A selection of poems from A Report From the Border
Carol of the Birds
Feet that could be clawed, but are not. . .
Arms that might have flown, but did not . . .
No one said, “Let there be angels!” but the birds.
Whose choirs fling alleluias over the sea,
Herring gulls, black backs carolling raucously
While cormorants dry their wings on a rocky stable.
Plovers that stoop to sancify the land
And scoop small, roundy mangers in the sand,
Swaddle a saviour each in a speckled shell.
A chaffinchy fife unreeling in the marsh
Accompanies the tune a solo thrush
Half sings, half talks in riffs of wordless words,
As hymns flare up from tiny muscled throats,
Robins and hidden wrens whose shiny notes
Tinsel the precincts of the winter sun.
What loftier organ than these pipes of beech,
Pillars resounding with the jackdaws’ speech,
And poplars swayed with light like shaken bells?
Wings that could be hands, but are not. . .
Cries that might be pleas yet cannot
Question or disinvent the stalker’s gun,
Be your own hammerbeam angels of the air
Before in the maze of space, you disappear,
Stilled by our dazzling anthrocentric mills.
When my mother knew why her treatment wasn’t working,
She said to my father, trying not to detonate her news,
“Steve, you must marry again. When I’m gone, who’s going
To tell you to put your trousers on before your shoes?”
My father opened his mouth to -- couldn’t -- refuse.
Instead, he threw her a look; a man just shot
Gazing at the arm or leg he was about to lose.
His cigarette burned him, but he didn’t stub it out.
Later, on the porch, alive in the dark together,
How solid the house must have felt, how sanely familiar
The street-lit leaves, their shadows patterning the street.
The house is still there. The elms and the people, not.
It was now, and it never was now. Like every experience
Of being entirely here, yet really not being.
They couldn’t imagine the future that I am seeing,
For all his philosophy and all her common sense.
In A Report From the Border
Wars in peacetime don’t behave like wars.
So loving they are.
Kissed on both cheeks, silk-lined ambassadors
Pose and confer.
Unbuckle your envy, drop it there by the door.
We will settle,
We will settle without blows or bullets
The unequal score.
In nature, havenots have to be many
And havelots few.
Making money out of making money
Helps us help you.
This from the party of useful words. From the other,
Drowned crops, charred hopes, fear, stupor, prayer