The asylum is vast and state-of-the-art
and you have to admire
the single-mindedness of the inmates
they spend every waking hour
computing arcane calculations
assembling monstrous machines
long after the sun has sunk and
the sane seek sleep
as the cold marble rolls
slowly across the sky
their restlessness increases
imagine their fierce dedication
only sometimes a yelp can be heard
or low keening or fully-fledged howl
imagine the terrible itching
of their coarse grey hide
when the sphere has grown full
it is true that abandoned children
cry for food and
fighting has started outside the walls
but you have to admire
the ruthlessness of their religion
and appreciate it is only thus
they can ever hope to succeed
in putting one of us
on the moon
July 20, 1969 – first man on the moon
Oh but don’t touch him. This you may do:
let the auricle trap the ghostly filaments
of his dreams; let malleus, incus and stapes
deliver them into the cochlea’s sanctum.
Don’t speak to him. But this you may do:
Let the intangible particles of his slumber
be warmed by keen turbinates, let them
drop anchor in the olfactory epithelium.
Stay! Do not move. Though this you may do:
wave by invisible sine wave, let the heave
of his night hunt pierce the cornea, traverse
the bulbus oculi, and enter the retina.
Do not presume further. This must suffice –
there are lines which shall not be crossed,
lands which uninitiated feet may not tread.
Time itself will stop for an old dog asleep.
a cotton wool tide laps
drops to reveal
the green valley, grey
then billows up
to smother window, view
and the house.
Amid the creak of
the rafters, the chimney’s
Now you see it –
now you don’t.
A compact black Zen priest,
he sits in the exact centre
of a perfectly green field.
In the early morning mist,
in the blistering noon heat,
in the fading colours of dusk.
Master of alert meditation.
His body is humming with
the mantra of swift death.
Such innocence. Such faith.
They are long gone.
Long gone from the now tame valley of the Saane.
In olden times
they were abroad here, fleeing from storms
and sheer starvation:
the wild blond-bearded men dragging baggage
of tattered womenfolk
and meagre, filthy pigs and children; desperate
for shelter and a home
in our inhospitable, narrow mountain valleys.
They’re just a rumour now,
lost in a legend. Only some autumn nights,
when storms rage
all around the comfortable farmhouse
and the sturdy stable,
we keep the lantern burning in the kitchen
and huddle close, hearing
the harsh barbaric voices, hammering fists
on double-bolted doors,
dogs whimpering, the desperate lowing
of the cattle as
the seven thousand Friesians stare at us
from empty sockets
on their endless aimless journey in the dark.
A few millennia hence
(fresh from inventing
the shovel and the spade)
those who came after us
will be chancing upon
an ancient sign bearing
an opaque message from
a more illuminated time:
a smiling Death’s-head
on fluorescent yellow,
radiating magic rays.
they will start digging.
the rimless pool
last vessel of spirituality
mildly chlorinated transcendence
as if you could simply
swim out there
A company of rooks have commandeered
the tree tops, cawing their raucous orders
to the foul-mouthed platoon of carrion crows
billeted lower down.
Their croaking sorties darken my window –
but shush: from his high lookout a blackbird
raises his voice, rehearsing spring rebellion.
I clear my throat.
Assemble all the implements.
Then lock the door and set to work
when night falls.
It takes the darkness
for the thing inside to stir, and hours
of tender teasing out before it shows its shape.
Then deftly, cautiously, you set it in a vice:
compress, condense, and purify;
decide what must be smooth and what left rough.
At last you chase its silver surface; polish round
and round until it gleams with hope
and sparkles with despair.
Now get up from the table
with its paperful of fragile words.
Unlock the door. Admit the day.