovely women wear

Next to the skin gains weight when taken off
And folded flat with tissues in between.
From tight arrangements we deduce the role
That each part plays, if not what it must mean.

We only know that here the heat contained
Speaks volumes about what was seen and felt
And still astonishes, more now than then —
Before the buckle came loose from the belt.

The word-lord, fresh in from America,
Lectures in Oxford. He knows everything.
Note-taking Helen shivers at the thought
She’ll be outlived by her engagement ring.

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"