V.130

Sometimes the heaviest reading
is the lightest – you understand?
Threading a needle envelops
the whole of us, a subtle task –

It is not a wetted slide down
in bright acrylic tubes to pools
It is a staircase and each step
slightly differs in height. Slowness

is an active ideal. I read
the day we spent in Dunstanburgh
and it is complex. Razor bills
and Shags patrol the ruined keep

in the darkness while the basalt
is thrashed by the waves. A staircase
starts halfway up a ruined stack –
The last person to take those stairs

was some unnamed and lost servant.
Yellow gorse patches over hills
which spread to the damp horizon
and fields of rapeseed glow and grow

We have steps to take and relearn
as heat passes into the sky
over the bookshop. And your kiss
stumps me like distant history

V.125 The Seventh Day

Only the finest and most active animals… – Nietzsche

On the seventh day, I rested.
I took my little boots, went out
and sat in the memorial garden.
Tears were licked from my eyes by time.

Cherry blossom was on the trees
a rusty angel holding wreaths.
I thought how, once built, a bridge lasts –
a stone bridge outlasts us, and sings.

Dreams of war danced in the cold night.
In rooms, piles of ancient books loomed.
The sun isn’t something missing
it’s an overflow of hot thoughts –

that dances on the horizon
and tricks us by travelling so slow.
I wanted to say this: thank you,
here is a Picquot tray of tea.

Like tidal waves upon a cliff
this came to me, this old feeling,
made me take a seat and begin
thinking the odds and ends again.

Oh, all my help and those I harmed
– joy hands on joy to us and then,
like lava at tectonic rifts
from this, may things begin again

V.124

I’ve loved you all my waking life.
and it’s rare like atmospheric
crystal rainbow clouds, in the night
catching the moon’s light. Called moon-dogs.

Though rareness isn’t a good sign –
rare diseases are rare, okay,
but I’m trying to find something
like a mock moon has its anchor –

I see your hesitancy through
your 22° halo –
Could we after all have found more
in others. Could is a puzzle,

and I’ve loved you, my waking life.
The tautology has my throat –
like a jet necklace. And the joy
you bring me has long years in it.

We are vintage. We can say that,
and others cannot. Exclusive
isn’t necessarily good,
okay… But the world falls away

when you laugh, or you say my name.
And that’s not good either, okay,
or is it. You are my chapel!
my holy book! my holiday!

Cleopatra

After Pushkin via Louis Martinez

The palace was fire. A choir sang
ringing with flute-sound and lyre.
The Queen’s glance, and her voice
were the soul of a great feast.
All hearts inclined to the throne.
So, golden bowl in hand, the Queen
looked taken by dreams, and drooped
her beautiful head toward the ground –
the royal feast seemed to calm
and the hosts shut up. And the choir.
That’s when, again, she looked up
and said, her face bathed in milky light:
< My love is your sovereign joy. >
< A sovereign joy you can buy… >
< Listen. It’s mine alone to do: >
< give you all one equal opportunity. >
< Who here’s a buyer? My love’s in play >
< I’m putting it up for bids – let’s see >
< who among you is ready to pay >
< with your life for one night spent with me? >
She spoke. Fear took them all,
as a passion stuttered their hearts.
Enduring a muddled rumour which rose
of a face that was icy with pride –
she let run a disgusted look
round her circle of adorers…
Now, someone came from the ranks
soon followed by two others,
their step was daring, their eyes glowing
and the Queen rose, walking to meet them.
The game was set, three nights were bought
and death’s bed was opened to them…

…………

Immediately, blessed by the priests
the three lots, one after another,
were drawn from the fatal urn
in front of the silent guests.
Flavius came first. A robust soldier,
veteran of the Roman legions.
He twitched to see in a woman
so much arrogance and disdain.
He went to her bed’s challenge
like in old days, in his campaigns,
he’d gone to the call of battle.
Then came Crito, a young intellectual
raised in Epicurean groves
Crito, the adept, the poet
of the Graces, of Cypress, of love
whose eyes, and heart, were kind –
flower of a springtime barely begun.
History has forgotten the name
of the third. A short and soft fur
tenderly shadowed his cheeks.
Desire illuminated his eyes –
a hot and clumsy force
boiling in his young heart…
It was on him that rested
the saddened gaze of the Queen.

…………

< I swear, as Queen of pleasures
I will worship them beyond anything tried
and make myself play courtesan
in this game-of-love challenge.
Listen, oh powerful Cyprus
and you, infernal sovereigns
oh gods of fearsome Hades –
I swear to you that before the dawn
I will exhaust their desires,
their burning pleasures, my masters;
I will quench them, opening to them
the mystery of my strokes –
The divine secrets of pleasure –
but as soon as the eternal dawn
shines its morning purple –
this is an oath – their pleased little heads
will bounce under an axe. >

…………

Now the day is blown out,
the moon rises all horny and gold
and a delicious shadow fills
the whole Alexandrian palace –
where spurts of water and lamps glitter –
where a hot smoke of incense rises –
where they ready the gods of the earth
for the smoothest of pleasures.
There, in a dark and luxurious cavern
full of half-miracles of art,
under the shade of purple curtains
waits the gold and royal bed…

1828