Against Numerology

(i)—if you spill salt, throw a little over your shoulder, for memory

It's freezing and you try to remember June,
the garishness and wonder. Or else a song
you loved when you were young, and now
it's stale. Faces you saw in lino, little houses
they told you weren't true but they were, they
were: not the thing itself but the sense
of other and contrary things is real.

(ii)—the whitebeams

The weather down the dales.
Then they were so hungry that they struck
and kept striking. The berries
turning scarlet in the sun, the leaves,
the leaves streamed out like banners.
When they drank it was so hard
and earnest, you'd think they'd never stop.

(iii)—fighting for strangers

The decision was endorsed by committee. Ask
if my attitude is morally defensible. Ask me
if I loved you then. Now look into the black trees
dividing the sky in little chunks, a strike force, a
shanty where small, idiot hungers pipe—where,
in the world, look, another cloud gone down, and
more investment would cost you an eye and ear.

(iv)—nulla rosa est

For everything you ever had stays with you
like a Japanese garden, raked sand. For
folk songs are the souls of dead workers.
For the grove me met in had seven black trees
like banners, and seven is a forgotten number. For
if you lost someone you must hug their absence.
For the other half of this verse is missing.

(v)—seagulls are the souls of dead sailors

Pull it down like a white hankie, its
anger in bedrooms, in windowframes,
fearful to be alone in its night.
Cry to wake the dead—blade
across sky, the banners legend on the wind
tossed out to sea—remember the sea
was always in your eyes on waking.

(vi)—lowlands (for Ann)

Figures dancing a long way off on hills, a
dream we wandered in too freely. Waking
to long for the quiet marshy levels, salt
sea wind in our hair and the moon. Rain
in tiny shells had washed sleep from our eyes,
we cried, as if the songs had never been,
as if our weed filled hearts were cragfast still.

(vii)—the shaggy inkcaps

Autumn—before I noticed, you were gone—
like a little home dissolving on itself.
To know that loss: the pain of hunger
and of love, and in clear air
the acrid smell of bonfires. And to know
I'll find you again, soon. Each day now
I leave the house as if I'll never return.

Richard Caddel


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