Sunday, April 29, 2012

If not, August*

There is nothing to discuss because, basically: the interesting things are not up for discussion, the things that might be up for discussion are not interesting and the rain it raineth every day, which we apparently need and you surely don't want to listen to me talking about the weather, so the rain is not up for discussion.  When I am writing, it is either going well or badly and if well then one doesn't want to jinx it saying so (this does happen, believe me), and if going badly one doesn't want to lend weight to the fact.  So the Writing is not up for discussion.  My aches and pains really should be up for discussion but not, dear reader, with you.

But this: I ordered a book from Amazon recently - a book of poems by an author I came across years ago in the first of Neil Astley's marvellous anthologies, Staying Alive.  I kept going back to the poem, really a whole sequence, and promising myself that I would get something of hers.  So finally I did, even though her collection is no longer in print.  But on Amazon everything is possible, especially if you are prepared to fork out £17.99 for a battered ex-libris copy.  It was spoiled with unsightly stickers, one revealing that it had been bought in one of those sales that libraries sometimes have when they want to sell off old stock, and the spine was all stiff with sticky tape.  The Amazon dealer kept asking me for feedback so finally I emailed expressing my disappointment in its condition.  Didn't expect much of a response, but they have given me a bit of a refund.  And I have scraped away and got all the crap off the book and am still pleased to have it.  The book is Lost August by Esta Spalding, and the sequence is there and is, I think, the best thing in it - though I perhaps need to spend more time with the rest.

Here it is.


Skin-tight with longing, like dangerous girls,
the tomatoes reel, drunk
from the vine.
The corn, its secret ears
studded like microphones, transmit August
across the field: paranoid crickets, the noise of snakes
between stalks, peeling themselves from
I am burdened as the sky,
clouds, upset buckets pour
their varnish onto earth.
Last year you asked if I was
faint because of the blood. The tomatoes
bristled in their improbable skins,
This is one way to say it.
The girl gone, you left.
& this another.
Last year in August I hung
my head between my knees, looked up
flirting with atmosphere
but you were here
& the sky had no gravity.
Now love falls from me,
walls from a besieged city.

When I move the mountains shrug off
skin, horizon shudders, I wear the moon
a cowbell.
My symptom:
the earth’s
constant rotation.
On the surface the sea argues.
The tide pulls water like a cloth
from the table, beached boats, dishes
left standing. Without apology
nature abandons us.
Returns, promiscuous, & slides between
sheets, unspooling the length
of our bodies.
Black wild rabbits beside the lighthouse
at Letite. They disappear before
I am certain I’ve seen them.
Have they learned this from you?
I read the journal of the boy who starved
to death on the other side of a river
under trees grown so old he would not feed them
to a signal fire. His last entry:
August 12 Beautiful Blueberries!
Everything I say about desire or
hunger is only lip service
in the face of it.
Still there are days I know
your mouth gave that last taste of blue.
When you said you were
I pictured a tree;
spring, the green nippled buds
not the fall
when we are banished
from the garden.
Another woman fell
in love with the sea,
land kissed by salt, the skin
at the neck a tidal zone, she rowed
against the escaping tide
fighting to stay afloat.
To find the sea she had to turn her back to it,
The sea is a wound
& in loving it
she learned to love what goes missing.
Once the raspberries grew
into our room, swollen as the
brains of insects, I dreamt a
wedding. We could not find our
way up the twisted ramp, out from under
ground, my hair earth-damp.
I woke. A raspberry bush clung to us
sticky as the toes of frogs.
A warning: you carried betrayal
like a mantis
folded to your chest - legs, wings, tongue
would open, knife
the leaves above us.
If I could step into
your skin, my fingers
into your fingers putting on
gloves, my legs, your legs,
a snake zipping
up. If I could look
out of your tired eyeholes
brain of my brain,
I might know
why we failed.
(Once we thought the same
thoughts, felt the same things.)
A heavy cloak, I wear
you, an old black wing
I can’t shrug off.
O heart of my heart,
come home. O flesh,
come to me before
the worm, before earth
ate the girl,
before you left without
You said, there are women
I know whose presence
changes the quality of air.
I am not one of those. The leaves
lift & sigh, the river
keeps saying the unsayable things.
I hesitate to prod the corn from the coals
though I have soaked it in Arctic water.
I stop the knife near the tomato
skin, all summer coiled there.
You are not coming back.
One step closer
to the fire.
September will fall
with twilight’s metal,
loose change
from a pocket. Quicker than
an oar can fight water,
I will look up from my feet
catch the leaves red-handed
embracing smoke.
Around me, lost things gather
from an instant
in earth-dark air.

Esta Spalding

* if not, winter - one of Sappho's fragments and the title of Anne Carson's translation.


Zhoen said...

I'm always up for talk about the weather. As long as it's not nice weather.

Watching Meet the Romans with Mary Beard. She's an odd presenter, but I've grown rather fond of her.

'tis I said...

That poem, Schwesterlein, is very good. Very. Thank you. I'll need to look up who she is (was?), clearly.

And whilst I feel you could talk to me (us) about anything, I understand and sympathise with the feeling of finding so many aspects of one's life unsuitable for talking about.

Mwahs are always suitable though.


Reading the Signs said...

Zhoen, Mary Beard - funny you should mention her, because she has been on my mind recently. But how did you know?

'tis you, yes it is. I keep liking it more and more. Steeped in loss and one has to feel, rather than think oneself into the images.

Montag said...

May 2, Wonderful Words!
words celadon of the sea.

Fire Bird said...

at first reading I adore this, wish I'd written it... will read again later. Thankyou.

Wendy said...

Good to catch up with your blog. The list of 'labels' reads like a parallel poem.

Reading the Signs said...

Montag, thank you :)

Fire Bird, that was my response too, when I first read it.

Wendy, yes perhaps - a list poem. Synchronicitous - you were here just as I was putting up another post.