Valeria Melchioretto (UK): Two Poems

GRANDMOTHER’S CATARACTS
for Oxfam

Her eyes stop her from seeing the world for what it had always been I
long before the cataracts became an issue. It is hard to say what exactly

she is looking forward to. So many fanciful visions rest at the base
of her eye sockets and words go rancid in the abyss of her throat.

If she had saved the left over umbilical cord of her many children, she
could now weave herself a shawl for cold winter nights when she talks

to her dead husband who as usual doesn’t reply. Nothing must be wasted
or else everything is for nothing. No babies thrown out with the bath water

no matter how cheap life must be. She thought of her children as the future,
now she hardly sees them. The cataracts are not to blame but her children’s

future is abroad. Every so often the kind neighbors call her over to answer
short long-distance calls. The phone wire has replaced the umbilical cord.

Those wide cheekbones have faced the indispensable as it lurked daily.
Solid corners of her face on which she hangs a sad smile to dry her tears.

Now that the house is empty she wonders how long the future will take
as time is nothing but short spells of rain, long spells of rain and restlessness.

(Orig. published in “Poets for a Better Future”, ed. Todd Swift, Oxfam 2004)

CONVERSATION WITH A LAWNMOWER

Is this the green ending we have been waiting for?
The moment when everything recycles, even dead skin
and everything makes sense even dead ends?
There is nothing left in the bags under my eyes
that you could possibly claim back, except some lost sleep
over you. What love token can I give you? Would my big toe
do for you to trust? Would it be a big enough sacrifice
in the eyes of earthworms? You ramble here and there,
measuring the shades of greener grass before cutting.
Tell me, is this finally the funeral of choice or the end
of the lead dictated by the length of the garden path?

(Unpublished, Back the Leaves, 2003)

George Bowering (Canada): Three Poems

OVER-RIPE GRAIN

I’m not too fond these days
of the magic hand of chance.
I feel my brain slip sideways,
slip forward, as if it seeks
to elude the magic grip of chance.

When still taller than my pile of books,
I ogled chance, I kissed the air
and sent it wafting to the face
of fate, who knew me not, whose stars
were shining not when I came home.

My shoulder waits with irksome fear
the magic finger of chance.
And I don’t want to know about it.
I’ll talk half, I say, half
the odds, the magic dodge of chance.

POEMS ABOUT ENGLAND

How can poems about England
make me homesick, make me
hold the book against my face
and give half way to tears?

Or something like that. I’ve been
in England a few times, felt strange
at home there, stood six feet
over my DNA in Berkshire.

English paintings don’t do it, movies
are familiar and foreign, need subtitles.
English novels are historical, about classes,
and generally dull as dishwater.

But poems about England and walking
in England make me homesick,
make me feel at home and
sad as hell. My other half

is from hills in the US south.
When I see people from there
in their faded dusty suspenders
I feel lonely as an English poem.

MUSING ON SOME POETS

Those poets, heads coming out of collars,
advised us, showed us how to hold paper and look good,
did we sometime grow tired of them, those
who lived for us,
died for us,
rotted under ground for us,
are still
so we may move.

Not friends, really, not teachers,
poets, whose names glittered when we were alone,
whose books dropped like gleaming newborn calves into our unsteady hands,
did we read them as if pulling shavings off our souls,
never stepped out of the Pacific combers with shine on morning face,
never twisted body out of grip of giant ogre
save with our inspiration of our poets,
and who knows what our
means?

What are we now besides older;
a young man newly graduated from university,
black gown still on him said I envy you and your friends,
you got to make the last ones,
there isn’t anything to make now, or no one knows what there is.
I said it seems that way but there is always something,
and I showed him my teeth through yellow beer.

Do we old farts say thank you every genuflecting morning
to those poets with agate names who showed us their synapses?
Nowadays the young want us to love the earth,
And I never say out loud to them that my dear old people
discard cigarettes and write that’s left of poems.
They were low lights between mountains visible
to the evening gaze, they were evaporate mornings,
They are not mulch but stones in the earth, they are not
specimens but the authors of words should be whispered inside a dark bowl
from Siena.

I have no remaining skill for form,
just feel words jostle each other in doorways on the way out, sit here this
evening remembering a former life, I’m with friends
all lovely all restrained by hope, all agreed without saying so
those poets gave us a way to waste our lives
saying useless things, smiling indulgently at each other’s personal diaspora,
carrying mismatched goodies on the way to the grave,
trip, fall into hole, write on dirt walls
a first and last sonnet,
solving all, coming to rest, combing hair, adjusting socks,
kissing no one but the image of Jesus, disbursing mind as if it were mercury,
listening for the voices to arrive with the worms.

Derek Adams (London, UK): Two Poems

MIDAS

This is not the bright shiny gold
of the High
Street jewellers
but the deep yellow gold
of a late summer's afternoon,
of sand and tanned skin,
of ripe wheat waving in the wind
and the wave of your hair,
of the buttercup reflected under your chin,
of skate meuniere
and sweet Sauternes wine,
of a single malt nightcap
and a yellow bedspread,
of fresh orange juice
and toast spread with honey,
of the morning sunlight shining
through the down on your thigh.

SOUVENIR

12:04 am-- the floodlights
of Sacre Coeur have just died.
Tourists are still being drawn
by the pavement artists
in the Place du Tertre.

Just around the corner,
a boy perches on a low wall
his back to the city.
Her back to him; on his lap,
a girl, legs astride his.

Her right hand pushes
a short denim skirt
down between white legs.
Her left hand bunches
pale blue knickers into a ball.

She is a metronome,
keeping time
with African rhythms
that rise on air
sweet with Moroccan Black

from the tiered gardens
next to the funiculaire,
where a group of young Algerians
beat painted derbouka
gripped between their knees.

Beyond the couple, against the dark
the lights of the city
wink through traffic fumes,
the Eiffel tower
so small it would fit on a key ring.

Featured Poet: Andrew Duncan (UK)

Andrew Duncan creates a poetic world, self-contained and self-sufficient, which resonates squarely with contemporary dilemmas. How does an artist function in a society torn apart by wars and ideological confusions? More pertinently, is this an important or useful function?

Duncan approaches these dilemmas from a stance equal parts anguished resolve, mediated acceptance, and willful refusal. Duncan is a poet of deliberate ambiguities and artfully balanced evasions; world and language are processed as palpable and impalpable substances, agents of being and non-being. Duncan’s shards-of-glass prosody is notable not only because it is sustained, but because he makes us feel its’ edges.

Duncan has released many collections of poetry, including “In a German Hotel”, “Alien Skies”, and “Skeleton Looking at Chinese Pictures.” A “Selected” poems, “Anxiety Before Entering a Room”, was released by Salt Publishing in 2001.

Here is an in-depth interview with Andrew Duncan.

from In a German Hotel (1977-78)

1. ABSENCE

I live in a room of white walls
I only come here at night
Which no one sees but me

And Ali has a day off and on his day off
He walks in the village square in his new suit
Walks and then goes back inside

I wear the sweater on my day off
And I could never wear it any other day
And I could never wear it without crying

2. POEM TWO

Day shift in the windowless room. Fall behind a few minutes every
hour. A landscape of shouts. And you can’t cover up. An expression
of fear on you; inside, a freezing river.

It’s contact with the world that hurts me. I think in pidgin. The
landscape of shouts. My stomach hurts with worry.

We see food and we see its wreckage. Watch the waitress eat off
the plates the guests leave, the pretty waitresses. I can’t think in
English any more. our eyes are buried deep in the soil. The waste
product of perception. We are the bowels of many rich men. I see a
week of hours and a week of weeks. Two hundred meals an hour.
It’s the instants I can’t stand. Ten per cent too fast turns all
thoughts to pains. memory hurts too. We are the victims of desire.
Do straw dogs ache for a straw death?

ON FIRST PUBLICATION

Three years’ work and it’s worth nothing.
Less than that nothing worth
The dole of L13 each Tuesday from other hands.
You pay for the printing, you work on the setting.
You put it out and no one buys it.
Amateur! The pros tell how it feels to be rich
In paperbacks as bright as sweet packets.

Who’d have thought I cared so much for money?
My years fold in pleat on pleat of yellow treason.

I’m exhausted by warring shadows.
More calm? more force? unclear, I start to shake.

I draw benefit, one of the leisured class.
I don’t have to work. There is none.
I think all the time. I try to remember
The Welsh poetic vocabulary.

A principle of silence has ordered our habits.
How long? how long?

I’m almost blind with total light, with
Dew, half drunk by the sun, half weighed down by night.
I love my art; cruel sister, remote princess.

A strong man needs strong enemies:
Poverty, madness, disdain, compromise, silence.

Years of thought. At last I crawl across the floor
To put my hands in the boss’s pockets.

THE METALLIC AUTUMN

Rain silvers the slate roofs, smoke blows through the rain.
The hawthorn hedges are a red haze.
The hills above the town are blurred by mist.
Beauty is stripped away.
Light is pierced with nostalgia, slow and lax.
Decadent season.
Water forms as a haze between light and rain.
Flowers and leaves decaying in the streams
Mix earth and water in slow dispersal.
Blur steals over visible forms,
Smoke and moulder stir in the ash of light.
The pools are sorrowful, the sips of flowers split.
I find a single apple whole after all these weeks,
Skin whole and pulp firm as sapwood.

In a slush of softness and excrescence,
Late berries languish on the tendrils,
Lush to dissolution, spoilt with juice,
Blacker than nature with a white tinge like regret.
In the shadow of the sunny fronds,
Where the dew never dries, they drink and rot.
Rain on the leaf, dew on the bine. Mites
Finger the abacus of their flesh.
Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.

Season of memory and regret.
Barrels coop up the giddy hearts for recollection.
The animals grow lazier and furrier:
Search out shelter and apathy!
The heady noon is gone, the soft inner of the blossoms
And their offer. The rarer veins are frozen in their course.
We waited for the glance of the sun.
The osier of bare birch twigs seems like smoke
Against the red glow of the Apple going down.

Rain silvers the roof-slates, smoke blows through the rain.
A swirl of leaves like heavy fire
Pours through the tamping of a world on the wane.
The darkened sky withholds the weary forms.
Crepuscle, dissolution of concepts;
Season of case-hardening ash,
Season of ferment and thorough steeping.
Fruits infringe their brinks and streams their brims
Overlapping the thick pulp of fallen things.

The principle of ice shall come to judgment
On the lusts of Nature, searching out the flaw.
Bare branches detach pure metre from an obese rhetoric.
Blue glare shall stake out the torpid mist,
Pure-axile crystals shall affirm the morass.

John Siddique (Wigan, UK): Two Poems

KING STREET, WIGAN

Behind the theme bar facades is a town.
Behind the attitudes there’s Saturday night.
Behind Saturday night is the shadow of the week.
We make ourselves all week.
Blow it all down on King Street, where the fighting
has turned to ‘destroy at all costs,’ where the flirting
has a slap down waiting in it. The Saturday night grab,
drunk and fucking our northern souls away,
if we’re lucky. Or shouting the tribal ‘Oi,’
with hot sauce on our kebabs if we’re not.


PROCESSION

Under arches five drinkers on the tarmac path,
on the River Bann with its summer balsam,
its cool dark swim calling smoothly, before
showing the teeth of its undercurrent.

In the town, years and bombs have stolen
names and shops, changed the directions of paths.
Who will remember life before Dunnes Stores?
The lines of O’Neills, Livingstones and Brownes?

As a pope kisses the ground, feet are insulated
from the tarmac. One day we should announce
that Sunday is ‘Barefoot Day’. With clean feet
we’ll walk the shoppers processional route,
follow the staggered steps of legendary drinkers,
who would just sleep on the kerb if they couldn’t
get home. The soles of our feet pulling in
occasional electrons, leaving some of our own.

We’ll gather on traffic islands to recite
the names of the dead. A candle lit vigil for
the beaten, the bombed, the broken, the forgotten,
the died in bed, the lost, and the beloved.

© John Siddique 2005


Dee Rimbaud (Scotland): Three (Interconnected) Poems

CONTAINMENT

A fake tan, you smile and talk of double glazing,
Gesticulating carelessly,
Rose wine perilously swirling in cut crystal:
Aching to be absorbed,
To be at one with the thick pile
Of the carpet softly underfoot...

ASYLUM ANTECHAMBER

Black cascade, a fragile note hung trembling
In the thick white air: a swansung requiem
To the degeneration of myriad miraculous visions.
Then tell me, what did you see before you spiralled
So recklessly into the abyss?

GRAPHOMANIA

Did you not once allude, that through the cracks in the world
Other possibilities might make themselves manifest?

Amy King (New York City, USA): Two Poems

SOMETHING LIKE SEX A WEEK AGO LINGERS

Fire is my fence with gravity to grow
from. With stenciled-on feathers,
lovers count backwards from infinity
reborn, then anxiously land where
no darkness can guide us.
I was sick as a stitch
falling higher on valium and
how much I missed your luscious night.
That’s how sweat passes, a translucent gas.

Everyone sends notes of promise.
Everywhere I go I meet them,
those sympathetic theorists,
those college classrooms on wheels.
People don’t graduate to ignore conflict.
They are seized by repertoire appetites,
by the dirt on crisper bullets
of the world-not-them.
They make haste and say things like:
a struggle induced to shed luck,
the luck of language hanging on,
the luxury of land to be speaking from.

Come along with us, they say –
but mean it? If they follow, we’ll
never escape life-like people
with mission bells tolling.
Secretly, I am doing a Fellini;
I am hosting the minstrel man.
I too like to play along, nodding
and bobbing, but they scream
into the bright night, You lit us up!
For the worst in us,
there’s only a distance of eyes
gauging flight from a grounded earth.

Handwritten words grope the chords
in our necks, knitting out a less-than
rotation of women on fire,
our sparkling genders debated
by the work of people unspoken.



AN OUTLINE ON ANIMAL RIGHTS

She lifts the ocean to sky
(don’t try this at night):

Does it cost you to talk
from elsewhere
roaming
you, antelope
you, beer swigger
you, alien-masked
masticator with
the double chins?

For your meat-eating daisy,
I’m building a skin-felt
ladder in space suit
to climb to
the cradles as they
sway in their rockets’
polished torn hymens—

And the backyard becomes
our fertilized guppy-pond,
a counterfeit sea to float
flesh-eaten songs upon.

Contributors

  • Adam Fieled
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