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 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.”