Time period: 1966-1972

Poet: Michael Longley

Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m4x


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It told us, through the histories it lacked,

That always it grows harder to make clear

We loved, however carefully is stacked

The precious lumber that we shoulder here,

However biographical the gear:

That lives and where they end can so contract.

The sad allotment and the words we read

Owned not one date or title to undo

The silence of those people in their bed:

But someone kept like us this rendezvous -

The sinking he had launched their coffins into

Prolonged by love, till death mislaid his dead.

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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.

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1. Seahorses

The eggs are incubated

By the male of the species,

Heraldic the horse's head

Though his body convulses

Pumping into the sea sons

And daughters - his stomach's

Hundred tiny versions -

Their death a dignified drift

And a slow coming to light

On the shore - an ideal gift

Or dropped off a charm bracelet.

2. Bikini Atoll

On to whose bridal sands

And out of the sea (insects'

Wings confetti on the waves)

A turtle into famine steers,

On her slow shoulders heaves

The burning hinterland,

Her ancient face hung with tears.

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You are sheriff of our town -

Your movements silvery,

Dark your whereabouts.

Your tiny star catches fire

Where the railway tracks converge

And your face dissolves.

Dragged by wild horses

As it were, you slip

The circuits of the vaudevilles.

All our breakables - clocks

And crockery - whirl about you

Like a solar system.

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And yet, who could tidy away

The paraphernalia

From that dressing table? Or put out

Her little light on the subject?

Who, when it comes to the bit,

Could hustle along those heroes

Deteriorating to stones

And clay at intervals?

Or, from her slack vagina,

Disinter what is close to love,

So much mythopoeic gear

Dwindling in the end?

For she is open house -

Each smutty story's punch-line

Opening out to laughter

As to a landing

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At one with the dusty prospectors

And safe now from whooping indians,

I have only to manage

White inclines,

Frostbitten horizons,

All the girls in the saloon

Rolled into one,

Falling like gold dust through water,

Emerging in the bottom of my pan.

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Or, John Clare's Escape

From the Madhouse.

I am lying with my head

Over the edge of the world,

Unpicking my whereabouts

Like the asylum's name

That they stitch on the sheets.

Sick now with bad weather

Or a virus from the fens,

I dissolve in a puddle

My biographies of birds

And the names of flowers.

That they many recuperate

Alongside the stunned mouse,

The hedgehog rolled in leaves,

I am putting to bed

In this rheumatic ditch

The boughs of my harvest-home,

My wives, one on either side,

And keeping my head low as

A lark's nest, my feet toward

Helpston and the pole star.

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It's the wading on skeleton's legs

For a split second that gets me -

That outpurse crew at your soft places!

I'd go, given the nasty choice,

Head first, expose my boney angles,

My skull - something for them

To think about, to break their teeth on.

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