The dog’s at the window again
barking at nothing,
at sunlight and winged commas,
the full-stopped silence of a plane.
He barks like a typewriter and the world
is a broken paragraph in my head.
What time is it? Where?
America, Egypt, Japan?
No good. Here?
Clock on the wall
hasn’t worked for years,
maybe. Or days. Or maybe
it’s always been eleven to two.
No, don’t fix it.
I prefer its hands still.
This way we live forever.
Read my mind. There are whole hours
during which we don’t speak a word
to each other. Then
occasionally, I hear you exhale,
like you’ve suddenly remembered to breathe.
The fan stutters in a corner.
The room’s dark.
On the windowsill a brand-new lightbulb,
Your small fist of a heart.
What if love
-like anything organic-
Recall early words, sounds
dredged up from a swamp of years.
The bottled firefly of childhood
beating wings against glass.
Biting into a red apple,
its worm splitting in two in your mouth.
You used to sing hymns
and the sight of railways thrilled you.
The space between then and now is irreconcilable.
You would have never pictured this
among the drawings on your mother’s fridge,
among the football-and-grit-your-teeth
dreams of your father.
None of what came later was hinted at.
What would eventually be possible was kept hidden,
squirrelled away in the dark.
So the lamp is empty.
You still have the dead bulb;
it rattles when you hold it to your ear
like a dried-up sea.
What if the whole earth is a puzzle-box
you lift with trembling hands
to your face?
whose wooden lips part
to reveal a revolving tongue,
someone’s infancy chewed slowly
between teeth and song?
whose weight must be shouldered?
the seagull is dead
I would like, I believe, to be a hole in a wall
a small hole not a crack not a mouse-hole
or a fist-smashed-through hole
not a keyhole or a knothole
certainly not a peephole
or a pinhole – too subject to use,
I do not care what kind of wall
if plasterboard or concrete
or mortar and brick
they are just as cold as each other
and fulfill the same function
of sheltering and delineation
which are sometimes one and the same
I would like to just be a hole
the negative reverse of being
like a donut hole is the negative reverse
of donuts, except that donut holes
carry too much weight as a concept
for my liking
are an integral part of a whole
I would like to be a hole and nothing but
not wide enough for the finger
of a small scared Flemish child to fit through
I would like something like wind
to whisper on the other side of me
not words at all just wind
and maybe when you listen closer even that’s uncertain
I would like you to put an eye to me
and look straight through
into the unfathomable useless darkness
that exists in the space between one side of a wall
and the other
and see nothing
a blank darkness without feeling
not anger not frustation not sadness
just this blank emptiness which goes on forever
and ever, world without end
inside every wall that’s ever been built
between us both, surrounding us
waiting patiently like locusts in winter
for a crack
That is what I would like you to see.
It takes only a little while.
Then he lies back
Nothing about this has changed.
You are one small part of a machine
that unthreads days.
Get up. Wipe yourself clean.
Clean? We are practically made of bacteria.
More inside you than honest men
on God’s green earth.
You learnt their names as a schoolgirl:
Thrilled by their names,
as if you were a planet
inhabited by these creatures.
But most planets have not played host
to so much as a cell.
Stare a while at his face.
This, too, is a world sleeping in darkness.
Reach out into that darkness
to touch his warm skin,
the slow rise-and-fall of his chest,
the organisms within.
He doesn’t stir.
If there’s life out there,
where is it?
Good morning. Coffee – not
too much sugar, and brown –
or tea. Stir.
There is a church in this cup sounding bells.
Some days are prayers
though we cannot pray.
How did you sleep?
I dreamt, but it leaves you.
Who counts our loss?
Some sadness is unspeakable,
cannot be given form,
as though something nameless died in the night
and was buried inside you in secret.
The Earth itself knowing nothing of graves.
Eyes closed. Water-giving life.
Steam rises slowly,
offering itself to no one.
I watch and count to any number,
come up behind you, cup my hands
over your small blue planets.
They revolve in the darkness
of your head, seeking a star.
You guess my name.
Walk, quiet, along empty fields
whose grass has lengthened
to sharp spindles,
or frayed where the countryside ends.
You could lean down here, unravel
England like a sweater.
These are cold days.
The sun’s early ache
is a month’s red pain repeated,
You walk without going.
Then a dog barks somewhere
– you are not wanted –
and the night peels itself from your lids.
Where did you come from?
These stars are strangers.
You draw the wrong shapes,
could not find your way home
with their cold light.
Where do you go?
The sun will be down by the time you get back.
You will tuck yourself into bed,
as though sleep could take you somewhere else.
In the thin, unsexy sky, a bird
eats its weight in food each day,
No, I cannot stand.
Cannot begin again, cannot return
to where I left off:
five or six of my shirts,
grey underwear, white socks
– like things that lived –
hung in my small bathroom, drying
while it rains outside,
and there I am, remembering, almost,
as though this rain had fallen before,
or in the knowledge that it will fall again.
I turn the hourglass by the sink
and measure out three good minutes
A chore that I’ll be thankful for in later years.
Tonight the ground will be soft
and I’ll fall asleep to the milling throats
of toads, the sound
playtime, but also other memories:
on my knees, for example,
mumbling at the dark.
At what was out there, listening.
And still others
which I could name or describe
Enough to say my mother
gave me an hourglass
and also a pocket-sized portrait
of a man who looked nothing like Christ,
which I kept because what else could have been done?
who will bring me water from the dark
beyond this quiet land,
or hold my hand?
In the tiny bathroom, beside
the one cake-bristled toothbrush
that remained, in its place,
was the hourglass.
I was surprised to see it there – at first –
then not surprised,
that time that my mother had been keeping.
I spun it in my strangely untrembling hand
and set it down
to watch three minutes trickle irrevocably away,
and decided this too was prayer.