WHAT THE KEEPER SAW
trees like ragged lace
along the horizon
woad, weld and madder
and brittle as lichen.
knapped flint dark
ten crows on strings
along the holly bough
and bagged across his back
four stoats. He feels their
curious breath, the gift
of ermine in the long dark days
She woke considering the evidence:
the brown dog was still howling
in the frozen yard. Since suppertime
the stubble field, its bedded flint
and cold dark loam, had shrunk.
The wisp of snipe had gone
along with the fall of woodcock.
A cup of water by the bed
was porcelain not solid earthenware
and Spring had receded. It was snowing again.
The punctuation of her thought had changed
as had its metaphor. Field water
in thin, clouded sheets hung cold
across depressions in the rutted land,
and now the hill was not personified
she missed its female curve, the tender slope
that led to knotted copses, undergrowth,
and places she could visit on her own.
The dog was brown, her cup was porcelain,
her thought as delicate as ice.
Resented but adored, the howling dog
was marked, would be deleted by the close
of day and not replaced. She loved the sag
of skin around his jaw, the piebald gum,
the touch of tartar on his canine teeth,
the rough feel of coarse hair along his shoulder
blades. But when his constant voice had been
excised, what alteration would she find
to yard, to house, and to herself who sheltered there
because the dog loved her, not the reverse.
mostly I was itching
to be out, putting tubers
in the ground, waiting
for mystery to come
wriggling in slow time
between grains of sand
I was hearing the crackle
of water easing through
membranes, the wet slop
in cells un-starched after winter
I was putting soil so deep
in the creases of my hand
seed grew there. Roots
writhed through channels -
blood, bone. Intricately
circled the twinned
folds, convoluted, strange.
words were unmade
there, parted, detached
sucked salty and strong
up all the branching paths
a rough stream singing
many different songs
THE COLOUR OF GULLS' EGGS
I have eaten gulls' eggs
for breakfast. Broken
the olive green, brown-speckled shell
and gorged. Good eating, strong, I strut
along the promenade.
I have taken to watching breakwaters
with more than a taste for the architectural
I would like to perch there
in a line with other gulls
watching the tide turn
when the slow swell
swallows the post.
They were duck egg size
but shaped so
I could spin them on my table
blur specks to lines.
ice cream from toddlers,
their empty cones
held high. I am liberty,
outstretched, I bathe in light
From here I can see
what I need. My voice wails, mews,
recedes in a series of diminishing cries.
I have broken the olive green, brown-speckled shell
to strut along the promenade.
THE POOL KEEPER 1935
across one summer, in an outside pool
built by public conscription, 1860,
he teaches us to swim
his house is cool; shadows have moved inside
like liquid, rippling
his arms are corded like
the rope he pulls us with
his webbing belt broad
around our narrow chests
our luminous and thin ribbed skin.