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- Woman reigns
on her throne. She decides your fate
with the third knuckle of her right index finger.
You kneel before her as she uncrosses her thighs
your head in her lap
and armour in a heap by her bed,
stroking your face into goosebumps with quiet whispers.
And never have you moved so quick as
when you fell at the feet of sweet Guinevere,
asking you to lay down your sword
and lie down with her.
Atop the gallows, your lips bleed from the nip
of Anne Boleyn’s front teeth,
her eloquently ribboned neck upon the guillotine.
And on an oak desk sprawled across with
battle tactics and maps
Elizabeth holds you to her, ragged,
to breathe in
your new favorite color in her hair.
It is bred into the women.
Woman wears the evening star on a dainty
chain between her breasts,
and tells the moon when she has had her fill,
that he may go.
- After the Guinness and
The Jameson whiskey,
Said Connor, woman
Is God’s best creation.
Woman? Sighed Finn,
His mouth lingering
Over the lip of the
Glass like a ballet
Dancer about to
Perform a pirouette,
I’ve heard God created
The woman perfectly,
But the Devil gave her
A tongue; I’d rather hear
The tongue of a bell ring
Than a woman’s tongue
Vibrate my ears. A
Woman’s tongue, said
Connor in reply, is an
Angel’s voice to me,
Like a drink of nectar
To a thirsty man, a sound
Of glory in a sea of dark
Despair. Finn raised his
Eyes skywards, supped
His ale, wiped his lips
With the back of his hairy
Hand, and gave Connor
A steady stare like one
Gazing at a crazy man
Who’s not altogether there.
- Here’s to the men! Since Adam’s time
They’ve always been the same;
Whenever anything goes wrong,
The woman is to blame.
From early morn to late at night,
The men fault-finders are;
They blame us if they oversleep,
Or if they miss a car.
They blame us if, beneath the bed,
Their collar buttons roll;
They blame us if the fire is out
Or if there is no coal.
They blame us if they cut themselves
While shaving, and they swear
That we’re to blame if they decide
To go upon a tear.
Here’s to the men, the perfect men!
Who never are at fault;
They blame us if they chance to get
The pepper for the salt.
They blame us if their business fails,
Or back a losing horse;
And when it rains on holidays
The fault is ours, of course.
They blame us when they fall in love,
And when they married get;
Likewise they blame us when they’re sick,
And when they fall in debt.
For everything that crisscross goes
They say we are to blame;
But, after all, here’s to the men,
We love them just the same!
- I can bless a death this human, this leaf
the size of my hand. From the life-line spreads
a sapped, distended jaundice
toward the edges, still green.
I’ve seen the sick starve out beyond
the grip of their disease.
They sleep for days, their stomachs gone,
the bones in their hands
seeming to rise to the hour
that will receive them.
Sometimes on their last evening, they sit up
and ask for food,
their faces bloodless, almost golden,
they inquire about the future.
One August I drove the back roads,
the dust wheeling behind me.
I wandered through the ruins of sharecrop farms
and saw the weeds in the sun frames
opening the floorboards.
Once behind what must have been an outhouse
the way wild yellow roses bunched and climbed
the sweaty walls, I found a pile of letters,
All afternoon the sun brought the field to me.
The insects hushed as I approached.
I read how the world had failed who ever lived behind
the page, behind the misquoted Bible verses,
that awkward backhand trying to explain deliverance.
The morning Keats left Guys Hospital’s cadaver rooms
for the last time, he said he was afraid.
This was the future, this corning down a stairway
under the elms’ summer green,
passing the barber shops along the avenue that still
performed the surgeries, still dumped
blood caught in sand from porcelain washtubs
into the road-side sewer. From those windows,
from a distance, he could have been anyone
taking in the trees, mistaking the muse for this new
warmth around his heart—the first symptom
of his illness—that so swelled the look of things,
it made leaves into poems, though he’d write later
he had not grieved, not loved enough to claim them.
- Deo gratias
Anglia redde pro victoria.
He sette a sege, the sothe for to say,
To Harflue toune with ryal aray;
That toune he wan, and made a fray,
That Fraunce shall rywe tyl domes day.
Then went owre kynge, with alle his oste,
Thorowe Fraunce for all the Frenshe boste;
He spared ‘for’ drede of leste, ne most,
Tyl he come to Agincourt coste.
Than for sothe that knyyt comely
In Agincourt feld he fauyt manly
Thorow grace of God most myyty
He had bothe the felde, and the victory
Ther dukys, and erlys, lorde and barone,
Were take, and slayne, and that wel sone,
And some were ledde in to Lundone
With joye, and merthe, and grete renone
Noe gratious God he save owre kynge,
His peple, and all his wel wyllynge,
Gef him gode lyfe, and gode endynge,
That we with merth mowe savely syng
- In quiet dignity they trudge
With only the slurping sounds
Of jungle boots sucking mud
As they carry their burden
Of expendable youth at war.
There is a poise about them,
A quality not found in peers,
A bearing common only
To young men in combat.
There is a stoic resignation,
A façade of wary acceptance,
A weariness in their movements
As they slowly walk the war.
Struggling with all its elements,
And inside, struggling with themselves,
For just below the surface,
They keep the well-known secret,
The haunting cowardice common to all.
Twenty-four hours a day they walk the line,
Living up to the reputation,
Assuming the swagger, the hard line,
Their casual indifference to death
That masks that deep seeded fear of dying,
The overwhelming urge to break and run,
The paralyzing instinct to freeze or hide!
Praying silently in secret
That whatever happens they won’t look bad.
And that is why they are at war,
Where they would rather be
Then face the shame of not going,
Of being accused of not having “it”,
To uphold that fragile concept of honor,
With their reputations on the line.
And they proudly carry their reputations,
For that is all that remains of their dignity,
Even if it means they must die for it.
- The Scout on point has raised his hand
And flashed the signal to his band
ENEMY IN SIGHT GET DOWN!
But in the distance, sickening sounds,
The deadened “thunk” of mortar rounds
Leaving hollow tubes.
The men melt to the ground,
Scrambling, crabbing leaving the trail
High, thin-screamed, louder, whistling wail
The men cower, cringing low
The clench their necks, await the blow
That erupts with such a smashing “crack”,
That rings the ears and slams the back
That bleeds the nose, that aches the head,
That takes the breath, and kills them dead
- The boy gives back the mango at the till too dear
He hasn’t got enough to pay for it no way
He didn’t sweat enough his cash-flow has run dry
His euros hours of work are not enough he hasn’t won
The jackpot yet his eyes are black his eyebrows frown
With worry skin like bronze from relishing the sun
The mango’s suddenly the weight of all his pains
On the little scales for fruit and vegetables
And it still smells of mango from Peru Brazil
That oily yellow resin and brown turpentine
The best ones come from Mali which you never find
In France where this boy works and now
Nothing he leaves that’s it the way he came
No wherewithal you’re welcome insufficient coin
- WHEN I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.
The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it’s there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.
The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey;
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.
The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.
But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.
I never get between the pines
But I smell the Sussex air;
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there.
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.
A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend:
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will there be to comfort me
Or who will be my friend?
I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald;
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.
If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.
I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.
- IT was the good ship Billycock, with thirteen men aboard,
Athirst to grapple with their country’s foes,—
A crew, ’twill be admitted, not numerically fitted
To navigate a battleship in prose.
It was the good ship Billycock put out from Plymouth Sound,
While lustily the gallant heroes cheered,
And all the air was ringing with the merry bo’sun’s singing,
Till in the gloom of night she disappeared.
But when the morning broke on her, behold, a dozen ships,
A dozen ships of France around her lay,
(Or, if that isn’t plenty, I will gladly make it twenty),
And hemmed her close in Salamander Bay.
Then to the Lord High Admiral there spake a cabin-boy:
“Methinks,” he said, “the odds are somewhat great,
And, in the present crisis, a cabin-boy’s advice is
That you and France had better arbitrate!”
“Pooh!” said the Lord High Admiral, and slapped his manly chest,
“Pooh! That would be both cowardly and wrong;
Shall I, a gallant fighter, give the needy ballad-writer
No suitable material for song?”
“Nay—is the shorthand-writer here?—I tell you, one and all,
I mean to do my duty, as I ought;
With eager satisfaction let us clear the decks for action
And fight the craven Frenchmen!” So they fought.
And (after several stanzas which as yet are incomplete,
Describing all the fight in epic style)
When the Billycock was going, she’d a dozen prizes towing
(Or twenty, as above) in single file!
Ah, long in glowing English hearts the story will remain,
The memory of that historic day,
And, while we rule the ocean, we will picture with emotion
The Billycock in Salamander Bay!
P.S.—I’ve lately noticed that the critics—who, I think,
In praising my productions are remiss—
Quite easily are captured, and profess themselves enraptured,
By patriotic ditties such as this,
For making which you merely take some dauntless Englishmen,
Guns, heroism, slaughter, and a fleet—
Ingredients you mingle in a metre with a jingle,
And there you have your masterpiece complete!
Why, then, with labour infinite, produce a book of verse
To languish on the “All for Twopence” shelf?
The ballad bold and breezy comes particularly easy—
I mean to take to writing it myself!