Three poems from Relativism
Jane shapes the town to herself.
Of the spire, the pond,
the iron bridge and the bandstand,
she is undoubted queen.
She cooks and eats. She feeds and clothes the world,
folding bodies and souls into comfortable communion.
She is a ladle, stirring.
She brings back treasures from sun-hardened places,
gives them up to the damp fingers of grass-stained children.
She is a shell haircomb.
She plays cards quickly. She smells of cocoa powder or of
and vaporises priests with a raised eyebrow.
She is a raised eyebrow.
She hardly writes at all, but when she does
the lines she makes go through to the pages underneath.
She fixes herself to the spot; she pitches tents for the lost.
Are you lost?
She is a compass, pointing.
And then she moves away.
She moves away in all her beauty, in all her how-dare-yous.
She moves away in all her certainty, her life its own eloquence.
She moves away in all the crimson of our still-warm love for her.
We’re eating a late lunch together in a little place
where you know the owner, and the waitress when she
takes our drinks order seems a shade proprietorial, and
although we’ve chosen a table deep inside, as far away
from doors and windows as possible, still the sun
has found us out, has found a way to slice in sharply
across our faces, making us peer directly at each other
instead of our usual half-glances, and we’re discussing
a celebrated writer who did his best work in the 1950s,
and who was married to another writer who did
her own best work in the 80s, once the Great Man had died,
and the words I’m permitting to leave my mouth
are about this couple, performing the kind of veneration
that you seem to require from me, but secretly I regard them
as the kind of people I certainly wouldn’t want to meet
in real life, they’ve always seemed to me to be
as bad as each other, but at the same time I’m quietly
envying them their unhappy but important life together,
a life recorded and admired, a life with bone structure, and
most of all a joint life, and all of this is what my words
are officially saying and concealing, but what I’m also doing,
by sitting here and looking straight at you and having this
inconsequential conversation is telling you the truth,
and the truth is that you are more myself than my nail-beds
or the roots of my hair, and it is also true that although to you I
may look like someone capable of great happiness
and abandon, I am not, as a matter of fact I was
both assassin and gravedigger to my own joy, I carefully
took its pulse before throwing in the first shovel of dirt,
just to make certain that I had left no flutter of life,
and this was some time ago now, and I must surely be close
to getting used to it, and although I feel convinced that
I cannot endure a life in which we don’t belong to each other,
I also know that I will.
The back of three
A ball rolls left to right across the path.
A dog barks in the next-door house but one.
A sudden blast of wind buffets the grass.
A woman tugs a rain-hood from her bag.
An iron cloud plugs the last weak shaft of sun.
The hours from noon till tea-time always drag.
A cat across the way has caught a bird.
I turn my head until it’s not alive.
You died three weeks ago, and I’ve just heard.
A boy retrieves the ball, calls to his friend.
The weatherman said maybe rain by five.
The day turned out quite bitter, in the end.