Thursday, 10 April 2014

Now by Laurence Lerner


Yes, now, as I entered the tube,
As the door slid shut with unconcern,
As no-one looked up, I felt your grip
Tighten, and now my blood
Races in tunnels from you.
                                       Listen, now,
You catch at my heart and then let go.
I know those fingers, recognise the touch,
The tearing muscles, the insensate lurch,
The dip and the recovery of my heart.

My heart beats fast at its ring of fat,
Will go on beating as long as blood
Gets through the gap ; till I drop down dead
I will feel in my limbs what my heart is at.

As I did just now. The train moves on,
Flows in the tunnel like blood and the men
Rustle their newspapers. It’s not true
That it doesn’t hurt when you run your nails
Along the tissues. And what leaps up
When your fingers flex is no longer hope.
What flows in my veins is only blood.

Let me go. This time. Just this once
Let the train move on and the door slide shut
And you on the platform. No-one’s heart
Is stronger than so many times, and – now –
That was another. It isn’t true
That habit and newspapers kill the pain.
You can dry my blood though I know you so well.
I carry you with me. I always shall.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

Adam names the creatures by Laurence Lerner

               Adam names the creatures

. . . And him, and him, and then
That big one there in baggy skin,
The stamper. He roars, and sends,
Three messages into the air :
Two silver slivers and a wave of dark
– See how it lifts, and bends !

I’ve seen that darkness since,
Coiled round a tree. It shines,
It rears on air, it rides
(The bending grass divides).
Its tongue goes in and out,
Testing the temperature. It twists.

How can I come by all these names ?
Never by trying.
The world’s too empty, I must make them up.
Naming’s not lying.
Don’t ask me why I do it : I was told.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘lion, tiger, dog,
Goat,’ he said, ‘spider, hog –‘
But those don’t count, he said them.
A name is what you find.
Outside ? or in your mind ?

(When Eve lies down
Her breasts are flat,
Her belly is a bowl.
She has no breasts, but petals,
Bruises of red, that’s all.
She has geraniums.)
That’s it, that’s it,

Who bit those leaves ?
Who scooped Eve’s silhouette, with one clear stroke ?
It has three breasts, it is
An in and out of yellow green,
It is a perfect curve, a woman leaf,
It is an oak.

I know them now.
The world has come to life.
I name you : elephant.
You needn’t pull your skin up, now.
You needn’t blush, stop stamping, or look pale,
Or dress in shadows :
                  I can see you now.

The darkness that the elephant let fall,
Twisting among the grass, I see that too.
Slanting across a tree its colours break.
Striped tree, dividing grass, I see it all.
I understand the world now :
            Eve ; and God ;
And snake. I call you snake.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

The merman by Laurence Lerner

               The merman

It was because I swam into their net
Because the net was there
The water thickened, there was no way out,
It was because it tangled in my hair
Because it caught the water it caught me,
I left the wet and came to live in air.

I learned to stand on two legs in the dry.
I learned to look at day, at brown and red
Till they went dark. And then I learned to die
And wake when dark was dead.
I learned to change the place I was, with legs.
Learnt to drink the air, but never learnt their talk.

They gave me hungry needing fish to eat
And called it ‘fish’.
Then after needing nothing fish to put
And called it ‘fish’. Fish, fish ; as if the same.
That same, that difference, they call that a name.
I couldn’t talk like that. I couldn’t talk.

When humans talk they split their say in bits
And bit by bit they step on what they feel.
They talk in bits, they never talk in all.
So live in wetness swimming they call ‘sea’ ;
And stand in dry and watch the wet waves call
They still call ‘sea’.
            Only their waves don’t call.

Strange are their pleasures, living in the dry.
Build a long finger on an empty house
And in it sing, four times a moon, and kneel,
And talk sea talk at last, talk what they feel
Not words, not names. I heard their holy song
It said belong, belong.

So one day in the finger house I stood
And sang of wet and swimming in the was,
And happy sang of happy singing till
They came all running noise and sticks of wood
And shouting devil kneel
And devil and that day I found out hurt.

That dark I did not die but ran away
To where the wet and swimming call and wait
And joined myself to swimming. This was back,
It did not hurt to change the way you lay,
It did not hurt to breathe. Just swallowing hurt
At first, till water washed the words out. Yet

I must have tasted too much dry up there
I must have got a taste for words, or air,
Or hurt, or something. Now
I follow ships from afar,
I climb on rocks and sit there till they see,
Till they put off in boats to bring me words
And nets, and hurt. Wait till they’re close and then
Almost reluctant, slip back in the sea.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

Hummingbird-Heart by John Moffitt


Greedy bird, you are not more exasperating
Than a certain small person of preference—
You who have formed the alarming habit
Of drinking only out of the Audubon Society’s
Artfully camouflaged feeding-tube
Sugar and water mixed in precise proportions.
Shy, fascinating creature—
Shrilling to me impatiently to move away
Whenever I loom too near for your electric
Shape to dart down to flower level unafraid—
How was I to know you would prove
So fond of refined cane sugar as to make me
Fill your tube two and even three times a day?
How was I to know, amiable pest,
That you would take whatever I have to give—
Importunate, insatiable—
With never a thought of sharing your exquisite small
Self for more than the space contained
Between the opening and shutting of an eye?

John Moffitt, Escape of the Leopard (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), 18.