Time period: 1963-1966
Poet: Michael Longley
Permanent URL: http://pid.emory.edu/ark:/25593/17m7b
For here we have no continuing city...Saint Paul to the Hebrews
My hands here, gentle where her breasts begin
My picture in her eyes -
It is time for me to recognise
This new dimension, my last girl.
So, to set my house in order, I imagine
Photographs, advertisements - the old lies,
The lumber of my soul -
All that is due for spring cleaning,
Everything that soul-destroys.
Into the open I bring
Girls who linger still in photostat
(For whom I was so many different boys)
I explode their myths before it is too late,
Their promises I detonate. -
There is quite a lot that I can do ...
I leave them - are they six or seven, two or three? -
Locked in their small geographies.
The hillocks of their bodies' lovely shires
(Whose all weathers I have walked through)
Acre by acre recede entire
To summer country.
Holiday snaps, littered through my mind,
Expand to frantic close-ups
In this last alcove of my youth -
Since this is the last time they'll be screened
The zoom lens I remember with
Throws their legend
Out of focus. From collision to eclipse
Chapter and verse From collision to eclipse
Who took me by surprise
Like comets first - now, failing to ignite,
They constellate such uneventful skies,
Their stars arranged each night
In the old stories
Which I successfully have diagnosed.
Though they momentarily survive
In my delays,
They neither cancel nor improve
My continuing city with old ways,
Familiar avenues to love -
Down my one way streets (it is time to finish)
Their eager syllables diminish.
Though they call out from the suburbs
Of experience - they know how that disturbs! -
Or, already tending towards home,
Prepare to hitch-hike on the kerbs,
Their bags full of dear untruths,
I am their medium
And take the words out of their mouths.
From today new hoardings crowd my eyes,
Pasted over my ancient histories
Which (I must be cruel to be kind)
Only gale or cloudburst now discover,
Ripping the billboard of my mind -
Oh, there my lovers,
There my dead no longer advertise.
I transmit from the heart a closing broadcast
To my girl, my bride, my wife-to be -
I tell her she is welcome,
Advising her to make this last,
To be sure of finding room in me
(I embody bed and breakfast) -
To eat and drink me out of house and home.
Because we sleep apart these nights
So little passion can transpire
That both of us from poor delight
And wasted candour would retire.
We love but only head to head
And most impatiently defer
The private kingdoms of our beds
And the imagined lovers there.
But if, my love, at evening we,
Reminded of our brief divorce,
Commit a slight adultery
In sleep, inquiring who was worse
We'll disappoint the prouder sin
With dreams it did not figure in.
It is as though a journey were being made
By me at large to you so carefully
In my delays involved and holidayed
That I could offer as security
Your distances and you my lack of speed.
When all impediments are understood
And your permission's granted, I proceed,
Made passenger by you, my going good.
Then I leave behind no happy stations
And, no distracting regions hurtling through,
I travel to your body's unarranged
And infinite arrest - as though you,
Darling, were all my destinations
And were for ever meeting me off trains.
Ah, the image or the image's performance -
The love poem or the love? Though your proximity
Makes the question possible, the dilemma sweet,
Though one room so involves the fact that I can see,
touch, taste and hear you, with the sequent fictions
That we have two environments in which to meet,
I remember we owned neither once, - the year when
My verses lost their rhythm, a room its tenant, -
And summon up to love myself as I was then:
Love-letter-writing and, in loving you, content
That within the calms of prose all words should fade
Soundlessly, selflessly, toward the point they made.
Some things come too soon for words,
Fracture syntax, from all tenses overflow,
Prove semantically impossible: and so,
Taken by surprise, your body is the bird's.
You who would sing to perfect flight again
The gull, before one syllable takes breath
Convey as part and parcel of largest death
The cut let: and with your body you explain
Its difficult lopsided freight. And since
A bird that into famine soon must steer
Is tabernacled and abiding here,
Its broken journey gathered in your silence,
I accept your body's brief vocabulary:
The gull is lame, is all you almost say,
Your little breasts, your hands like birds at play,
Rightly the last resort of such agony.
I shall have left these rocks within the week -
large awhile, I came on spec
And shiver on the quays,
Taking in how summer on the island
Is ill at ease.
The winds' enclosure, Atlantic's premises,
Above the waves, The Hebrides -
Too long did I postpone
Presbyterian granite and the lack of trees,
This orphaned stone,
Day in, day out colliding with the sea.
Compass nor ordinance survey
Arranges my welcome
For, on my own, I have lost my way at last,
So far from home.
In whom the city is continuing,
I stop to look,
To find my feet among the ling
And bracken - over me
The bright continuum of gulls, a rook
My eyes, slowly accepting panorama,
Try to include
In my original idea
The total effect
Of air and ocean - waterlogged all wood -
All harbours wrecked -
My dead-lights latched by whelk and barnacle
Till I abide
By the sea wall of the time I kill -
My each nostalgic scheme
Jettisoned, as crises are, the further side
Of sleep and dream.
Between wind and wave this holiday
The oyster-catcher and osprey
Proceed and keep in line,
While I, hands in my pockets, hesitant,
Am in two minds.
Old neighbours, though shipwreck's my decision,
People my brain -
Like breakwaters against the sun,
Command in silhouette
My island circumstance - my cells retain,
Their crumpled deportment through bad weather,
And I feel them
Put on their raincoats for ever
And walk out in the sea.
I am, though each one waves a phantom limb,
For these are my sailors, these my drowned -
In their heart of hearts,
In their city, I ran aground.
Along my arteries
Sluice those homewaters petroleum hurts.
Dry dock, gantries,
Dykes of apparatus, educate my bones
To track the buoys
Up sea lanes love emblazons
To streets where shall conclude
My journey back from flux to poise, from poise
Here, at the edge of my experience,
Along the broken shore extends
A lifetime's wrack and ruin -
No flotsam I may beachcomb now can hide
Beyond the lobster pots, where plankton spreads,
Seals slip over the cockle beds.
Seaweed in the shallows - and I discern
My sea levels.
To right and left of me there intervene
The tumbled burns -
And these, on turf and boulder weaned,
Confuse my calendar -
Their tilt is suicidal, their great return
No matter what repose holds shore and sky
From this place in the long run I,
Though here I might have been
Content with rivers where they meet the sea,
Where the salmon, risking fastest waters -
Waterfall and rock
And the effervescent otters -
On bridal pools insist
As with fin and generation they unlock
The mountain's fist.
Now, buttoned up, with water in my shoes,
Clouds around me,
I can, through mist that misconstrues,
Read like a palimpsest
My past - those landmarks and that scenery
I dare resist.
Into my mind's unsympathetic through
They fade away -
And, to alter my perspective,
I feel in the sharp cold
Of my vantage point too high above the bay,
The sea grow old.
Granting the trawlers far below their stance,
I fight all the way for balance -
In the mountain's shadow
Losing foothold, covet the privilege