Poetry

It was a very good year; A Wild Regret Appeared!; John Hall’s Remedy; The Wood-Chipper


It was a very good year

after Jack Nicholls

 
Hope is a blister-plaster on the sole of the city,

but a new day brings new socks, whispering their zen

 

pronouncements between my toes. Even Cain,
having wandered himself raw, was finally permitted to sit

 

in the face of the moon, its freehold denizen.

Sometimes nothing is bad. When Kane

 

unmasked, he was bulldog-bald with black eyeshadow. Not a zit

or scar or blemish hidden; the kind of ugly mug that’s a dime a dozen,

 

God’s forgiveable lapse—like when a boss uproots you to Spokane

or any other region’s second city

 

and the bars are passable, the parks still green. Kaizen

bulldozes underpasses; schools replace the cane

 

with demerits, then counselling. There’s hope in electricity,

the arc of history, learning that the Danish word for turtle is en

 

skildpadde, meaning “shield-toad”—in all of the arcane

byways of joy by which we stumble on what isn’t shit

 

about this world. Sure, heroes milkshake duck, Constable Frozen

sullies childhoods, but when I cane

 

each midnight middleway, I scorch this city’s

backroads with my clichéd French driving instructor, when he calls out zen

we SLAM ze brake—oh inexplicably not-yet-disbarred Phillippe, ze ’urricane

of ’arfleur, high priest of obscene velocity,

 

together we coast corners so smoothly I approach zazen

and all I breathe is bliss and novocaine.

 

Again. Again. Back to the source. Op cit. Is

anything more perfect than that Portuguese chocolate milk? Then

 

take me back to Lydia’s makeshift flat in Vauxhall, take me to Cockaigne.

Oh eleven-thirty dusk in Trondheim, Stockholm’s water gold: the cities

 

that remind me to hope when

all other hopes I’ve nurtured bend in rain like cane,

 

oh Birmingham, Helsinki, Rome—another day hops on its brand-new bicycle

without a care for any thief or thieves.

 

 

 

A Wild Regret Appeared!

 

In the library, behind the study carrels
offering 24-hour access to a certain
mitigated hope, a dress with cherries on
drifting round a corner. It’s super effective.

 

Between enclosures at the nature centre
where inadequate maps place redundant fauna,
I use a joke that doesn’t land at the right time.
Drips of ice cream fall on an ankle boot.

 

Across the ergonomic lecture theatre,
a single false eyelash on a raked desk: I fainted.
I can hook my wrist, but there’s some things you can’t capture.
Now I want to see precisely four people or no one.

 

Not every creature has the same defences,
and I’m not famed for my deployment order.
I meant to kiss you by the herbaceous border.
Instead I said: “Hey, look, a herbaceous border!”

 

In the wrong light, conifers look sentimental.
I’m thinking of making up someone called Jennifer.
If I squint from here, I can see the new tenant repainting.
Shutters open with a sound like a kiss: two faces coming apart.

 

 

 

John Hall’s Remedy

 

This is the tincture
I made for my daughter
to ease her distress
and to bring down her fever:
the roots of asparagus,
orris and madder
and parsley and fennel,
the bark of an elder
were boiled and strained,

 

to which I added senna
and cinnamon, aniseed.
Then I took sugar
and rhubarb infused
into chicory water.
I mixed it all up
as she lay in distemper
and gave seven spoonfuls
and prayed it would help her,

 

 

 

The Wood-Chipper

 

Friend, if you want the thing to start
its grizzly burr, its choke and blurt,
first you must feed its churning heart
a tribute log,
then
stand
well
back;
it
spits;
it
spurts;
and
hear
it
clog.

 

Whatever gift you choose to bring
(ash, elder, alder, anything)
it will repay in shivering
abundantly;
you
yoink
its
chain;
it
strains;
it
sings;
it
eats
the
tree.

 

Next, you will come to sift the grit
its belly volleys up in drifts
that scatter as you stoop to lift
one strange, smooth bead:
it
may
be
waste;
it
may
be
this
is
all
you
need.

 

Such, some might argue, is the best
way to make meaning from the mess
which every day we compass,
the unwieldy whole:
to
blitz
the
lot
and
ditch
the
dross
then
save
the
small.

 

But when I hear that cry again—
the motor pinioned to its pain—
this cannot be the only way plain
truth can sound:
if
all
that
falls
is
sharp
fine
rain
which
scars
the
ground.