Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

 

santa maria sopra minerva

 

Marble is stone, haunted.

Quiet as the columns of the vault

I removed my hat, in solemn reticence;

I felt the daylight hush as I approached

The unkissed interior of the basilica.

My warmth was ushered out by a deathly hand,

And marble is song, echoed.

 

A lady in blue, with child, asked me to leave

Or cross my heart and hope to die.

How still and pale was her command.

I turned to leave, my footfalls skipped like stones

And I’m the echo, haunted.

 

 

This is T. S. Eliot all over, in form and theme. But it’s predominantly about a Catholic mindset which haunts me still. You could say that I am a recovering Catholic. I can’t enter a basilica without feeling a quiet guilt, a sense of repentance, and a divine presence. 

Whilst travelling in Italy as a student I was drawn to the inspired, dreamlike churches much like a moth to a flame, or a convict to the scene of the crime. The awe and majesty, all that opulence and artistic design, was tempered by something intimate and cold. 

The Earliest Art Yet Found

 

cave-hand-art

 

The oldest cave paintings found to date.

I imagine in dust-blasted hills, the interior

Calmly dank with waiting history:

In the non-burial place of a troglodyte

Who, with a mouthful of redder dust, blew

An ochre mist onto her outspread hand

Which, pressed to the cave wall, left in situ

A lack-of-hand, as the first ever finger print.

 

Imagine the paint in the mouth before the blow,

The clayey contemplation, the brown-red chew.

I can only compare with my first art class,

Drinking paint-water from the mug-for-the-brush.

 

What they left was a five-fingered dove, in a blush

Of human-kissed red, a message of mist.

It was a smiley face on a car window,

It was potato-prints before the potato;

And a child today uses finger paints, not dust.

 

So, the very first art was a lack of a hand,

A pale ghost on a redder reach for us.

 

For Seb

 

I’ve already bored many of my friends to death with this thought: but it is terribly haunting how some of the earliest art we have can be found in the Cueva de las Manos, in Argentina, made between 13,000 and 9,000 years ago. It’s the inverse of a child’s finger-painting: a hand is placed over the cave wall, and paint is blown on top, leaving a ghostly pale hand. Simple, but uncanny. It’s almost like these are hands from our past, the long-dead and forgotten reaching out to us. 

I chose this poem to be the response to Gary Holdaway’s rather thrilling The Assassin, which you should take a look at here: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/the-assassin/ – although centred on “Death,” as part of our Theme Exchange I found an alternative meaning in it. Without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it yet – ever a danger in this game of ours – I found that one of the key characters fixated less upon death, and more upon “Legacy.” 

Mortality is very much a part of the human condition. We can obsess over it, fear it, strive to avoid it: but the wisest decision is to accept it and make something of it. We can’t say what the intentions of the cave artists were, all of those thousands of years ago. But curiously, they have left an eerie legacy, a strange “reaching out,” an immortalisation: an imprint which, though anonymous and mysterious, is still disquietingly human. 

The House of the Architect

 

It can be seen that each expert

When, in the implementation of life

Designing life and death,

Is expert in his or her field.

Each part of this life tends to perpetuity.

 

In the house of the architect, for example,

Each step on the stair, each pristine window,

Each wall, bears its own load.

All elements are endurable,

And at low cost replaceable.

 

The plumber never

Calls on other plumbers.

 

The will of a certified lawyer

Is self-certified.

Each clause is manifest in its intent.

It is self-contained, and self-fulfilling

Like a prophecy.

 

Do you believe a car mechanic

Would not carry in her vehicle

The tools of reparation?

Do you not suppose that within minutes

Of disaster

She alone has converted her abilities

Into function?

 

Yet lovers,

Those whose domain is chiefly love

Devoting their lives to its study, unreadable literature, harsh discipline,

Or the wild amateurs:

They cannot predict the breaking down, the lawyer’s death,

The devastation time wrecks on a house.

As such, in this undiscoverable field of expertise

Even the most passionate amateur

Is inexpert in eternity.

 

 

This is both a poem, of a modern design influenced by T. S. Eliot and many others, and a discourse on the notion of “being a lover.” It is a full-time job, if done correctly: an occupation, a vocation, and an end in itself. It is said that some work to live, and that some live to work: I believe that others live to love.

But unlike being an expert architect (whose own creation creates, through inchoate foreshadowing in this piece, a mausoleum for the unwary), an expert in love cannot make contingencies for disaster. When it strikes, it strikes mercilessly and without mitigation. An architect can make designs for life, for the process of decay and the inevitability of faults. Having loved before does nothing to prepare one for the event.

 

Time for Idle Sunsets, Yet

 

Image

 

Here lies my last self-spoken epithet:

I will keep time for idle sunsets, yet.

 

This life I’ve given love as I would get –

To keep my life of sunsets loving, yet.

 

Praying for nothing, only singing: Let

Me keep some time for silent sunsets, yet.

 

A time remembered one day to forget,

Yet I will keep some kindly sunsets yet.

 

For all too soon as every sun shall set

I will find time for finding sunsets yet,

 

And though it passes, never to regret

The idle sunsets ever passing yet.

 

 

This weekend has been one of the warmest and finest I have ever known: and just as every sunset though repeated is in truth unique, so every passing hour and day and year is unparalleled, perfect in itself. They pass and will never return, and this is a wondrous thing. Just like youth and beauty fade in the individual, but remain with us nonetheless. 

Inspired by, amongst others, Dylan Thomas, Thom Gunn and Seamus Heaney, I’ve used liberal quantities of internal rhyme, repeated refrains and a bittersweet tone to paint my own picture of a sunset, not described by virtue of colour or warmth, but by its transience and its emotive effect. 

There is no need for needing, now

 

 – For Blair – 

 

There is no need for needing, now,

For I have broken bread with you:

Though we must share our portion, how

Much fuller is our feast for two.

 

There is no thought of thinking, here:

Under the sun, my mind and yours

Have sunk from sleep and drinking; we’re

Much deeper dwelt than thoughtful cause.

 

There is no want or wanting, heart:

For nothing’s all we have, at last.

Nothing to burden, or tear apart,

Nothing to tie us to the past;

 

And there is no while for waiting, dear,

No worry in this life for how

To waste a day, a week, a year:

There is no need for needing, now.

 

 

I don’t own a house or a car; I have no pension plan, no savings, no ultimate aim in life. I am a poet, unpublished. I treat poverty as an old and dear friend. I have nothing: and so I have nothing to lose.

I have something else, though. There is a man who asked me to marry him, who has shared his home with me, who has shared his time and his laughter, his poetry, his fears, dreams and fancies. We have shared what food we can afford, our books, our friends, our affection for one another. We have just shared the simplest, most remarkable weekend. We are poor, and we are happy, and we are free.

And the sun is still shining outside. 

Baron of the Friday Knights – for Gary Holdaway

 

Baron of the Friday Knights – for Gary Holdaway

 

 

You’ve sometimes named yourself astray,

As “warrior”: allayed your mastery

Of harsh old hearts with t-shirt mails,

The martial art of ready meals;

The most blood you have ever spilled

Was onscreen, for some pixels killed.

For I see you not as a Warrior King,

But ennobled of a different thing.

You send a silent silver sword

On friends who crisscross unkind words;

Your scabbard is a long repose

In hazard of them turning foes,

Your summoned brothers to the cause

Of a hundred praise-forgotten wars.

I see you not as a fighting god.

Beneath, I saw a force forgot.

No warrior through great adversity:

You are a bearer of white mercy.

No dagger raise you to the sky:

A flag, in praise of company.

Out there about the leaden hurt

You wear around your head and heart

No sorry piece of naked steel:

Warrior, you are peacemaker still.

 

 

On the birthday of my good friend Gary Holdaway, whose blog you can find (and should definitely take a glimpse at) here: https://garyholdaway.wordpress.com/ Entirely personalised: I love writing birthday poems. But yes, Happy Birthday Gary. So much love. 

Awakened by the works next door

 

When they first moved in, all cardboard boxes

And gentle smiles, from her to him,

It felt quite as if their recent blossoming

Would lead to flowerpots and raising shelves.

 

After the first time – morning, I remember,

An odd time for DIY – the hammering away

And the calling down the stairs next door,

I resented our early-morning neighbours.

 

The second time came with flowerpots,

Like I’d thought. A beautiful purple bloom

Which she carried around with her if she left

The house. A magenta embarrassment.

 

The third time, I first became faintly curious

Of the sheer amount of plywood installations

They were thumping through. That man must have been

Sweating and cursing in there like a man insane.

 

I imagined the house next door, become

A maze of beaten wood, of tortured shelves

Collapsed on themselves. But cozied in my bed

They remained, to me, the goings-on next door.

 

I remember their moving out. I had been right,

In a way. The gathering of flower pots

Arranged, oddly, in a name I didn’t know,

And a man-made unit, the final shelf, in pine.

 

 

I wonder how many of us really know what’s going on a few doors down. Or, for that matter, how many of us take the time to care. At times I can be fairly guilty of “keeping to my business.”

This poem was in part inspired by Martin Niemöller’s “First they came…” and in part inspired by some contemporary British poets who discuss such unsavoury, unpopular and terribly important themes as domestic violence. Even when reading poetry on the subject, I find, we still have an insidious inclination to put the book down, look away, and try to think about other things. Perhaps some of us are embarrassed by the subject.

I’ve seen a great deal of domestic violence in my life. It is one of my deepest regrets that I could not have done more to bring it to an end, at the time. Older now, I’ve promised myself never to play the coward.