Doe; A Poppet; Two Lost Things; Consistori del Gai Saber


Inside the green sun sent down
by rippled leaves turned
from the squint of a sickly heat,
our footsteps were breath

held in exchange for a sense
not yet our own but
heard in a call from the nerve
of this wood, spoken as a bird

that lit the feathered shade
we stepped into as space
we fell and flew towards
each time we stopped to tilt an ear

to listen for the trail of the other’s voice.
I tried to speak the name for friend
and the sound came back as the bark
of trees point-blank at my skin

that let me slip like a finger
through their silent folds
teaching my touch
to hatch like an egg.

Don’t be afraid I almost said
if not to myself, to the verging dead,
bone-dust scattered in bluebells,
deathbells knelling death’s end

in the sough of the wild
that led her and me,
sly as lovers, into this secret
taut as a web.

We opened like flowers, our scent
thickening air moist
with the dew of our lungs,
limned with antennae

fed on the dark light
of the radiant body afoot or sweet
with rot where it fell. We flickered
like a tongue from an adder’s head

and flared at our meeting, revealed.
The doe startled from her mottle bed
as if, this time, I had spoken
her true name, and fled.
A Poppet

When I dug you up
like a potato,
you could have been
vegetable, grown
in earth too long

lost by a girl
who gave you her name
and worried her parents
to death with her love
for your unstitched eyes

whose loose threads
look into mine
as I bathe you until
the water is black
and your human hair

is chestnut again,
and the hemp sac
of your skin is warm
from the fire I
nearly put you in.

The embers are cold
when I think I wake
to find you folded
into my bed
and your voice thrown

to the tilth of my garden
growing you bone
by bone with words
no human breath
could hold, biting

my tongue and drawing
blood that tastes
wrong as I follow,
now a father
to a lost child

and feel small hands
push me into
fresh-torn ground.
When I think I wake,
your small hands lift me out.
Two Lost Things

E.A.L. at four years old

She dreamt of two lost things,
their cobweb feathers soft to touch,
perched, as if for food, or such
thin fare as dreaming brings
to wean two wisps with wings,
the orphans of their clutch.
Their song is nothing, and too much:
silence twinned with that which sings.

She does not name these darlings
of the dark that came to land
on her, light as fledglings,
the spinning air’s awakenings.
She comes to me to understand.
“Look,” she says, holding out her hand.
Consistori del Gai Saber

for Philip Allott

Tell those who come they have to find
the sound of knowing for themselves,
as I did, three hundred
and seventy-seven moons ago.
It is nothing so fixed as the earth
at the centre of the spheres (which, mark me,
is a truth that will loosen like a slip
of the tongue) but the maker of fact, the spell
that makes you a fiction, howbeit real.
But I’m going too fast. It begins
with overhearing the dead
in the living. What else is a word
but a ghost sent feeling its way,
the centuries passed on your breath?
And in this, the feat of surprise.
When a stranger speaks and it sounds
upon you a promise of being
that it keeps as it touches the stem
of your fate, something like a voice
that you love. That is the invisible body
of our wandering college, to which anyone
can belong – if they choose. For me,
born without money or precedent
but yes, loved, and my weird strong enough,
one dead dictador became my teacher.
The music in words can be its own song.
I imagine him lit by brandy and candle,
the room drunk, for a moment, on language,
and he half-aware that those who listen
have not yet been born. Look for the signs
that tell you the student has heard the dead
and plays for them as they would for a friend.
Look for signs that the dead have heard.
This is not solemn: the violeta d’aur
has to be earned, as does the ear
of those who come after. They, like the language
deserve our best benefaction.
the golden oriole is back, and arcs
the air with his whistle. He is a joglar
like me, the magus of this morning’s taroc.
Look how the hard-at-work and the self-absorbed
alike ignore the pageant of his arrival.
But let’s not be doleful: there’s a joke
in the tragic mask of their loss as old
as laughter itself, just as a prude
is the dupe of sex, and the sober
are fools of reason. Unwilling clowns
are clowns nonetheless—better to choose
to play. Our students should have a stomach
for paradox, and impatience only with the absence
of love. We have the freedom of fallen
beings. Think not of fresco devils
nor huddled angels with blue-washed wings
but their nameless painter at work in the temple
of their imagining—the art in the thought
of transfiguring—who wears the horned brow
of an ecstasy older than Christendom.
Forgive my heresy, but we who perform
have a habit of asking to be
forgiven in the very trespass of our voice.
We belong to no class but our calling.
Our ways are promiscuous as language,
over which we raise the sign of Eros.
When I speak it’s to kiss my absent
lover, who may not even be human.
I like a music that reaches where speech
is forbidden unless it speaks in wonder.
That is the beginning and the end
of our learning. If you can hear my smile,
it’s because I savour the romance of knowledge,
even the wound of its sounding.
Listen: those spheres are moving.
I have told you some secrets, maybe
said too much. But I never forget
my audience—nor those who might be
overhearing. Come. Step through this curtain
and into the sun. The world is young.
I find what I learn from the oriole pleasing.