In my seventy-second year,
I am beginning to begin.
I am becoming convinced that I understand nothing,
And have understood nothing,
And have only hurt when I spoke,
Stole when I took pleasure.
Day by day, gathers
In the height of the sky dark to pour down on me.
It is four o'clock in the afternoon.
I have come to the south coast for a holiday.
I have gone up and down the promenade
Four times looking into the faces of the shops
And walked up the long paved pathway
That runs the length of the ridge over the cliffs.
I have looked back into the dusky lights of the town
And listened to the rowing of waves against the rock,
And the lights, far from me, half a mile off,
Like the dull lights of the street of my childhood
That I would split into twinkles
With the sleepy damp of my eyes in the morning
Dark of February, six years old when I woke up
To run along behind the milkvan
In a starched shirt and apron, helping my mother
With money for the gaslight.
Lights lights lights,
Blond lights and boozy lights and blind lights,
Lights, fat and thin,
Waver about me
As I crunch my way carefully back down
Into the belly of the town,
Looking where gravy is honey to eat.
I am sick. Cold in my lowslung train.
I have had only water and wind to drink all day.
I have had only water and wind to speak for ten years.
My four children died in the wind
Of trees Of blood
Of songs Of gravy
Of cliffs Of sails
I am going to die in a storm in two days time.
All the weathermen are saying the same thing.
I am beginning to begin.
Boo boo boo! Ghosts are shouting in the long winds stroking the top of the church tower at the end of the high street. Vampires are stalking the woods, leaning on their sticks. Or is it only the slight dream of our boy, Alexander the ancient, as he stalks back to his lodgings? Is there a salt tear in the corner of his eye? Is it for all the kiddies he had that all fled him? Is is for his crushed-glass wife who he left, a white object, silenced finally, (finally!) in a dowdy hospice in the shade of a ten-story hospital administration building in north London, who he hated a time and loved a time, and finally over whom he wept and wept, seeing how bad he'd been? Is it that as he wiped the slow tear away, he turned to himself and said "I have died before and I will die again"?
Two weeks ago I was getting into bed at night
And listening for a solemn declamation in the room,
Where only the radiator was yammering,
Where nothing solemn was to hear.
There was whatever sweet and funny there though,
There though, there though,
And it bobbed and dove about
Comme une hirondelle rustique
That I wanted to catch in my hands.
I knocked a full glass of water
From the night-stand trying to catch it.
It was the voice of death
And the words it said were: Take a train on
such a date to
such a place in
such weather; wait
such a time and look
upon such objects and
at the end of the chain
of these events the last
will be last as the first
Fire asea and soil asky, River aflame and wind agrave.
So when I heard that voice,
I began to strew my affairs
And affiance my belongings into better hands.
I got rid of all my books by indefinite outloans,
And some of them were such trash that I burned them
Without looking twice.
I left my more ragged clothes draped
Over the wooden seats in the train station.
I got out of the train in a grey throbbing orb,
And smelt the sea-smell, and the fat-smell of the chippy,
And the petrol smell of the car park, and in everything
I could smell the hot swallow-smell of my annihilation,
Rushing like bathwater and stinging my nostrils,
Burning like a glub of phlegm in my throat.
Dead death is talking stupidly to me. I'm way out of it
Tonight. Two lagers and two sherries
In the old wives' cafe,
Too much for an old codger like me.
Home abed and rest until the sun renews its visible course.
Enough had of perambulations
(Pedestrian, interstellar, metaphysical, or otherwise)
For one evening. I'd say as much as that I've had
Enough for one life.
All I can do to wring the warmth back into my hands,
Or fiddle with papers for a fag in front of the off-license
While I wait for the bus
To come back to the hotel.
Overhead the council has rigged gigantic streetlights
That outshine the heavens.
There is a bookie's lit like a christmas tree.
Roll your bones, shabby old toss.
They are playing the television
In the little soggy room near the front desk
As I go in the front door of the waterfront hotel.
I'm tired and ready for sleep.
Boo boo boo! Ghosts are sliding down the trails in the top woods where among the blanched birch trees a saint's wind-stained statue glowers, white, concrete, like ivory. The face is cracked. The crotch is perfectly strung with ivy. A lonely family of pigs buck their heads in the torn oakleaves and brackish muddled sheets of watercold and silt at the fieldbottom in the lee of haystacks and furrowed hillside and farmer's house. Sometime by night's meridian, a blousing rain sets upon the country. All of England sloppy in the drawers with tough, cold rain. Only the night before last so it rained, so it rained! In the morning it is bright and slippering in the streets. Sorry, school-sick little girls look sarcastically out of their half-open, white-framed windows. A priest buys a little sack of meat to take up to his room. God-rawn, wiping sleep from his eye. Alexandalexandalexander three are sleeping on the strength of old-man breath in the grey grey down of the cottage-hotel bed.
I wake up.
My breath is violet.
Cold and senility.
Again, the news-
and fire-men are on the television, t- t- t-
Talking calmly of my coming death.
Owen Lucas is a British writer living in Norwalk, Connecticut. His poetry, fiction and translations have been published in more than fifty journals in the U.S., Britain, and Canada. Look for new work in upcoming issues of Plume, Sakura Review, Big Lucks and Tribe. For more: owenlucaspoems.com
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