Read an Excerpt
Go, Litel Bok
Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the jury.
Those of my trade, we are like the badger or the mole.
We work alone in darkness, guided by tiny
candles which we do not share, sweating to give birth
to replacement planets where things happen which don't.
And sometimes the hard jigsaw becomes a picture
and not a car accident. More rarely we place
our fingers adroitly on the frets or keyboard
and multitudes plummet through the small white trapdoor
which bears our hieroglyphs. Then we are taken up
into the blaze and shout of the conurbations
to make words in the air and strike the strange pose
from the clothing catalogue. But sometimes we see
a swallow in wintertime. And the talking horse
and the sad girl and the village under the sea
descend like stars into a land of long evenings
and radically different vegetables
and a flex is run from our hearts into the hearts
of those who do not know the meaning of the words
cardigan or sleet. And there is no finer pudding.
Now I am like that cow in the nursery rhyme.
The fire I have felt beneath your shirts. These cloisters.
Red mullet with honey. This surprisingly large
slab of Perspex. Your hands are on me. But this man
is another man. The clock chimes, my pumpkin waits
and the frog drums his gloved fingers on the dashboard.
May the god whose thoughts are like a tent of white light
above the laundry and the pigeons of this town
walk always by your side. My burrow calls. Good night.
A Rough Guide
Be polite at the reception desk.
Not all the knives are in the museum.
The waitresses know that a nice boy
is formed in the same way as a deckchair.
Pay for the beer and send flowers.
Introduce yourself as Richard.
Do not refer to what somebody did
at a particular time in the past.
Remember, every Friday we used to go
for a walk. I walked. You walked.
Everything in the past is irregular.
This steak is very good. Sit down.
There is no wine, but there is ice cream.
Eat slowly. I have many matches.
After a Beheading
When you have jumped the logging trains
across the Hendersons and eaten
stray dog roasted on a brazier,
when you think that you can feel
the rasp of a freshly laundered pillow
on your face and hear
the little song of halyards
below your window at "The Limes"
but come round to the smell of petrol
and the sherry-hollowed faces
of your dubious companions,
when you want to lie down in the soiled,
grey snow and never move again,
you will come to a five-gabled house
in the suburbs of a cutlery-making city
and be embraced by a bearded man
with the build of a former athlete
who smokes "El Corazon" cigars.
His wife will have perfect breasts
and make the noise of a leopard sleeping.
Neither of them will ask you for your name.
You will be offered the use of a bathroom
where the towel-glare hurts your eyes,
the soap is labeled in Italian
and the cream suit on the warmed rail
fits with sinister precision.
You will then be led into the dining room.
There will be beef Wellington and firm pears
and a jazz trio playing Monk
on guitar and vibes.
There will be many fingerbowls.
Your host will say, "Eat . . . Drink . . ."
and as your hand hangs like a hawk
above the confusion of forks
you will realize that this
is where your journey starts.
Cabin Doors to Automatic
We take off in a lightning storm.
The big jets kick in and we climb
through blue explosions;
below the fuselage, moonlight
on the Solway Firth, the fields
of Cumbria, our litel spot of erthe
that with the see embracéd is.
This is how we leave the world,
with the heart weeping,
and the hope that distance
brings the solving wonder
of one last clear view
before that long sleep
above the weather's changes.
Horace Odes 1:4
Spring and warm winds unlock the fist of winter.
Winches haul dry hulls down the beach.
The ploughman and his animals
no longer love the stable and the fire.
The frost no longer paints the fields white.
The moon is overhead. Cytherean Venus
dances with her girls. The Graces
and the spirits of the trees and rivers
stamp the earth while flaming Vulcan
tours the massive thunder-forges of the Cyclops.
It's time to decorate your oiled hair
with green myrtle or with flowers growing
from the soft earth. It's time to find a shady spot
and sacrifice a young goat to the woodland god.
Or kill a lamb if that is what he wants.
Death's sickly face appears at the doors
of shacks and palaces. Rich Sestius,
this short life makes a joke of long hopes.
Pluto's shadow hall, those ghosts
you read about in stories, and that final night
will soon be snapping at your heels.
And then you won't be throwing knuckle-bones
to win the job of drinking-master,
or ogling pretty Lycidas, who'll drive men wild
until he's big enough for girls.
From the Trade Paperback edition.