Time period: 1966-1972
Poet: Michael Longley
Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m3s
Emily Dickinson, I think of you
Wakening early each morning to write,
Dressing with care for the act of poetry.
Yours is always a perfect progress through
Such cluttered rooms to eloquence, delight,
To words - your window on the mystery.
By christening the world you live and pray --
Within those lovely titles in contained
The large philosophy you tend towards:
Within your lexicon the birds that play
Beside your life, the wind that holds your hand
Are recognised. Your poems are full of words.
In your house in Amherst Massachusetts,
Though like love letters you lock them away,
The poems are ubiquitous as dust.
You sit there writing while the light permits --
While you grow older they increase each day,
Gradual as flowers, gradual as rust.
To whom certain water talents --
Webbed feet, oils - do not occur,
Regulates his liquid acre
From the sky, his proper element.
There, already, his eye removes
The trout each fathom magnifies.
He lives, without compromise,
His unamphibious two lives --
An inextinguishable bird whom
No lake's waters waterlog.
He shakes his feathers like a dog.
It's all of air that ferries him.
My father, let no similes eclipse
Where crosses like some forest simplified
Sink roots into my mind, the slow sands
Of your history delay till through your eyes
I read you like a book. Before you died,
Re-enlisting with all the broken soldiers
You bent beneath your rucksack, near collapse,
In anecdote rehearsed and summarised
These words I write in memory. Let yours
And other heartbreaks play into my hands.
Now I see close-up, in my mind's eye,
The cracked and splintered dead for pity's sake
Each dismal evening predecease the sun,
You, looking death and nightmare in the face
With your kilt, harmonica and gun,
Grow older in a flash, but none the wiser
(Who, following the wrong queue at The Palace,
Have joined the London Scottish by mistake),
Your nineteen years uncertain if and why
Belgium put the kibosh on the Kaiser.
Between the corpses and the soup canteens
You swooned away, watching your future spill.
But, as it was, your proper funeral urn
Had mercifully smashed to smithereens,
To shrapnel shards that sliced your testicles.
That instant I, your most unlikely son,
In No Man's Land was surely left for dead,
Blotted out from your far horizon.
As your voice now is locked inside my head,
I yet was held secure, waiting my turn.
Finally, that lousy war was over.
Stranded in France and in need of proof
You hunted down experimental lovers,
Persuading chorus girls and countesses:
This, father, the last confidence you spoke.
In my twentieth year your old wounds woke
As cancer. Lodging under the same roof
Death was a visitor who hung about,
Strewing the house with pills and bandages,
Till he chose to put your spirit out.
Though they overslept the sequence of events
Which ended with the ambulance outside,
You lingering in the hall, your bowels on fire,
Tears in your eyes, and all your medals spent,
I summon girls who packed at last and went
Underground with you. Their souls again on hire,
Now those lost wives as recreated brides
Take shape before me, materialise.
On the verge of light and happy legend
They lift their skirts like blinds across your eyes.
Your uncle, totem and curator bends
Above your cot. It is you I want to see.
Your cry comes out like an eleison.
Only the name tag round your wrist extends
My surprised compassion to loyalty.
Your mother tells me you are my godson.
The previous room still moulds your shape
Which lies unwashed, out of its element,
Smelling like rain on soil. I stoop to lift
You out of bed and into my landscape,
Last arrival, obvious immigrant
Wearing the fashions of the place you left.
As winds are balanced in a swaying tree
I cradle your cries. And in my arms reside,
Till you fall asleep, your uncontended
Demands that the world be your nursery.
And I, a spokesman of that world outside,
Creation's sponsor, stand dumbfounded,
Although there is such a story to unfold
-- Whether as forecast or reminder --
Of cattle steaming in their byres, and sheep
Beneath a hedge, arranged against the cold,
Our cat at home blinking by the fender,
The wolf treading its circuits towards sleep.
Exhaled at dawn with the cattle's breath
Out of the reticent illfitting earth,
Acre on acre the mushroom grew -
Bonus and bounty socketed askew.
Across the fields, as though to confound
Our processions and those underground
Accumulations, secret marriages,
We drew together by easy stages.
I see as through skylight in my brain
The mole strew its buildings in the rain,
The swallows turn above their broken homes
And all my acres in delirium.
Straightjacketed by cold and numskulled
Now sleep the welladjusted and the skilled -
The bat folds its wing like a winter leaf,
The squirrel in its hollow holds aloof.
The weasel and ferret, the stoat and fox
Move hand in glove across the equinox.
I can tell how softly their footsteps go -
Their footsteps borrow silence from the snow.
The Hebridean gales mere sycophants,
So many loyal Boswells at his heel -
Yet the farflung outposts of experience
In the end undo a Roman wall,
The measured style. London is so far;
Each windswept strait he would encompass
Gives the unsinkable lexicographer
His reflection in its shattered glass.
He trudges off in the mist and the rain
Where only the thickest skin survives,
Among the rocks construes himself again,
Lifts through those altering perspectives
His downcast eyes, riding out the brainstorm,
His weatherproof enormous head at home.
Conveyed here in what ship of death
- Citations and their death throes,
Epitaphs, each last breath -
Our godforsaken heroes,
Outlandish dead beneath whose
Medals memory lies bruised.
Imagine among these meadows
Where the soldiers sink to dust
An aftermath with swallows
Lifting blood on their breasts
Up to the homely gables, and like
A dark cross overhead the hawk.
So much is implied on that furthest strand -
The stranger's face of course, his outstretched hand,
Houses and harbours, shillings, pence and wars,
Troy's seven layers, the canals of Mars.
To lighthouse-keepers and their like I say -
Let solitude be named Man Friday:
Our folk may muster then, even the dead,
Footprint follow footprint through my head.