REPLY TO WEXLER

for Karen Eberhardt-Shelton


Imagine a man sentenced to prose
secretly longing for an avalanche
of the best living poetry to come
thundering, cascading, drumming
all around his ears-as a punishment
for the life he has lost, and now attacks
with transparent envy-only
it is himself, not poetry, who has died
himself he sold to the study of interest rates
rather than the rhymes of Hopkins,
and himself he longs for, to return
but because he can't quite believe it
he denies it, as vigorous in his unbelief
thawing paragraph after paragragh...
and before the metal door closes forever
his final, neat, five-to-midnight admission

Go on, impress me, you bastards !
he cries silently. Fire arrows at my heart !
So which one of us will turn on the avalanche ?
or will we simply do what you did, Wexler,
and turn the other cheek ?


after an article in Time magazine (New York, 2003)





REQUIESCAT IN PACE

for my father, July 2007


The room still. Just the ceiling fan whirring
You lie on your back now in profile
turned from the curled right side of your dying
your left hand placed over your stomach
a sprig of rosemary on your chest.

Your mouth still open with its last breath
as if to breathe in again and speak
eyes closed instead in the bruise of their declivity
your face at peace, and more than peace
gathered as if to a point between your eyes
as you leap beyond all you've ever been
into all you ever really are-
like a salmon leaping at the falls.

Now you show me how we are
absolutely not our personality
but strange as we've seldom been seen
now I'm seeing there are two sides to your face
separated as if by an invisible line
marked by the rosemary: Left side, nearest
you still recognizably saying 'Ah-'
so I can almost hear you
endless where the breath travels
over and over breathed out again and silent.
And on the other side, window side
you have become a perfect stranger
other, Oriental, warrior out of time
as if from another life become this life
at all its height and secret depth
risen like an extraordinary mosaic
into all the contours of your face
proclaiming I am the Self that is here.


I gaze and gaze between standing and sitting
crossing from one side of the bed to the other
your whole body the imprint of what is left
in this final movement of your spirit; and father
(as you always used to address your father)
I am your witness at last, as your mystery
fills my eyes, and with more than tears
as it will fill me, and as I try to find
a way to say goodbye when all I feel is greeting.






WILD ORCHIDS, JACK'S GREEN

for Helen Moore

Proud cerise pink with their heads up
by the grassy lay-by embankment, and as startling
after all the yards of predictable laneside green
in the drawn out July light evening...
eye used to seeing one or two at most
and not thirty-five at least
self-seeded, part-shaded by branches, perfectly
in one twos threes, or sevens like a family
and each of them unique in their gesture and size
their downward petalled fleur-du-lys massed
like leaves on a tree, thrust up
on their tall umbrella-like stems, rare gems
reaching above to their pointed crowns as if to say
we are the courage it takes to be Beauty-

and in the air somewhere above, a humming like bees.





SWALLOWS, TINTAGEL

for Carolyn Finlay

Huddled half-hidden out of the wind
swirling all around the stone building
in this cliff top church porch, port
we enter in...to its polished air and font
luminous stained glass and ring of lit candles
before we see them, only as we're leaving again
on the curving ledge between lintel and roof;
dark-feathered discreet, almost overlapping
as close for warmth as they can: the lovers
(if we keep very still, they might not see us)
their nest beside, a castle and a crown
with its rim of white feathers like flags
naked as the day, barely out of reach...
here at the edge, still no room at the inn
where Love is eternally waiting to come in.





CROSSING

It is good to cross the great river...
-I Ching
, hexagrams 5, 13, 18, 26, 42, 59, 61

for Dinah


How wide the Thames is, you said, to its other side
across the silver millennium bridge
you always forget (and how it used to bounce to our steps...).

You are waiting on the other side
other as you are, in Shakespeare's shadow
and down all the centuries since (we forget).

We walk as slowly as the river together
(people push past us ahead and behind, hurrying)
till we come to our place of meeting. Wharf, edge.

Other side talks to other side
loneliness dissolves beyond black and white.
It is not simply black or white, we know.

Passion is our salvation, deep remembered song.
We trace its thread lifelong-a thread
we can only go on choosing

Passion allied to love, passion for the planet
and so to reach across all divides
to cross all great rivers, now this is the time.

In the foyer, the purple trumpets float...
You press the silver button. They slowly come alive.
We stand under them, listening, looking, shifting left to right

suspended, in awe, in all our senses, alive.


      Jay Ramsay 2012