The House I Built
And if the house I built
gave shelter to you briefly, however briefly,
when you came and cried
about your spurned heart,
buried your words in my ears unseeing,
and if sometimes I warmed you
with my fire when all you knew was ash,
and you did not notice the warmth
and spoke on with a furrow
between your eyes,
and if my hands never landed
upon your skin, never spoke
their speech, their shy longing,
and if our eyes gazed out the open windows
and the roof was nothing but sky,
and if we never grazed each other’s lips
except with laughter and with smiles,
and if we harvested hours on a bench
at the Botanical Gardens,
bathed in birdsong and sunlight,
and spoke not just to one another
but to the secret chambers
in our hearts, was this not briefly,
however briefly, a house of love?
To You, the Reader of This Poem ☊
Now that you are here,
now that you have turned aside
for a moment
from all the other parts of your life
(their keening, their calling)
and given this page your eyes,
whilst elsewhere the endless ritual
of activity goes on --
lovers tender in each other's arms,
students at their books, cooks at their kitchens,
patients drowsy in their hospital beds --
ask yourself what you have gained
and what you have lost,
how your memories and your thoughts
since you began reading these lines,
how different you are now
from whom you were before,
as I am different at the end of this poem
to the man who began with an empty page.
Carrying the Living, Carrying the Dead
He has become so adept at hiding
he has disappeared from himself, hidden away
in a place so secret he cannot find the way out.
Some days he makes an effort
so hard it is visible:
unkempt, bloated, affecting an attentive ear,
but for all that his gaze is unfocussed
and he slips away again
to where nothing is asked of him,
to where he need ask nothing of himself.
I like to think that had I known
I would have done something,
something uncertain but sincere,
something no doubt ineffective
if only a gesture:
her fall of dark hair,
wise brown eyes, slender hands,
quiet, engaging speech
all holding within them a chrysalis,
wondering always and only
when it would open.
we can see his face as a mask,
we can see the flashing blade of his humor
as a defense --
but that’s all that is left now:
hindsight, memory, images of him receding.
Who needs prisons
when we are so expert at imprisoning ourselves,
when we are our own guards
inside high walled compounds,
not letting ourselves out to breathe the air,
unable to see the scattered petals of joy
falling in drifts around our feet,
keeping order, locking turmoil away
in solitary, the stench of sweat
and fear on our skins?
It’s a rearguard action, a holding pattern
that can hold for years, decades
before turmoil seeps out, tendrils of it,
a long hungry lick. Our grip slackens,
the guard drops and turmoil is
bursting, havoc in its famished mouth.
So many deaths I carry within me,
so many goodbyes I never said.
We rarely choose our farewells,
we rarely know when the moments come.
I am not ready to bury these deaths yet:
they must live in me a while
so I can let their weights diminish,
whilst I make room for their absences
in the sprawling house of my grief.
Why so much sadness in your poems
my mother wants to know.
She would prefer joy without sadness.
How can she not yet know they are siblings,
twins perhaps, inseparable,
living in the same house in adjoining rooms
where the walls are thin and each
knows always what the other is doing?
There is no joy without sadness, no sadness without joy.
In the Fifty-Seventh Year of My Sleep
In the fifty-seventh year of my sleep
I try to wake, to wake,
to rouse myself as if from an endless dream.
My thoughts are a forest I wander in,
dense, yet full of shafts of light,
my bed up high in a tree house.
The river below whispers and gurgles
every day through the years,
gentle lullabies, fierce and untamed songs.
In this forest of my thoughts
the sky, open, ever changing,
is a wide consolation.
A bugle blows somewhere
beyond the trees, a call to wake,
to wake, to rouse myself.
Silence is a vessel containing all the words
I have spoken, words floating
within, words not adhering to its edges.
In the fifty-seventh year of my sleep
I want to rise, I want to go deeper.
I want to break the vessel of my words
over the sky, I want them to shower the forest
like a sudden rainstorm.
The sky’s wide consolation
has no favorites, plays day and night on its canvas.
The river soothes, even as it
speaks in impenetrable tongues.
In my bed up high in a tree house
I try to wake, to wake, to rouse myself
in the fifty-seventh year of my sleep.
Digging in the ruins
of my past,
I found your name,
I found the place
where I buried you
so many years ago,
the earth still fresh,
the memory raw.
Before I could turn away,
a bony arm
reached from the ground,
clasped my shirt
and drew me near,
drew tears from my eyes,
filled my mouth
No tonic for me:
the djinn would not oblige my
wishes after three.