*Selections from Birth of a Shark (Macmillan, 1964)
She touches me. Her fingers nibble gently.
The whole street leans closer, its doors
Grin open and cluster shut,
Gathering like a fist closing, firmly.
Warm Sunday mornings breathe a way of knowing
God's love, his shuddering mouth to mouth
Vision above the brain's heat,
Beyond leather foot, bible, or prayer book—
Naked we push their webbed stares out.
Look, bodies that puzzled me no longer love;
Effulgence of grasses cover her body—
I camp and am at sea and drown and feed,
Hurl and kiss, climb and descend,
Lie still with the prickle of ants underneath me.
There was an opening, an opening—
It's gone now. Now there's no question of fire,
Grasses, or drowning; only this first
Dry building of rib above rib, as if
A great house crumbled on its skeleton.
And this is my Sunday lesson she teaches me.
Her texts are pillows, strong wrists and liquid ankles.
I could paint her as I fell on her,
And did, with my tongue, lungs and my whole heart,
Each breath exploding its hot ether lash
Through our wills to their blind core.
If this is love I grieve for God's—
His idolaters shuffling by with with their scrubbed children;
Though her face, with its sky-change coloured eyes,
Melts them all one in my privilege.
Obsession with the dead is a kind of vagrancy.
Tell me what I must do, woman of salt,
To reconvene the birds above our darkness,
The day-lamps and electric stars.
I too am alive; what properties are gone
From the metal of my glance
To keep you hobbled with this boulder's dead
Weight? There is no god in the dark—
Dark is mindless, embodied only
By restless, rootless sigh.
Dark penetrates into your brain.
The galaxies of blood burn in you like rag.
This is no place to loiter in,
Trapped between the twitching of your hands
And memories of a more violent dark,
The imprisoning of 'Yes' and 'No' of your small habits
Hungering for their afterbirths.
The light this black nothing takes is yours—
You have brought it with you, your
Covenant and familiar: here's how life comes fresh
Under the icy rivulet of survival.
This light's your embodying, like a lynx-smell
Where the body crouches, over its tiny fire—
It is a decision, formed, obdurate, hard
Through much enduring, like
The shelved heart of quartz or the fierce
Seizure that stopped the moon.
Take it, it is yours. . .
But even the salt crystals on your skin
Give no answer; the sense is lost, and the search
Through the dark leads you back
Where your eyes swam to their beginning.
Now trust the light that's there,
Under your frontal bone,
And the flesh, and bring the secret back.
No one can tell any better,
Or dream where that light came from.
This is your birth-spark's only miracle.
It is the unmaimed last moment you will live.
These four lie on a blanket,
A cluster of cactuses hides them from quick
Discovery and the road. Three are grown men,
Fat and moustached, stretched flat on their backs with eyes
Wide and staring, as if the sun
And not bullets had struck them dead.
The fourth, a child, lies closest in the photograph.
Her eyes half-shut with the instantaneous
Headache of lead. Now in this child's face
Th crime folds its hands and waits—
Horror-struck. While somewhere in those hills,
Baked white as the whitest bread,
Black figures with smoking pistols break
A cigarette and share it. Why did she die?
They do not ask now. They squat,
Hands slumped between their knees, waiting for the outcry.
And it almost seems the photographer
Was the first one here: his silver shutter and lens
Piercing through flies and the blood
Caked on the child's face, grouted on the men's chests.
She was the child of this fat
Official she fell beside; whose round, greedy stare
Somehow smuggled his life out through his wounds
Past the customs of death. He looks surprised—
As if caught in a last act of graft—
And the child beside him, like a sick child,
His graft once protected. Together now
Their tragedy speaks more shrilly than in life:
Her trust, and his shrewd lack of it
Which bought bullets for both on a dusty road;
And the daughter entered her father's life
Without wincing. . . The other two don't count.
Their deaths enter the hills where the gunmen crouch.
*Selections from A Christ of the Ice-Floes (Macmillan, 1966)
Self-Portrait at Ten
The whipped horse was lame. We'd cycled to town,
My aunt and myself. There, at a crossing
Lurched a ragpicker's cart and the lame horse
Dancing, as if crazed hornets flew
At its skin from all sides. The ragman's whip
Was old and broken, like the man
Himself, and the lame horse. . .And a crowd
Of tourists with melting cones silently
Melting away, quietly back to their cars.
We stopped by the horse. 'Stop that!' my aunt
Shouted; and the short whip
Fell across our shadows, stroke by stroke
Scored over the dust the horse's nerves at our feet.
And I think it didn't matter then,
But now it matters: what shock kept horses tame
Yet with every nerve gone wild under the whip,
Its eyes bone double worlds of scalding white
In the sun and the dust. And the nag's
Tameness reached me; and my aunt's voice
Crying 'Stop that!' while my thumbs
Burned white on the cycle-grips, the whole sky
Waiting to burst and rain on the horse the cry in me.
A timid man suffers at dawn on his pillow,
Brings the rain down to keep the world in bed
And safety of his conscience. Look,
The sky lights others to grace—
Feel the fuses, touch them quick,--
In a blue flash leaping erect the cold stuns him;
He wonders what it was, glad
Of this habit to decide and what it makes him.
He is up: he shaves and washes,
Dresses with the dignity of a priest;
Looks at the bed he's left, his body's furrow
With the horror of a man who sees his grave.
I broke with you long ago: your strong, unsightly
Habits of life; the merest question in an eye turned down
To answer itself. . .You gave and I took;
I have nothing to give you now but this last
Look, as I stand watching the sun rise over London,
And count the bird answering bird above the trees, until traffic
Cracks them and spatters their yolks. There is a silence in me
Deeper than in nature; perhaps
The truest drug is solitude,
A playing with ancestral names gathered in the high windowed light,
Alone, the buried feathered head
Kicking awake at the shrill clock.
Or crouched to receive sleep, or receive the day
With a whistling, birdlike bravura of yelps
To relieve the chest. You are granted this moment in my mind,
Once, at sunrise—
As in the sun you lived before your death,
My question: dark figures, with cameo faces and nails
Like parasol-ribs, scuttling out from the dust of trunks,
Grey spiders, down the green lawn, into the hothouse,
There to die. I preach
No sermon but the present moment: vowing, the deeper I go,
To touch you, there, in the soluble earth,
Your white forms of bone collapsed under the weathered air I breathe.
With the old blood, that is mine and was partially yours. . .
In the beginning, when blood was nothing
And in the end, when blood is memory or less,
I wake in the moment; and am heir to my children.
*Firebreak (Macmillan, 1971)
As if a shark
could become the sea it fished
my mind swirled
in a blood dissolve—
thrashed in a bubble--
'Air! Air!. . .'
But the one who came with a lamp
could not sing my soul into the other world.
I lay awake all night
prodded by nurses
of grey daylight
a world of things to touch
To learn to use
mirrors cautiously now
knowing what is behind them, how
cold the water feels
how old the toothbrush—
junk in the cupboard, belonging to no one
until this body
reclaims it, accepts it
like a second skin (but unnerved
forever numb on the surface now)
the tame hands
trembling, not yet mine
O see born in the sun
whose life I replace
whose name I was given at birth, and
by accident, still have.
*Where the Arrow Falls (St. Martin's, 1974)
As I grow older
I lose that fire
that left these scars,
new music in my ears
Now I dance for the sake of play
but be careful: this
too is a phase, old
matter can return . . . said
the goat who sang the mass
watching Goya paint
the last face, his hand
not broken like his mind
the bleating shadows
the bad breath of the starved
there is still a Duchess of Alba
A white pretender to God
Copyright © 2010 David Wevill