Flags of Chaos
Ghosts. People-shapes of mourners,
a black regatta flows towards me and away,
unsure of form, unsure of what to say
and stripped of normal consolations, as I am.
The dust of lost traditions, muddled certainties.
She would have loved the indecisions of this time,
she who was decisive in her own.
So many lonely people Ben mutters at my side,
almost inaudibly. Almost spot-on.
People lonely in their different ways.
The coffin, like the landscape, sparkles in the rain.
Sparkles into life, you might say.
Almost. Beyond it, stone steps
fall to where two landscapes run together.
Another, fractal and computer-generated,
is printed on the silk drape to the coffin. Her last print:
Turbulence. The gentle spray seems lost among its swirls
and eddies -
I remember her once saying,
If only we could map all those internal rifts
and all our roots, then there would be
nothing strange or mindless left
to throw us off the scent.
From time to time Ben interrupts my retrospection.
His words are masks worn back to front, or claws
with which to gouge
He makes a nonsense of my usual labels:
disturbed, adjusted, pupil and professional.
They seem as one with those clay heads of his at school:
those heads with crackled brows, inheritors, he says,
of some familial disease, of hair roots winding down
into the brain, to throttle it.
She only held my hand down there, that's all!
Just like she was my mum, or thought she was, I s'pose.
Did they tell you that? I bets they didn't sir!
Funny that, the sir in there.
He never uses it in school. Out here
The dust requires some structure to be put in place.
His soft hand squeezes into mine,
presses it, extracts a modicum of trust and confidence.
His voice has stepped outside its usual register:
He is a child again,
testing out himself, testing out the adult in me;
checking: is this moment funny? should I laugh?
What would be suitable to say?
His looks make nonsense of his manly build.
I never knowed that you could bury someone
in a garden, like they was a pet!
That aint against the law then, is it sir?
"No, not exactly, not if you’re respectful." Fudge.
"You think a wilderness of thoughts
and try your best to bring them all together.
This place is part of that. Her special place,
where she was happy, where"
- And could have been as happy where that great wave took
me and she reached me and reached out and took my hand
and would have carried me down to that land
where plants and fish and creepy things with claws
are all one with another.
It could have been our special place. We could 'a' left
us minds behind when moon and stars
were searching there for us
and shining from the bottom up to us
and we played hide-andseek with them and didn't care
and when I looked she was all turned to gold,
bright as the brightest star in heaven
and swimming me to it.
She never wanted stuff like this, I knows -
not priesty stuff, not that!
He always get you in the end, though, priesty man.
Even if you ducks him all you life, he get you when you dead!
I've always dreamt some day some lady just like her
would take me from this bad mind back
to where old snakey tempted Eve.
His thoughts are dressed for the occasion.
A walking carnival of misery,
complete with mummers, clowns and tightrope walkers.
He chooses what he's not the way we choose to be.
The rain is setting in more solidly.
I watch the wasteland and the garden edge together,
penetrate each other, pinch
each other’s frontiers further back.
Man and nature alternate
in tiny triumphs and disasters.
Neither stands supreme.
Between our two domains
the words that carry visions fall as dust.
A bit of bramble here,
a slither of herbaceous border there,
a clump of nettles... what
she always loved about the place.
The Academic Gown
Five months confined to bed.
My first day back; the first year
all but gone. The head,
his famous gown wound tightly round
him, makes a rare appearance; stoops,
as though to reach our level; speaks:
Enlightenment, young sirs, is like to come
by way of avid questioning. Avail
yourselves of this, your opportunity
to lay such obfuscating dust
as young minds such as yours disturb.
There comes no movement, and no sound.
Five months of boredom, but one solace:
a book called All the Great Astronomers -
of which, one chapter baffles still…
Come on young sirs, who'll be the first?
I take him at his word and raise my hand.
I'd like to know sir: what is calculus?
The gown is drawn more tightly round,
its every fold soughs with disdain.
I hardly think,
not in my wildest dreams, young sir,
that you will be requiring that
in next week's first year tests!
He smiles above my head.
Next question, please!
No one has said. Could I have known?
The general merriment ensures
more surely than the snub
that I will never ask again.
Maths learning, he once said, is linear,
a tram ride through the town.
You may alight, young sirs;
you cannot deviate.
Nor take account of stars, it seems.
Next subject, please!
A Sunday Supplement, a photograph.
Not that we'd have recognized it,
not without the caption, though cliffs,
distinctive, might have told us.
Taken from above.
The Cuckmere banished from the scene -
and much else missing from that day:
white upon the beach; you, exquisite, dressed to kill,
a splash of green;
the sea kale (was it?) by the stream:
all tucked away between the hills and nowhere to be seen.
And so I wondered: what if we could see
as from some vantage point above
the hills and valleys carved in us
by the torrential force of human love?
what would be there to see?
what would there not?
That day the sun-drenched chalk and beach,
And even the shady wood, unleashed
in turn a fierce burn of increasing beauty.
Offshore, the tides and Cuckmere clashed,
Canoes capsized, and men we'd lately
followed from the bridge were stayed, all balance lost,
bare inches from the water.
It too was like a photograph, our day.
The gulls hung, poised like birds of prey,
on tiny cirrus threads. The breakers froze,
refused to break.
Creation seemed to us to take
a year to spend the day.
The sun poured champagne on the sea
as tides and Cuckmere whirled together.
One maelstrom, one tranquility.
My love, I saw this photograph
as though I'd heard our favourite song
being sung in a foreign language.