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ALISON CROGGON AND DAVID BIRCUMSHAW

ALISON CROGGON


A digression


Being proved non-existent, I rejoiced in the delicious air. Alas, an angel grabbed me by the heel and started whispering flatteries. I floated to the ground in order to hear him more clearly.

As the dust cleared, I saw the usual disasters were taking place on a huge screen in the city square. A hundred children vanished in a puff of smoke. A magician pushed his goggles onto his forehead and scratched his nose. A woman sang the same words over and over again.

Then I noticed how many people were shopping. They walked indifferently past a man who was weeping on a unicycle. Everything they bought turned to rubbish in their hands.

I realised I must be at a fairy ball and that all those masks were futile defences against enchantment. Only the clown bought nothing. He ground a pomegranate into pulp with his oversize heels but not one coin clattered into his hat.

I thought he must be very joyful, to be weeping so copiously. But as I approached to ask his secret, he turned and vanished into a department store. A beggar started foaming at the mouth and ran down three fat children with a knife and fork. A mangy dog with worms drilling its back was fossicking in a bin.

What is this? I asked the angel. And who dictates these horrors? But the angel was trying on a new tuxedo.

From this level I could see how each smile dissipated into the dust of reflections. Again I demanded, What is this? An answer came back to me like confetti on a cold wind. It is called the Real World, the angel said.

It doesn't look real to me, I answered, but he had already gone.




Medea


Forgetting what is mine
as rain sheds its petals
I will show you everything
falling away like water

As rain sheds its petals
in this endless night
falling away like water
from my callussed hands

In this endless night
I think of knives blooming
from my callussed hands
and a vast exile

I think of knives blooming
treacherous as lips
and a vast exile
numbing every prayer

Treacherous as lips
curling inside the body's love
numbing every prayer
in blood's filthy clamour

Curling inside the body's love
forgetting what is mine
in blood's filthy clamour
I will show you everything





Child's play


What grieves terminally in that warm
angle of sun fat with voices
vapourised from play? You
know the calculation of angles, the nice
cut to the cushion: arcs of panicky
alternatives, weighted at the edge
of what is possible. The play
beggars choice: a willed act
cleaves trajectories where
eyes turn, and the hand
opens thus and the mouth speaks
doubtlessly. Luminous,
like a memory of god,
you can believe in it, knowing
it is everything there is.
Making the true, even
if it's pointless. But no gripe this, just
the courage it gives you. Hold that feather
close: it's all you've got. Days
might dribble through your hands, leaving
their tried sediment, each morning
might seem heavier, but it's how
images flicker past you faster and faster
without touching, that drills you
coreless, insubstantial. You have to reach
further inside, through deeper skins:
the animal curls up, refuses
your call: and then nothing.
But still you hear its breath, a bristle
of shock, walking unwarily
on a lightless road or perhaps in the sudden
gesture of a leaf. Only that eyes
flower all over you, and forget your name,
and you hollow and replete.
How damaged, that this is so little,
this lightness, that we must inhabit names.
What matters most is least, and that
refuses us shelter. How slight we are,
wrens running on a skin of rubbish
over a dark river: but still distinct, like actors
costumed as kings. A kiss will do
in lieu of meaning, its violent
unselving which tumbles us out, unlovely,
rotting, the blind dream
forging itself, intricate dumb chemicals,
and we their flickering screen. If
language infects us, our unease, it's one of our
few beauties. No solace there:
what hones us makes us war.
So the Word
muscles in to save us, warping to false order
the desperate ignorance on which we stand
our vanities, only to crumble
on the cusp of speech.
Music might be us, deeply,
but we can't bear it: our instruments
are too crude. We have
our hands, our lips, our eyes. Nothing.
Each other? Only what is released
briefly into lit arms. If we could hold
the dream of play and vanish
in the shimmer of that
blinding stream.




Silence


Silence broke my mouth:
the crumbs flew out the window
like paper butterflies or those magnolias
nonchalantly shattered on the grass.
These mirrors are confusing,
so cold and expensive, they ripple out
noiselessly like the sweet curve
of water from a cliff
where I am looking down, seeing further out
that blue point beyond
any voice.




Lamps


I might have lifted out of the day
small tremulous lamps to guard the night.
But day's centre is dark.

Nevertheless the lamps are there,
flaring discontentedly like my daughter's
marine sleep.

She is as silent as hands.
Her breath peoples the sea
with fins of rose and lavender.

The lamps go out
and reveal a horrible beauty.
The sea curls back.

I push my tongue into silence.




November burning


yesterday the world came to visit
it was easter and the sky split in two
with the grief of an old crime

tomorrow will be christmas and the same birth
opening again with the same desolation

what is it that I cannot remember
if I was old if I was wise I am neither
my hands close on nothing my womb is tired
my fingers are scarred with old scrubbings
I have tried staring out of the window
all I can see are old griefs

the old gods walking in the garden
and the child holding a flower
in the painting on the wall of a chapel
where the afternoon sun is a memory already
ancient confusions
the blood that refuses the hunger that will not listen
I would like to know some answers
but can barely shape the questions out of fear
there are no new questions
only questions that have always gone unanswered
must I ask them
every night and every morning of my life
must I ask them although there are no answers
every night and every morning

in the difficult night of prayer
when the gods do not attend
in the washings away of afternoons
in each crumb of solitude given and wasted
in the tough bitter bread of love
that grazes your mouth and leaves you gasping
in the halfheard voices
and the cheek offered and withdrawn
the city's voluble inattention
the penances of ignorance and sobriety
perhaps the humble one ignites his presence
a balm of water on a fevered forehead
that evaporates before it is sensed
no withdrawal
but further and harder and without colour
holding all colour within it

or perhaps the pure white that one dreams
past exhaustion in a crumpled bed
after all the interactions
that demanded one be other than you are
merely an erasure of pain

o you who were fragrant as Lebanon
the groves of your undoing
now pumped up irrevocable chimneys
the sky a burning glass
and the lands wasted

the child with a flower in the chapel
who was once a child bribed with sweetmeats
scratching lice
and the flower long dust
and the promises made and unmade and forgotten
living in the glance
how easy to lament
to stare with grief across the dying garden
it was always dying

never for my children or my children's children
will Adrasteia, Amalthea, Ida and Cynosura
bend white studious brows in the college of the bee
the deep caves of water are poisoned
never will the spring

..............................


did it travel the oceans from Olympus
heeled with the spite of the dead
is it socketed by ranks of heavy skulls
icythosaurus diplodocus tyrannosaurus rex
a schoolyard chant of bones mounting up
to the delicate mammalian intelligence
is it daubed with hair and ochre on the rock
near the rainy season water
and carved in relief in the tombs of kings
to gaze forever over a dry sea
remembering the stare of a jewelled woman
and the light windowed on her globed eye
measured by a bored painter
each shut of the lid and each dust mote
moist with millenia of blinkings
how far is a glance
as it flickers and rests and moves on

what is it that I cannot remember
if I was young if I was ignorant
the door suddenly still in its movement
and afterwards crystalline with light
that never shone there
as if a god had stepped in that common place
shared by mites and cockroaches and ants
and a mouse running its stink over the floor
as if a child long mute spoke a word
and its echo budded into flame
in the minds of those who heard suddenly humbled
by an unexpected

or weight of the lamb
on a burnt tongue
or the twisted tap
in a smoking garden
a single wing flapping
a lone dog howling
a bent nail

in the bleak Novembers
when the first winds roar from the northern deserts
bringing flame to tinder forests
and ash falls in the suburbs like soft black stars
where frail old women read their fortunes

ravens tilt outside shuttered houses
summoning a red moon
through the blasted twilight

humble wooden houses
up like a match
ash black and grey ash
in the black garden

and the door swinging on its hinges
in a late damp breeze
from an ocean far away
in the cold south

who died? who died?
and next door untouched
the wind seasonally capricious
and the stars unfavourable
Venus low and urgent in the west
yet fifty metres south
honeysuckle dips a curling tongue
into cool air

in such a November
I come to the same questions
in another place
formed by irreversible losses
a landscape of bloated corpses
walls crumbled to ruin
and no sign of rain

she who touches the forehead of the virgin
child sleeping with her hands
closed beneath her cheek as if in prayer
to brush back a lock that has fallen
and moves on a slow breath

she may not perfectly
step between the chasms of illchoice
she may have betrayed herself
again and again
she may be foolish
and no longer hope for redemption

she may shiver with an awe
in a stained church where no one is waiting

she may know a wren is moulting
into the blue of his wedding
on the wasteland past the powerstation
where melancholy scrub bends down
before a salted wind that whips
the endless complaining of seagulls
into a troubled sky

she may know nothing
she is bitten with anger at the old curse
thickening about her throat
she has been silenced too often
her voice rang clear across the silent fields
and then her lids shot open to the choking
stain
on the sky
the choked
sky

she has spoken excellently modest and low
she has been gentle in the ungentle nights
she has bled on the sheets giving birth

she is forced to blame herself
there is no one else to blame

she should never have been silenced

o you
applefoot
eyewing
starfreckle
when did you vanish

o moth sprayed to its final agony
crumbling its wings
on a table

you were always
a mute star lost in
brash sodium

useless

the wires spat you out
the smart dollars laughed
in the bars

forget nothing

remember how you lifted the child
running for a train
strong as a god
in the sweet rain


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DAVID BIRCUMSHAW


For the Kit-kat Boys a Diction

It being not a discrete occasion. It being its large and overflow, shaggy-dog
and story, its fur walking slum. That is hot breath, fetid, a yellowed tongue
fur licking, on waiting a feather douche a pa palpledge a kiss.
Which is too close. It being

a speechstream, baby, and sun of Anon. It being mal a diction, nat grey
plumage pluckt by feddirs taught. It being what wood, honey, its wodwo
horny, what trees seal, babel, its home way out way out and, trailing, root.
That's the dark containment, port, babe, the hug-it clothes in the leave
tangle. Foot

stand me up, reddy to abort, and now some one out walking his head herd
to remake this rheum's outside drawing




The Collected Poems of Joshua Nene (1955-99)

(i)
Walk Dead Still

You modulate a Court, with all its summoned.
Who's in, who's out, who has the King's ear.
Who the judgement. Behindbacks, snipes,
En attendant Gagool. Good Laud, I refuse

your forensic, your sting-pull,
your herd-manage talk.

(ii)
Constable

Every so often I go mad, and climb a tree with squirrels.
It is an English tree. Its fruit pucker from the skin
like gargoyles on a Goth. Look, there's a Blake face,
or here a Smart. Clare? It is a moral tree:

in a breeze it shakes so, its periwig its peruke, dusty,
as if an insect judgement woke. Once
we thought it a Liberty tree, sang of it, too.
Still, it gives me fresh perspective. Arrested,

still. See?

(iii)
The Possibilities of Rhyme

Ashbery has 'Orpheus, a bluish cloud
with white contours'. A voice
from the speaking crowd, too,
a noise among the heard. I saw

a man once in a rhetoric cloud,
punneling his escape. He went
anon and anon until
he disappeared in the daze.

Optional Ending Extra

Ys. Aitch.



Giving Pronouns Head

Yip, whip, I'se a zho glee
scrabblers, my
pro nomina sunt CAP
ital I'zd agen. Dough
a police Man dis stapf
watch stop ME on
the screed out
side today to say

Why is it that you are carrying
those Corinthians on your back?

7 ich wz trick
ee butan sed

hits just the wait of traditionsir O cifer

al right / then / carry on /
but dont / let it / hap pen / again

AND I
said well thought really
mama
that's
liberation law
domercy fee
o lo gy





While Raskolnikov sleeps, fevered

       (for A)

Razumikhin is drunk, and the room blurs
with too much vodka, strasny mir, as God
slips out through a door that isn't there.
Sonya would plead with him, or Avdotya,
if only for the neighbours, but Reason
is shouting at a bodyheap of bedclothes,
Wake you, wake. I'm mad with everyone,
bar you, it's an argument with my skin.

Dostoevsky's ill today, gone like God,
though still I feel his anxious fingers
tapping in my ears. Like a typist's drums.
Razumikhin's quiescent now, pissing
in a potplant. Plastic. The office light's
too harsh here, like an Emden hausfrau
who scalds their ears for rent, coming
from a book elsewhere on guttural steps

as if a Poland wedged in her throat.

I think she will die from her cancer.
Russian scholars should wash more,
neglect steams from hot damp linen.
This sure is some party not to crash.
Here in a coffin-let between a stale
of uncertain divinity, and an anger
black as an overcoat, a torn student's.



Discurse Alpha Lyrae Remold

The man of the lyreways,
Orpheus, after-being
torn apart by a song
and a woman's hands,
was at a loose end
and discoalescent, an almost
converstation in a not quite
clowd and occasions,
disparts, a happenings
to me. I mean biography, write.
I mean ice. I mean a dark mater.
I mean cosmocrator loiter.

He had a loud
visions in the mud reeds, flesh,
old stills on star-plates,
life to remind him of his skin,
aways from here, the rite strain caught,
almost late, mirrors
that nuzzled
like warm pronouns

to look in from the veerside
of yes he remembered his head.

But, like
parachute jumps off the day's brink
(that is a passport
backwards to the Shire)
the things stayed metaphor
almosts, quoits

until
no more. No more
than that he was that, met her
more each selving
wrapped now

on a pressure hold of light
a gravity beat song print
an inplose whirl'd
a waltz to a starberth

a Glowball warming
a quickfire slow


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