New Poetry

Three new poems.

Afghanistan Text
“The Presentation of the Virgin”, 1553-56, by Tintoretto

 

The Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

Tintoretto’s, in the Church of the Madonna dell’Orto, Venice

Over four hundred years and still this child
Has barely reached the twelfth step of the Temple,
Where she will learn to become the mother of God.

Every time the hopeful earth has recorded
Such moments of wish and the postponement of grace
This has been the case, and always will be.

The way is circuitous as the way must be:
The hemispherical sweep of the carven staircase
Ascends beyond and above us in tiers of marble.

We approach from the side, where practised mendicants,
Sellers of relics, street philosophers
And mothers in the corruption of their silks

(Too old themselves, too despairing, too comfortable
To take more than a worldly view of the matter)
Look up in attitudes of weariness, regret and emulation

At the solitary girl confronting the Elders,
With one raised knee, gathering her skirts
In a glow of gold from a stormy sunset.

They are the models of the material life,
The painter’s mute accomplices in flesh and gesture,
While she passes from her pigment into light,

The restored Ark of a new Covenant,
The human in its purest form, the young Eve
Returning to Eden, as the dove that dwelt there.

Play of the Clouds

The clouds are stretched across the Lleyn
Playing with shadows on the sea.
And equally they play with me,
Proposing all the reasons why
They might exist (or not exist)
Into a sight not to be missed.

My eyes as usual are drawn
To every shape that mirrors their
Delighted wish to turn and stare
As if to notice them is like
A claim upon the powers that bless,
Not just a kind of thoughtlessness.
 
From the twin powers of the world
Which urge their mutual interchange
To new creation, rich and strange,
I lay, curled and invisible,
Until that moment I was made
To greet the sun and cast a shade.

The everything that I displaced
Was my distinctive shape. It freely
Parted, made a way for me.
It had the willing easy air
Of something long prepared, a place
That waited for me, for my face.

It clung about my body, too,
Taking the measure of my claim
On the filled space that I became.
And I was comfortable there,
Digestive, somnolent and warm,
Feeling the limits of my form

To reach with fingers for the sky.
To grasp and count again the toes
That finished off my feet, in rows.
To use the eye for distance and
To measure footfalls with a tread
That never left my light-filled head.

To use my breathing as a line
My tongue could twist and turn around
To make the air into a sound.
Grown used to this, it was
No great surprise to flourish there
In a fluid universe of air.

We can be strangers to ourselves
In our dimensions, all we know
Locked up where no one else can go
(A shock to see the back of our head:
It seems to be some kind of error,
Rarer, more scary than a mirror).

Or those old oblongs stained by light
Where fond or questioning glances freeze
The clumsy props of arms and knees.
The photographs, though witnesses,
Are still imposters, to be filed
Away, the stranger and the child.

Here in the mind’s enclosed retreat
There is no image, nothing to see,
Only a consciousness, to be.
The world performs its slow seduction
As if itself seduced by it,
This mind that is its opposite.

Together, then, they circle one
Another, making the advance
Of understanding like a dance.
Mind is nothing without the world
And yet the world can only find
Its order in the form of mind.

So with the unrepeatable clouds
That lift my eyes into the sky
To drift with them until they die:
No matter that all rootlessness
Longs for a non-existent root.
I and the clouds are absolute. 

Tornado

Across the entire map of our ordered life
     The dark finger lifts. It leaves nothing
    To our imagination, and at last
         It is defiantly and nakedly revealed
              As something simple, a force of nature.
             But strangely we cannot quite see it.
              It is there as a tower of cloud
         Across the squared plain like a chess piece.
    Lifting cows and houses, it turns, stubborn and wilful,
     And lofts the splinters it has finished with.
How it stamps on all the fences!
     Everyone in hiding. No one to see
    The damage surrounding the centre.
         That buzzing stillness is defined by
    The damage surrounding the centre.
     Everyone in hiding. No one to see
How it stamps on all the fences
     And lofts the splinters it has finished with,
    Lifting cows and houses. It turns stubborn and wilful
         Across the squared plain like a chess piece.
        It is there as a tower of cloud,
             But strangely we cannot quite see it
        As something simple, a force of nature.
           It is defiantly and nakedly revealed
    To our imagination. And at last
     The dark finger lifts. It leaves nothing
Across the entire map of our ordered life.