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Poems for Henry

 

Ode to Henry

He is strung between poles
- tense as a hawser
his field-lines taught.
Striving to reconcile
- Father and Mother
now long-time divorced.

He is all feeling heart
- responding to beauty
and caring for others;
but all thinking head
- loves debates of theory
and picking out motives.

He is sometimes so sad
- crying for loss
and clutching at blame;
but sometimes ecstatic
- laughing great joys
and expecting great fame.

 

He is wise beyond measure
- being truly convicted
and having control;
but confused and foolish
- being sadly conflicted
and having no goal.

He is searching for truth
- accepting no lies
demanding no less.
He is seeking for love
- benevolent eyes
an adequate tenderness.

His eyes are wide open
- consumed by destiny
fixed on the horizon.
His eyes are pressed shut
- fearful of finality
he cannot see home.

Two in Darkness

The atmosphere is fragile
  strung taught enough to snap.
In deepest shade we sit
  each waiting, longing.

With visionless eyes we stare.
  Each cheated of issue
  each cheating the other.
A silent soap-opera
  of impotent expectation
  and unrequited desire.
Such delectable deceit.

A Query 

Is romance a shoddy fabrication?
A pretext for mutual exploitation?
The disguised urge for procreation?

Reticence 

I will never let you know
  the trouble in my heart
I will never let you know
  the anguish in my soul
I will never let you know
  the pain your silence speaks.

I will never say the words
  my heart now longs to speak
I will never say the words
  my soul consuming burn
I will never say the words
  I wish that were your own.

I will never speak the truth
  that's closest to my heart
I will never speak the truth
  that's ravishing my soul
I will never speak the truth
  which is itself a lie.

Moomintroll and Snufkin 

You were in distress,
your mind throbbed
with what you called 
anxiety.
You wanted to be helped.
You asked me 
to read to you,
(to share
your precious book;
lying on the 
close-cropped lawn
that bright Summer’s day)
of Moomintroll and Snufkin.

Of their 
odd and 
unaccountable 
friendship;
which gave them joy.
Then of 
Moomintroll’s
desolation
when Snufkin 
told him that he must leave;
but might return.

 

You were comforted
a little.
It was a joy for me to help,
to be privileged,
to be allowed 
to intrude 
into your inner life;
to help take away
your pain.

Now you have gone.
There is no 
consolation prize
for me.
Only sadness.
Only pain.

Ghosts

We visited Henry's Grandfather
   at my urging in the Autumn.
He had not been well.
A tumour in the brain had been found.
I was afraid that if we delayed
   we'd be too late and no goodbye be said
   a departure made 
      without adieu or au-revoire
   but with negligence of affection
   and absence of affirmed connection.
Henry procrastinated.
Our first date was postponed.
Then another fortunately agreed.
Not too soon, I thought.

It was a bright sun-shiny day.
The gravel drive was flanked 
    by stone lions.
A huge willow-tree guarding 
    the house itself.
We were ushered into the living room.
An expanse beyond expectation:
   glittering chandeliers, 
   an orphaned grand piano,
   a redundant snooker table,
   a comfortable three-piece suite,
   bookcases filled with novels
   and family photographs,
   a sterile marble fireplace
   and a bed of infirmity.
The old man was sprightly:
   in full command of his wits
      and full of life
   his worst concern was a broken boiler.
We were plied with tea and biscuits
   then I was faced with 
   an over-microwaved pasty:
   tough as leather, dry as dust.

I declaimed some poetry,
   carried away by rhythm and rhyme.
We discussed science and religion
   and the fact that his late wife's will 
   would be debated later that day.
We watched some silly soap opera 
   about doctors.
One young man seduced another:
   very modern, 
       a politically correct mediocrity.
His cat made her presence known;
   her violent habits becoming
   the topic of much discourse.

We said our goodbyes.
I was pleased that the connection 
   had been renewed;
   content that I had helped
       renew family bonds,
   delighted that I had been made welcome,
   happy my presence was unquestioned.
I was pleased that I had made a new friend.
We drove home content,
   engrossed in happy conversation.

Two days later the phone rang,
   the old man was dead.
The tumour was not the villain,
   but his fragile heart: 
      an unexpected culprit.
I was not invited to the funeral
   – not being family, you know,
   my presence was not required.
Henry was a pall-bearer,
   but his dietary wants 
      were entirely neglected.
My inheritance from that single day,
   that sparse encounter with the older man
   was the book of poetry, 
   from which I'd read at length.
Henry's legacy: a boxful of music disks
   –  to which he was not much attached.

 

Now I am haunted:
   not by that kindly man's ghost,
   not by his welcoming spirit,
   not by any unwanted or unquiet presence;
but by an absence more cruel and malign
   than any poltergeist:
an echoing emptiness,
   a betrayal of trust,
   an abortion of friendship.
Ghoulish fingers fumble at my heart-strings
   a sombre melody of loneliness to evoke
   that ends in an unresolved cadence.

Henry left my life without goodbye
   leaving bitter-sweet regrets
   and an unfinished ending 
      for me to wrestle with
   like the one that I'd earlier prevented.
He refuses all recall of companionship
   insists on a sullen dichotomy.
I am surrounded by the silence of abandonment,
   pursued by an importuning 
      mongrel of memory
   which leaps out on me unawares
   from stealthy shadows.
I am not invited to a funeral
   to commemorate the life that has died.
There is no celebration of past joys.
There are no prayers for absolution.
Nor formal place for tears and grief.
No acknowledgement of bereavement.
I was not family – you know,
   so my absence is not remarked.
I am the only mourner;
   but I have no pall to bear.
There is no grave to stand before.
No memorial stone for me to visit.

My unlooked for and unwanted
    legacy lies piled in 
       the relationship corner.
A case of crumpled clothes, two guitars;
six crates of abandoned goods: 
   a framed picture of Tigger,
   a small metal box emblazoned 
      with Pooh and Piglet,
   images of angels, a leaping wild wolf,
   a penguin brutalized by a killer whale,
   books of history, philosophy 
       and erotic poetry,
   novels, music disks, photographs, 
   endless notebooks filled 
       with minuscule text,
   the story of an unloved carpet cleaner,
   images of anxiety and betrayal
   – of pain and abuse,
   an old clapped-out lap-top PC,
   a loofer (dried-up and forlorn:
   not like the ones we saw 
       green and growing 
       in Leicester's botanic gardens), 
   a Norwegian flag on a stick,
   and sundry items of pathetic brick-a-brack.
Astride it all, sits Edward Bear:
   enthroned as advocate and spokesman 
   for furtive subconscious aspirations.

More than this, I am left with 
   the loss of hope:
   an agony of social amputation
   and furtive remembrances 
      with uncertain significance.

The pain of separation
   hangs about my frame 
      like a mildewed shroud.

The Cave

Reality is fractured 
with violence and pain
splintering into exquisite shards 
of harsh significance and austere detail:
awe-inspiring in its suffering;
the birth pangs it endures 
as it struggles to attain maturity, 
a sophistication 
which as yet escapes its grasp.

The darkness is seductive.
The womb’s continued hospitality
offers consolation and understanding.
Solace for a sensitive soul,
overwhelmed by 
unrelenting demands 
of necessity and survival.
A place to hide and feel secure.

A voice calls me out.
I hesitate.
Is this pain so terrible?
At least it proves reality is so!
While the soul suffers, it is not dead:
there is prospect for a future joy
for transformation, for rebirth.
While there is vulnerability
there is hope for tenderness,
for communion, for touch.

The call is insistent, 
unremitting, 
seductive,
cruel.
The words pierce my brain,
stab into the chasm of my darkness
  - lightning bolts tearing 
     the night sky apart -
Light and darkness seethe about,
combating for mastery of meaning.
Hints of fires rage 
in the corners of my perception.
Sulphurous shadows
punctuate violent flames
which threaten to consume my existence 
in a final conflagration.
 

 

Which choice yields joy 
  and which despair?
Which path gives peace 
  and which interior war?
Who is ally and who enemy?
It is too much for me to fathom, 
I yield; 
surrendering my freedom,
I sacrifice my autonomy.
I step into the fearsome light,
the divine fire which consumes 
all that is frail
all that is mortal, 
all that is already dead.

I am scorched: 
skin sloughs from my limbs and body,
sordid flesh melts from eager bones.
I am in agony: sore afraid,
but I do not die.

At first I am blinded,
then I blink 
and see for the first time.
I am surrounded 
by gentle hues
and pastel shades.
They comfort my mind,
sooth my wounded heart.
I glimpse a flaming sword;
but it is no threat to me.
It is held as defence against 
my despair and my despite.
It is held by one willingly
charged with my care.
I am enfolded by love
held in strong arms
touched by grace.
 

Symposium

Socrates stands silent, 
   without the house.
He sways to and fro; 
   though there is no breeze.
His daemon speaks, 
   in words of tantalising uncertainty;
warning of danger, 
  urging on with cue.

Within, the revellers laugh, 
   intent to entertain
themselves with wine 
  and song and jest.
They miss his presence, 
   await his profile at the door.
Hopeful of his words, yet fearful too.

The seer breaks his pose; 
   returning to this world of doubt.
Regaining his will and purpose, 
   he looks about.
He shrugs and enters into 
   its flimsy reality.
It is most unsatisfactory, 
   but will have to do.

His eyes peer into shadows 
   which lie all about him.
They reveal their remote origins 
   to his mind 
as they obscure their immediate
   intentions from his eyes.
He knows at last his will, 
   with doubt he’s through.

He wishes to advance; 
   move forward in this place;
join his friends within; 
   enjoy their fellowship.
He wishes much more. 
   To pass beyond this place
to enter into a richness 
   which few subdue.

Socrates bows his head 
   and enters the festive hall.
His presence fills the room, 
   the party song falls silent.
Let us speak of love, 
   dear friends, he says.
Let us praise the source 
   of all life new.

Account is made of Eros, 
   ancient of days;
wisest and most beneficent,
   yet maddener of men;
neither spirit nor matter 
 – but interlocutor between –
carrying precious gifts 
   reconciliation to pursue.

Socrates is silent. Then he frowns 
   and shakes his head.
What truth was spoke 
   was not spoke true enough;
weighed down by quest 
   for earthly ease.
Such phantasms, he knows, 
   he must eschew.

He recalls an aged seeress, 
   Diotima she was named.
She once instructed him in love; 
   when he was young
and brash and wilful 
   and fully self-assured.
She cut him down a peg: 
   her words he will review.

 

Love is desire for beauty 
   with good outcome;
life leading to life 
   and on to eternity.
Beauty is next to Good, 
   and supplies the defect 
of sight to restore 
   what wisdom once knew.

The end of love is 
   fellowship of being;
union with the source 
   of life and hope,
attainment of clear sight 
   and understanding
sure knowledge of beauty 
   and justice true.

All love and beauty 
   in this world is perilous;
an intimation of 
   what lies beyond the veil,
an incentive to kindness 
   and spur to courage
but also a nagging distraction
   from these two.

Then in storms Alchibiades, 
   apple of the sage’s eye;
yet rotten to the core. 
   Traitor both to tutor and to State.
Sure of himself, 
   overflowing with hubris,
ravishing in countenance 
   and thew.

He berates his erstwhile lover, 
   speaking of deceit,
how he promised much, 
   but gave nothing; 
not tenderness, 
   nor comfort of embrace,
but by cultured neglect 
   all passion slew.

He accuses the silent Socrates
   of inhumanity,
of spiritual conceit
  and direst pride
being impossible to live with 
  or without:
his friendship he does 
  most sorely rue!

A tear wells in the seer’s face; 
   but he turns away 
from what he has loved, 
   and always will love, 
in this world: knowing that 
   the warning, 
once heard, he can never 
   misconstrue.

This spoiled man, he knows, 
   exemplifies full well
(but without spark of intent 
   or glimmer of awareness)
the power of love 
   to pervert and corrupt,
when divorced from 
   its object due.

One Night 

I sit alone with you in silence.
I ask what’s wrong
what’s on your mind;
but you give me no reply.

Then you, 
who don’t believe 
in Christ,
demand that I 
who do
profess my faith.

You are afraid that I
(who am your friend
and who love you
and desire only
your good)
am in league with Satan!

Yet it is you 
who have sympathy
for Lucifer
who finds him alluring;
his figure
pathetic yet remarkable:
romantic
in his rebellion.

You wish to aid
the fallen Daystar
to redeem him 
from his woe;
yet fear that his clutch,
his fierce embrace,
will lead you into 
temptation 
and the doing of ill.

I am furious.
I up and leave.
I shout:
“Go to Hell yourself,
not with me;
I’ll not lead you there!”

 

An eternal moment…
passes.
Then you whimper at my door:
“You said you wouldn’t 
give up on me 
so easily, 
Stephen.”

I relent, of course.
I never meant 
to abandon you.
How could 
I abandon you?
I will not be complicit 
in your self-harming though!

I offer to spend 
the night
with you.
To guard together
against the fearful 
darkness.

You agree.
You take off your
outer clothes,
and prepare to sleep.
I place a rosary of
awful beads
about your narrow neck.

We sleep;
like two Wild Things
curled up together:
against the cold,
against the night,
against the darkness.
In the morning,
we wake.
I am amazed by 
the austere beauty
of the fragile form,
lying next to me.
Hardly more than bone.
Life so close to death.

End Game

We are playing a game 
without any rules:
at least without rules that I know.
Cut and thrust of sharp words,
stab of heart-bound hurt; 
flow of bright-red arterial tide.

We don't talk: only stare 
and debate what's not said,
there is nothing, yet everything, at stake.
I do not understand you; 
for you will not speak
of the phantasm that poisons your mind.

I ask what you want
but you will not say;
I think because you don't know.
I think you confused
I think you are trapped
by a fear of the future and woe.

 

I cajole and declaim; 
but it serves me no good;
for I know not of what you won't say.
Neither hint, nor resemblance 
will you slip past your lips;
I am left all unknowing and afraid.

What we had – if 'twas aught – 
will right ready be lost
if we speak not of it right soon.
What you fear may come true, 
just because of that fear;
what you hope for may die from it to.

So conquer your fear
and trust in yourself
have confidence in your own will.
What you speak, I'll not like
mayhap – but let that be so:
only make an end of this soon!

The Lone Wolf 

Hear the howl 
of the lone wolf. 
He is bereft of hope 
Beyond consolation.
His pack mate is gone. 
He is abandoned: 
alone. 

Now he must hunt alone, 
but where's the joy in that? 
Now he can walk slowly 
only towards death 
with no friend, 
no companion: 
alone. 

 

 

Suddenly life is austere: 
its richness fractured 
into cruel shards 
which penetrate his soul 
and tear into his mind
and puncture his heart. 
There is no joy, no hope 
but desolation 
alone. 

There is no understanding 
no account, no word; 
the silence is crushing,
overwhelming,
all arbitrary and cruel 
deathly consuming. 
In the far distance, 
the wild wolf wails
alone. 

Sorry-oo and the Hemulen

A small dog is waiting in the snow
waiting in his wailing pit.
Sorry-oo does not know 
what he awaits:
he thinks it is for wolves.

He hears the far of call of wolves.
Their language rends his heart,
an incantation of belonging
of purpose and stalwart striving
of an urge for life and living
of experiencing 
the urgency and passion of existence
the necessities and exigencies of survival.

Sorry-oo is overwhelmed with longing.
He wags his tail 
and wails his welcome 
into the cold, dark, soul-less night.

The wolves come closer:
amber eyes gleam like burnished brass,
fangs sharp piercing the expectant air.
Their tails do not wag,
The tails of wolves do not wag:
their aesthetic does not allow it.

Fear clutches his canine heart,
his gut is racked by dread,
nausea overwhelms him now.
His four legs fail him
he is paralyzed, 
stricken by anxiety,
rooted in his wailing pit.
The wolves draw near.

He knows himself for dead meat;
the supper of beasts beyond his nature
surpassing his simple frame and form:
formidable is their ferocity
unbidable is their wildness
overwhelming is their presence.
The wolf pack is here.

Sorry-oo is suddenly sad.
He realises he is self misled.
He has spun himself a sorry tale:
a beautiful lie - 
but a lie after all is said.
All that wasted time
waiting in his wailing pit.
 

Longing to run with the pack.
Longing to share the life 
     that is not his life.
Longing to be pierced 
     by a purging pain.
Longing to be ravished 
     by a love unknown.
Longing to be freed of the violence 
    always threatening to overwhelm.
Longing to exceed himself.
Longing to be what he cannot be.
Longing to pass beyond his nature.
The wolves surround him.

Then there is a strident sound,
The Hemulen’s horn:
brazen in its confidence,
brash in its ignorance of harm,
bright in its self knowledge.
The wolves are fled.

“Have you waited long for me?”
the Hemulen asks in innocence.
“No, not long,” Sorry-oo replies.
“Good, let’s be off then!
Come with me 
and share what I have.
Let us travel together 
and see the Mountains.
Let us ski down slopes of
silk-soft snow.
Let us penetrate ravines
of austere, unyielding ice
and view what no Hemulen 
   nor little dog
   nor even Moomintroll has seen.”

The Hemulen turns to go.
He does not await the little dog’s consent.
He passes on his way,
intent on his quest,
consumed by his vision:
harsh beauty of snow and ice and rock.

Sorry-oo hesitates 
for the briefest of moments,
then follows his newly found friend.
It seemed much the best thing he could do.

 

Absence

In my home is an empty room.
Filled with an absence
more real that any presence.

The light floods through its window
and illumines nothing
more substantial than any object.

Road sounds 
punctuate a morbid silence
which expects
no renewal of life.

He who filled this place
occupied it with his very self 
as he struggled with his pain
and with his past
and with his present
is gone.

He left a clutter
an unhappy mess
of damp clothes
and scattered papers
so unlike the tidy room 
he’d kept austere
while trying to 
turn his life about.

Everywhere the deadly void 
accompanies me dutifully.
Its unwanted devotion
is a presence of derision
a legacy of disdain.

A spectre stalks the town,
lurks in our old haunts;
squirming on the park bench;
racing down the high-street;
pacing too and fro in the Swan;
searching eagerly through
shelves of piled-high 
well-thumbed books
for Poo and Piglet 
and Moomintroll.
It stands introspective in 
health-food stores
contemplating 
Vegan fayre;
and sits aloof from me at Mass.

I am blocked
de-friended
bereft.
All I have is ghosts.

The Empty Bench 

In the park stands an empty bench,
I try to pass it by, but my jaws clench.
I know this place, what happened here,
my eyes are fixed, my eyes do stare
at rigid form of wood long dead
yet teeming still with life. My head
reels with memory, my mind writhes about
as he did on that day, consumed in doubt.

He told of signs, of visions clear
which frighted him and cost him dear.
A sight of time and destiny so fell
which he was loath the tale to tell.
A tale of fate and fearful things
which scarce might be escaped with wings
of eagle or that mythic bird of fire
which raised itself from nascent pyre.

At last, when all was done he calmed himself
and we did wend our way from that dire shelf:
his horror shared, his fear allayed
his sore-rent heart a little less dismayed.

And now I stand, myself entrapped
before this simple seat, my sorry mind enwrapped
in stifling bonds of love and loss
how shall I find release?
 

Six Months On

An absence more real 
    than any presence
haunts my fleeting hours,
dogging my steps 
and catching at my tripping feet.

A  numbness more keen
    than any pain
racks my fretful frame,
blocking my path
and clasping on my heaving heart.

An ignorance more clear 
    than any command
holds my failing vision,
obscuring my gaze
and clawing at my watering eyes.

A silence more eloquent 
    than any word
deadens my fading thought,
oppressing my mind
and clinging to my departing soul.

An indifference more pointed 
   than any snub
denies my self respect, 
depressing my pride
and crushing out my faltering spirit.

Henry’s Demons

Part the first:

I sit in my car, 
secure before my interview,
listening to the whispering voices 
of my radio.
I hear a father telling falteringly 
of his son:
a boy called Henry. 
My whole attention’s won.

I am stunned 
as the gentle man says how 
Henry once took hash 
and mislaid his sense.
From that time on 
he was troubled of mind;
pursued by demons 
none else could see.

He was put away. 
Institutions became 
his unhomely home: 
no place of nurture.
Escape was his constant 
cunning endeavour;
but success in this business,
presaged failure elsewhere.

Once out in the world 
he had no sense of self;
no idea of what was real, 
of what was good or ill.
He was overwhelmed, 
fragile, incompetent;
not knowing whom to trust, 
or what to do for best.

Drugs gave a peace 
beyond all understanding;
but loss of understanding 
was too high a price.
The destruction of self,
is no rational sacrifice.
All drugs do is pacify, 
not make one whole.
 


 
 

Eventually, love won 
and Henry was drawn back
into the light of reason, 
and found true peace.
He was re-united 
with his worried Father and
close family and friends: 
a sort of resurrection.
 
 

Part the second:

I feel I have a choice: 
one won through pain and love;
a choice unwelcome, 
though offered of benign intent.
I ken a solid semblance 
of what I heard the man relate
could become real for me 
– but at a woesome price.

A dilemma, richly dark, 
is for me now proposed:
either to accept the present pain, 
as for the best;
or else allow a higher cost, 
and so to have returned
what I have loved and lost 
and still do sadly grieve.

The choice seems clear: 
but I am well forewarned
that no glad good 
will come of such desired renewal;
but only further, deeper pain 
and greater suffering.
It is not possible that I should help: 
but only hurt.

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