Three New Poems

Alistair Elliot

THE SMALLEST PRINT 

Everything we have heard and read
pushes us out to get the big contract:
‘with my body I thee worship.’ There already
we see conditions to the important act:
‘in sickness and in health’ ‘till death’ and so on.
At this point our eyes cross. We smile and sign,
having, we think, enough to go on. Good will has mixed and melted yours and mine

It may take years to reach the smallest print,
where happiness hides: ‘no call for certain words’
‘days to remember’ ‘power must be concealed’‘flattery, to be offered without stint’  
clauses not noticed when the astonished birdswatched us undressing in that summer field. 

EGYPTIAN COTTON 

This is the handkerchief I might have waved as you
moved from the quay, the very cloth
that dried the happy places of us both 
after the asterisks of afternoons.
You have disintegrated, but this rag,
barely respectable in a public place,
stays, though not in the pocket of those days
when you were young and I was very young.
 
It’s not a relic to me, but I guess
I’ll never throw it out. Some other hands
clearing my house of all I now possess
will drop it in the black recycling bag.
Any remaining molecules of youwill be dissolved. It will become a page . . .

IMPERFECT PRESENTS

I
Unfortunately, tired by their half-day
in Liverpool, they pretended that the book
they brought him was a present. With one look
he saw it wasn’t, and he wouldn’t play. 
Right on the doorstep, barring the way in,
he ripped the binding off: the navy-blue
blind-panelled covers and loose pages flew
into a flowerbed. It was ‘a sin
to treat a book, a hymn-book, so,’ they said.
 
The buddleia tree still flourishes, in his head,
besides that massive door, where ‘troops of fairies
pasture their steeds’, their butterflies. There lingers 
a riffle of India paper in his fingers, good shepherd of good books in libraries. 

II

Poor innocent! — to bring a bunch of flowers! — 
In thanks for fetching an immortal soul
Out of its heaven to comfort their bad hours
And long, long days, the poker and the hole
Forgotten in the clean and proper ward
Where on that hot Bank Holiday the mothers
For want of midwives each massaged the others — 
To bring a bunch of flowers as her reward!
 
Lovely vitality of the universe
He thought, but on that birthday forty years
Later learned what a lover should have done — 
Sooner come empty-handed for his son — 
‘Michaelmas daisies?’ — now he saw her cry — ‘They are the cheapest flowers you can buy!’

An autumn note

“For many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough”

An ordinary killing

Ian Cobain’s book uses the killing of Millar McAllister to paint a meticulous portrait of the Troubles

Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens
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