Author Archives: RFMain

The Gorgon’s Palace

There is a dark place in my eye,
like a thread, or limb of mind,
that wavers when I turn to see,
though a mirror shows there’s nothing there.

I looked upon a bowl of flowers,
with my eye towards its heart
and saw the blossoms fold in two
and vanish in a stick of light,
as if a hinge had folded shut.

Then it all flowed back again:
the bowl of flowers was on the shelf.
But after that I found the scent
of every living thing had changed.

I went into a market square,
a festive day of wind-borne kites,
and gazed upon the busy stalls
and watched the people fall to dust
till just a field of flowers remained.

But one pale woman still stood there,
so lovely as to stop my breath,
for all her hair was full of smiles,
her glance as long as winter night.

I stood among those deep-hued flowers,
in the silence of the sun,
all wrapped about with winking hair,
with kisses twitching through my limbs,
so stunned I couldn’t move at all.

Then the market place came back,
and people laughed and toiled once more.
And now the world around me turns,
while a gorgon preens beneath my skin.
Curve and Swoop

The air is cooler now, the summer gone,
the old estate begins to store its shadows
and the pond is quiet among the trees.

Do curve and swoop remain
when the swifts have flown?

The arcs of cardiograph and church’s door
are in the meteor’s final flare,
yet the eye looks back across the dusk

and far beyond: the trajectory’s
still there, reaching back to the moment
the pebble’s wandering began.

The walls of the old house have vanished now,
but the rooms, which were the spaces in between,
remain, floating high above me in the evening air.

I think of those who lived their lives up there,
their griefs and fireside laughter, arguments and loves:
now a sunset in the distance and a scented breeze.

I feel their presence in the autumn woods,
the way the fallen drops are there
in the stillness of a fountain pool.

And as I wonder how they yet persist,
I feel cool fingers brush my face,
their flesh the stuff of curve and swoop.

Homewards, I pass our local monastery,
small windows pour light onto the dark:
monks in contemplation in their cells.
As I reach my home and turn the key,
the town winks out behind my back.

I love the winter power-cuts, when I dream of bees
and the summer days I sunbathe in the garden,
nostalgic then for winter ghosts and hearth-fires,
and all around the drone among the flowers:
a gathering in before the days begin to cool.

In the kitchen, I strike matches; candles blaze.
Then spread thick slices with the glinting bronze
dripped from autumn’s cloistered honeycombs,
whose wax like solid silence lifts the light:
a dozen summers on the candles’ lips.

My Uncle Giuseppe told me
that in Sicily in World War Two,
in the courtyard behind the aquarium,
where the bougainvillea grows so well,
the only captive mermaid in the world
was butchered on the dry and dusty ground
by a doctor, a fishmonger, and certain others.

She, it, had never learned to speak
because she was simple, or so they’d said,
but the priest who held one of her hands
while her throat was cut,
said she was only a fish, and fish can’t speak.
But she screamed like a woman in terrible fear.

And when they took a ripe golden roe
from her side, the doctor said
this was proof she was just a fish
and anyway an egg is not a child,
but refused when some was offered to him.

Then they put her head and her hands
in a box for burial
and someone tried to take her wedding ring,
but the others stopped him,
and the ring stayed put.

The rest they cooked and fed to the troops.
They said a large fish had been found on the beach.

Starvation forgives men many things,
my uncle, the aquarium keeper, said,
but couldn’t look me in the eye,
for which I thank God.

The Carpenter’s House

I have dreamed these recent weeks
of Rostwich where my white-haired uncle lived:
the yellow house of lichen-crusted stone,
the ancient garden scaled with dappled gold,
the jumbled hills that ache with green.

There he shaped an image of Christ crucified,
from a fragile piece of the one true cross,
that was brought to him from the Holy Land.
He painted it with tints he ground himself
and set it on the wall above his lathe;
a thought-piece for an atheist carpenter.

We took it back to our house when he died
and kept it on the mantelpiece for luck.
Then one spring-cleaning when it fell and broke,
we found there was a seed inside its head,
which I planted in a sunny flowerpot
and now a skinny sapling’s budding there.

But I dream that in my uncle’s house,
there’s a hidden room where no one’s ever been,
where a giant mirror hangs upon a wall,
in a frame of wrinkled wood that sprouts with leaves
and does not reflect anything at all.

And the jumbled hills cry out with green,
the ancient garden seethes with golden light,
the house squats like a lump of mouldy cheese,
displeased that all its rooms are bare and dark,
till there’s the whisper of a gently opening door
and Christ walks down the stairs with wooden feet.
An Old Woman Weeds a Grave

An old woman weeds a grave,
beneath a hush of ancient trees,
her brown hands so gentle with this soil.

And she thinks of all the love that’s flown:
those proud dandelions of the sun,
turned to stooping worlds of grey,

then blown to ghosts upon the wind,
so love anew might grow again,
though far away, and not for her.

And in her heart she cries for love —
and Something hears, then someone comes:
he strides the graves on tall green stilts,

his hair a swirl of shining gold
and lifts her in his furry arms
up the stairs of a graveyard house.

He sings his song in a voice like cream,
as he climbs on past the roofs and hills,
heedless of the winds that roar,

that sway the stairs beyond the stars.
Then he comes at last to a fire-lit room
and howls with love and slams the door.
Birds of Paradise

One man sits in the street
and hooks his eyes on those who pass,
then whistles at them in the tongues
of not-quite-familiar birds.

Another wears black leather and a ten-gallon hat,
and shouts about the coming of the Lord
into the nightshade box hidden in his hand.
The smiling woman buying quiche and apples,

who’s kept herself in trim for Mr Right,
will go to bed tonight and slit her throat.
And I write poetry, and poetry
walks along the edge of all such things

and sometimes the temptation’s there
to step quickly over the line
into the path of what comes roaring out of the dark.
But for now I’ll start another poem,

shut behind my crimson door,
while up the street the man has found
a strange new bird of paradise,
and the Lord has come just a little closer

and a small black choir sings in the woman’s mouth,
like the sound of distant shorelines
endlessly reshaping
in the rage where land encounters the sea.
Room of Red

I went to bed with a wandering girl,
her dark hair shone with glints of moon
and we played at love in my room of red,
till midnight rang and the stars came down.
When we went to sleep I gladly dreamed
that we played at love in a room of green.

But in that dream I fell asleep
and dreamt we lay in a room of black,
then the black door opened and a man stood there:
It is my husband screamed the girl,
the one I've feared for seven years,
he's come to take my soul from me.

We woke at once in the room of green,
My soul has gone! she cried in fear,
then the green door opened and a man came in:
It is my husband shrieked the girl,
The one I've fled these seven years,
he's come to take my love from me.

And when we woke in the room of red,
she trembled as she clung to me:
O husband where's my lover gone?
I looked around, no word I said,
but rent her limbs with smoking hands,
then closed the door on that room so red.
The Nails

I recall some rusty nails, three or four,
in the top right-hand drawer
of an oak desk in my uncle's house.

And that dull pair of shoes he used to wear,
bought for gardening from an Oxfam shop,
their ancient leather hard as bakelite,

that he wore until the soles were gone.
They were also worn by another then long dead
and nameless, save to strangers far away:

for we felt someone there we couldn't see,
that rose from the life the shoes had led
before they came into my uncle's home.

And when he died I found those hand-wrought nails,
all wrapped with muslin, very old,
and wondered what their hidden history was

and what they might have pierced so long ago.
Then I knew someone else was standing near,
out of sight but with a hammer in his hand,

who reached for me from suffering and love
and knew my heart was lamed and broken down,
like some old horse that's never known a shoe.
The Body

He was not raised bodily to heaven as they said,
though when the god was torn out of the man,
he was without weight
and drifted like thistledown upon the breeze.

The children shouting with delight,
ran after him to see he was not harmed
and caught him as he passed across the vineyards
and brought him home tied to a string.

As he bobbed about above our heads
and his empty eyes gazed up towards the blue,
the summer breeze twittered through his wounds,
so that they spoke with the tongues of birds.

At once from the branches birds began to sing,
as if to the going down of the sun,
and even husks and stones and other mouthless things
seemed somehow to be singing too.

That stormy night he slipped away;
the string was hanging limp when morning came.
But we dreamed he was lifted by the winds,
to sail forever high above the world,

close to the stars, cleansed by gentle rains,
too holy for the earth, too gross for heaven,
his whistlings still ignored by the chilly dark,
though carried far on late migrating wings.