Archive for May 4th, 2013

Novice Wisdom

2850 Mussoorie


Novice Wisdom


An emotion one rarely knows

what to do with: beauty.

Once, reading Proust, being so overcome by the Vaseline

of his lyricism, (cornflower, umber,

hawthorn, yellows – few words remained, but the colours, Impression)

I wondered, after Morris, whether beauty should be

useful after all;

where else to deploy this ache, this disturbance?


My brother once helped an old lady

from a bus and was duly praised;

mother, father, driver, old lady. It struck home

in him and in me, from whence

he was saintly. I was

yet to show this

and sought old ladies.


“How old are you now, son?” my father asks.

Yes, I am ageing

and still not THERE.



I have a favoured myth that I uphold

(though it does me no immediate good

to instill, myself, the doubts in your appraisal)

that greater trust will come from honesty

about past indiscretions.


These are not the actions

of heroes, nor men

you’ll hope to love.


“Now your ships are burned…”



Yes, old friend, this line

will also lend to me subdued Athens;

long walls demolished, proud fleet scattered,

empire nipped and tucked. This line

will clang and scrape with the chairs

of room seventeen; the cold morning echo

of thin air, thinner, shriller sound,

and the meandering certitude

of Mr Jones. But earlier than that,


before then, when we started there and knew

but a little of each other and the world,

when we feared naively all the corrupting

we’d been warned to avoid, thinking we, as children,

had no say in it, then what was good

was obvious, uncomplicated. Or was it just

that our desires did not yet involve others?


Love was still to be conducted

honestly; ethics and morality were not

understood, they were known.



Twenty-one, balcony morning running

fast behind the night. Woke tired, wanting everything

but work. In the early hours we came out

to catch a glimpse

of Knowledge in the fanning light.

On a borrowed bicycle the bear

went over the mountain

to see what he could not see:

that as we expand, so the space expands.

Since growing was equated with knowing

so youth as a state of mind was fixed eternal.

“We’re learning,” you said

“and knowledge can only make us children. Hence Socrates,

wise and petulant.”



Took this naïve youth for a state of beauty,

off the main and down the slower

bronze and iron side streets

sat and smoked up pipes and durries

stared across the corrugations,

plaster, brick and concrete houses,

ached for women wanting nothing

more than a restless looking

for a place and mood alone

and not a thing.


Was that not better than knowing?

Was that not more pure than “purpose”?

A useful beauty?


Another all-night morning

off in the park with the chirping,

all-night affirmations primed a fancy,

going through the rising dew. That was love

most visceral, love like scent-stirred

recollections, only in it.

In it

in it.


In time it seemed she was merely there

to be broken.



“You have to be strong about things,” she

warned too late. “I ought to be a good thing,

like new bottles of shampoo, well-cooked

mushrooms and deep green fabric,

not the be all and end all. If you hold

something fragile too tightly…”


Perhaps it had been too hot, or we were too dizzy

after the ordeal of essays and exams


“It was two animals, scrapping, savaging each other”


Inside, the currency of our moments

remains unspent, for she never wronged me.

That our love was the Axis Mundi,

she did once know. Possessed by its dogma

I closed my grip; tightened

these smotherer’s hands.


She puts her hairbrush elsewhere now;

hangs her tartan scarves and leggy skirts,

her blouses, berets, bras – all likely

new and not the ones I’d sometimes choose –

I don’t know where.



Having lied and cheated, having done so again

how long must we wait to be trusted?

The prisoner serves sentence, the liar instead

depends on the mercy of friends, of himself.

Must we apologise for ourselves

to those we have

not yet wronged?

When can we again say we are good?


From tyranny to the rule of law

so Solon followed Draco



Yet still there came Peisistratus,


in the urgent days with another.

I’d refused the church

to join the lovers’ guild of thieves.


My brother shone like a silver lining;

through the storm he’d stuck it out

for a later, cleaner break.


“This dream girl must have been

quite a catch,” he said.

She was quite a wicket


for old butterfingers;

an ageing novice, surrounded

by the zip-lock bags


of shot-up beauty.

“Why must you always put beauty

up your arm – the highs are gone,


let beauty be

the active thing, and let yourself

be passive in its gaze. How like


those wild oil barons, those violent guzzlers,

how like a junkie you’ve sucked and sucked

(and wisdom may in time limit the range


of feeling, of enthusiastic hope –

experience lends a brevity to myth,

our passion for the novel loses heat)


Run with the beauty and be it,

run with it down to the river,

run with it up to the heavens, my sour old friend.”


5689 Cambridge

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