The Cat at Work
Driving as a form of prayer
To be allowed to drive forever, through the burns
Of August, pregnant with a dreaming,
Set upon another life.
To drive and not climb from the car, with every
Window wound back into its shell, to not
Think ever of heaven, and never to tell
Pedestrians of the driving.
To be in transit: to be a wing, awake
In smaller shelves of air; to live
As though each moment were its own movie
And never to regret the faces standing still,
The roadside eyes, the strangers fleeting;
Each foretells a story.
To touch potential that reminds
And shout "Never mind!" as one drives.
To bring beneath the hot blue
A mode of being mindful
Of the lachrimae rerum, and to feel
The sorrow and the thrill of speed.
To never feel the need of feet,
And to watch
Clouds through tinted glass and country turn to run
As you blink against the sun and throw
Your glasses from the car.
To find a country lane, and race
So close to bracken that the dew
Can wash your face, and then slow,
By the heated science fiction of a petrol station
In the grip of yellow weather.
To press the horn and be at last born
Into the endlessness of sky.
To cherish evening as time when seeing nothing
To exceed day and to say
"Hello," to women at the roadside.
To see the world as something flying,
Something outshining the hazy study walking
To know you drive beyond the reaches
And to give it everything you've got
As you lean into the wheel and feel
A sainthood in your suntan,
A miracle in the mileage.
To ignore maps, and head for places
Beyond the slightest traces of your former life,
Abandoning self in the process of speed
And accept adventures and sudden brakes
Because you feel the car
outwaiting patience by the road,
And you are owed some living, damn it!
To never check the rear-view mirror
and to slow down as the sun collapses
Worn out on the hills,
Because you never will exhaust
The depths and wonders of this prayer.
To never care about direction, and to drive
Into the night
With headlights blessing every pebble;
To smell the fuel and feel the wheel and
Drive throughout forever.
Blazing gold beneath the azure air,
Stained with dust at the land's hard edge,
A field endless, and endlessly moved by
A hot wind in the chest high grass.
It is as empty as a Saint's heart
In the burning yellow light of God,
And grows thin some barren years
But is, and will always be revered
In the electric, dark and burning days
Of a life crackling down to silence.
Art lover, you said, meaning to insult,
But not quite hitting, failing, as often you did
To grind contempt to an edge that would cut.
For years I’d wanted to see
The vision after the sermon
1888. I could barely wait
My way through galleries hung with dull
Religious dross and plastic wrapped pensioners
with cameras and you,
A Raphael, a Rembrandt self-portrait,
But feeling like a child outside a dark house
Building courage to knock.
Then the Gauguin tipped you over.
“It’s a mess,” You started,
“anyone could do it.” as I stared
across Bretons at prayer on a scarlet field towards
The gold-winged angel
And felt, like Jacob,
Love‘s cold fingers, tightening.
There was frost
And birds sang in gardens, five
In the morning, sky like shattered shell
And every street empty as air.
Your cab was due at six, your flight at half past seven,
And you were leaving me some money,
so you could
Hear me thank you one last time.
The frost was like spilled sugar beneath my toe,
And you tried to hold my hand.
For a few nights before the clocks went back
and the Sun's sinking coincided
with my heading home from work, I heard
a bird sing. At the top of concrete steps
littered with pizza cartons and cigarettes,
in the cradling twigs of a blackened tree,
this bird, perched restlessly, sang.
These eyes, tempered by smoke and tile,
sodium lamp and television, trembled
at the flickering breeze, burnished sky
and the sixpence Sun, dulled by decline.
I listened to the bird, forgetting about birds,
replacing myself, the concrete, the words
with unstained, unique melodies.
I have not seen the bird since,
nor can I recall the song I'd heard
disturb a warm, March night,
when I ached, and my eyes were sore,
but know that in the crooked feeling
of dictated days, hides the healing
strength to strike them straight.
Things I gained that winter
Slap of river Esk through narrowed ice channels
among black frost rocks and night cold--
almost xmas, and huge houses lit like
amber with the sun behind seemed far from
the winter slip of the track--
too much to drink, we arm in armed
crunchfooting under boughs like wet coal.
She was there for a winter—her sports coat
patched wet by frosted branches--
blonde hair dark beneath a knitted hat--
snub-nose pushed with laughter--
the light dipping and falling--
she was there for a winter
and like that night's crystal charm--
at the first murmur of heat, she was gone.
You see them sometimes, in headache dreams
(The migrainous hours,
Brain dried out by beer and body
hammer-wracked by work)
Lumbering Gods of the Earth's first nervous beats,
Massive shapes in brown shadow and
The rusting African light,
Heat of breath on dust, turned against
The dream's cage;
Colossi moving against
The lotus vault of sky,
Even after we are gone.
To dream of silver gulls on the bone-bare
Sea, the breeze stiffened with salt and
The biting cold of the tarnished waves
Is to dream of you, Grandfather; your hair bleached
By the iron-light, arms painted with ships and birds;
Your blue jacket with the Naval Society patch
That was heavy with braid and tapestry-rich.
To dream of Sunday afternoons, strong drink, and
The camera around your neck at Regatta .
these dreams are only hooks
upon which to hang
the memory of your sea-torn rage;
The man, whose muscles flamed as he worked
in the ship's vast fire room a lifetime ago, has gone,
and I hurl cinders into this engine of words
Grit dust lifts in a dry wind blown over the ruin’s stones,
Corkscrews in clouds of white pepper, rattles into the closed van
And my eyes as I work at the repairs-
Everything in the yard is broken; engines cracked like finger bones,
Locks twisted like the snapped necks of birds,
Even words on the business sign, even words break,
Blue vinyl peeling into the pale breeze-
I stand in the yard’s centre, unsteady on the day’s palm.
Sun-faded cap worn through at the peak, knee bone drilled with pain,
And in the work she fades, the woman, the one.
Everything in the yard is broken, and repairs are going slow.
The night has gone to the dogs
And the streets are all wet; they’re singing
In our favourite bar, a song about bones
And we’re feeling the way we felt when lightning
Hit the trees that time, and we’re arm in arm
And not caring who sees,
And the entire world is dark and wet.
Men and women watch
Through the windows of the restaurant
As we dance and fall against a phone-box
In the light from an all-night bookmakers
Where they bet on steeplechases and football games,
And have beautiful lists of horse‘s names;
I squint across your shoulder
And see faces beneath the phantom shine
Of humming fluorescent tubes:
Red eyes caring forever, patience for the end,
old jackets, and no love;
And it strikes me then
So we stop
And stare hard into a night that has burned out
Into steam from the restaurant roof
and into curses from the street:
There is no love, where there needs to be,
There is no love.
Only the memory of something that might have been
of burning days
When the whole world
Was a long street,
A garden and a room.