Three New Poems By Ruth Padel
Frog in the Throat
I give you turbulence, soft phonation,
absolute jitter. Tadpoles in vocal folds
of their father, yellow and red cross-noggins
shooting in all directions from white space:
that’s my voice on computer printout,
record of me with electrodes
over the larynx and magnifying glass on the tongue,
climbing scales in diphthongs,
leaping the octave’s cliffs and shifts of fall
while the mulberry pearls
of vocal chords, viscous and tensile, flex
like a mollusc, buzz like a pink queen bee.
Your muscles should be fast
as trampolines. Your voice is your breath.
The first thing that’s yours, and the last.
After the Fire
If you sit and look through the sheaf of open doors,
double folds to the west where the Sabbath bride
enters at sundown, double folds to the east
where the ghosts gather, asking us to listen, please listen
in this dark that tastes of silence, and remember;
if you carry on looking, taking in the glitter
of twistable ring-handles, brass locks
and two semi-lunates of stained pine
giving a new frame to the angle of repose
for each limestone arch that has echoed
so many agitations and psalms — you see
a strip of green. Spears of an iris leaf, lobes
of young fern, dark fork of a pomegranate tree.
The soft blue naked stem of a Persian rose.
Protecting the Lyre
Can he get out? For years he’s been frogmarched in
and made to sing to these louts. Now, as the King
rages electric through the hall, as revenge
sends spear after spear through livers and brains
he sees dying men bite the floor, drum their heels
sending chairs they’ve been settling in, for a day’s
hard drinking, flying. Goblets smash , gold
chalices bounce, purple wine pours into swilling blood
as he stands at the postern door
with his clear-voiced lyre in his hands.
Should he slip out and chance asylum
at the courtyard shrine
where the King and his father used to burn their sacrifice?
Or rush in here and now, touch Odysseus’ knee
and beg for mercy? He lays the hollow lyre
on the ground, between a silver-studded chair
and the punch bowl of worked gold
where for twenty years this gang has swirled
and mixed their wine. He darts in, crouches, looks up
at Odysseus’ face. His songs have always found wings
but what about words? Throat — mucus — hoarse —
he’s broke-voiced from terror. “Have pity on me, sire.
You’ll be sorry after if you kill a poet
who sings to gods and men.
I taught myself to sing. God
planted in my heart the ways songs go.
Your son knows — he’ll say — I tried not
to sing for them. They kept me here by force.”