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Quite frankly. A sequence.

By Peter Hughes.

 (Petrarch, Canzoniere 1-21)

 

1

if you can read in the afterglow
of all the friction I connived in
escaping to the fairground so very young
& so variously insane

I hope you’ll recognise a few shapes
if only by the state of the trellis
& that pain in the stomach
which is mainly knots in the convention

I don’t blame them for crossing the street
when I come trudging down the contents page
I’d do it myself & head for the coconut shy

but it’s long gone now & a hole hurts
the most intoxicating music of the fair at night
reduced to diesel fumes/syringes

2

to get me back for backing away
for ever love slid a needle in my vein
when the big wheel had stopped
& I was staring out towards Skegness

I thought I was safe from feeling
or seeing stuff that wasn’t there
but cadmium lightning hurtled
through the fuse that I’d become

bundled onto the hovercraft of love
I never had the floss of a chance
to get my feet back on the ground

reconnect my edges
stuff the putty back around my old position
as po-faced sentry of the self

3

it was on an Easter day-trip
when the dark heavens opened
& I was swept away on the surge
of a glance from your mesmeric eyes

unequipped with a deep-sea helmet
or a welder’s mask – not so much
as a pair of discount shades -
I just drove into oncoming traffic

I’d forgotten the sun-block & fly-swat
& each of love’s pests wriggles inside
to make this swarming nest of my heart

Love has you by the balls: an iron fist
in a glove of innocent French lace
touched by a breeze through an open window

4

the universe explores its possibilities
whether you like it or not
nosing up every crack & atom
x+y making curry at 3 in the morning

you can have it for lunch in Hunstanton
with Italian wine & a yard of Swiss roll
no-one’s going back to work now
not with The Canaries two – nil down

you can understand why so many gods
chose the middle east instead of Norfolk
boiled the pot & kept chucking in chickens

& whatever anybody thinks they’ve learned
they still review their options
when they see her stroll past the bookies

5

when Love gouged each letter of your name
deep in the unstable desk-top of my heart
I muttered into gutters like a lunatic
you could see it start in the word LAUghable

another REtard heading for the arcades
hoping for a full-house even though
he didn’t have two quid for a bingo card
so he mooches back to the caravan

drunk I scratch LaureTA on my arm
with a Jocky Wilson lightweight dart
then go over it with my free Barclays biro

through the dusty roof-light of amber perspex
Apollo sneers down at another daft sod
who’s taken the name of a bush in vain

6

my mad passion races after phantoms
the harder I try to wrestle it back
onto the right track
the more it goes astray

accelerating doesn’t help
nor does jerking the handlebars
it just won’t cruise with me
into the reconstructed shed of love

& even if I manage
to stamp it down into second gear
it still carries me towards the edge of the cliff

I always end up tipped in a bush
of bitter laurel which tastes like
dragged around town by a ghost train

7

anything of value has been banished
by a committee of the lazy
the greedy & the habitually thick
so where do we go from here?

these days it’s hard to even see the stars
which once offered a perspective on our lives
now anyone dedicated to poetry
is awarded the status of freak

you only work for poetry & love?
do it in rags in that caravan then
& raise a cold glass of water to art

you’ll walk this road alone my friend
you know that as well as I do
well it’s too late to turn back now

8

down in the valley where renewed
genetic bonding allows individuality
the subject strode through whispered
sleep & blue insomnia

we pottered in the foothills preparing
a few cannelloni & speeches
without expecting anything worse
than the odd power cut or drizzle

but eviction from such freedom
into this harsh internment
leaves just one escape & that’s death

a kind of vengeance by one side
of the mind against the other
which finds itself chained to love

9

when the local star that gives us time
returns to the cosmic fields of the Bull
virtue descends from the stars’ horny fires
cramming the world with dense new colour

& not just the skin (the streams
& hills in hungry bloom) but also
in the dark places where I predict
an unpremeditated riot

until this bag bulges with outcomes
& although she is my local star
shining the bloody I-light right inside me

creating thought life & English-lit
whether she guides or ignores it all
my inner dream of spring’s still ice

10

well Steve the Column on whom
pants with earnestness that never slip
due to perpetual erection even in death
you do seem quite dead now

Steve who led our minds over the heaths
past the high rocking snails of Brancaster woods
avoiding the King’s Lynn ring-road
to glimpse the first expanse of salt-marsh

where poetry came home to roost
with the oystercatchers & curlews
peeping at small songs far into the night

thoughts of love playing in the dark heart
also occupied by your departure Steve
& your son’s large grants for artists

11

I haven’t seen your face unveiled
since you learned of my desire
sowing silence in the sky from which
my boomerang won’t come back

as long as I was biting down on those
dreams which electrified my heart
I was free to see your sympathetic beauty
but then Cupid lifted the lid of my bin

your blond hair was hidden
away with your overwhelming eyes
my life-support system unplugged

I slump in this valley of the shadows
my heart beats my head feels like death
places a veil over the sight of you

12

six tortured centuries of bitterness
& still pain seeps from my language
gudgeon used as live-bait
wearing two treble hooks & wobbling

from the idea that you would age & die
except in echoes of illicit dreams
which feature such searing details as
you glancing over your shoulder like this

soft weight of your hair on a green dress
long gone from the surface of the planet
no more to be reflected in water

love stirs the silence of eternity
then vanishes into harsh sentences
dust on the tongues of strangers like us

13

my desire grows to catch up with her
outstanding beauty but I may as well
attempt to scoop up with unsteady hands
her reflection gliding in the river

the vertiginous honour of being
in the right places at the right times
so my destiny could dissolve in hers
is rewriting my name in water

she makes my thinking glow like art
for art’s sake distant from car-boot sales
where chancers trade in baubles & tat

she shows me the way to a better world
& my hopes have left my sense of self
to embark on a final migration

14

I haul up the energy to glance
at the danger zone where she & innocence
do all the damage you read about
imagine or Christ help us write
death may well soften some of the blows
through the eyes which are after all just eyes
but I think the heart will take a kicking
even after the wooden wheels creak lines
in the gravel leading up to the hole
as we stand on the edge looking inwards
you may murmur tales of consolation
relating to the brevity of all
the painful beauty that led us so far
towards the distant star & final stone

15

moonwalking to the edge of the abyss
a six-foot bruise wrapped around hollow bone
I wish I’d never met you cancel that
you’re the very air that flows through my flute

& the great wide world of sweet-peas & cake
regional cuisines & impulsive dogs
the love that fleeting life can never hold
launches its flock of spasms in the heart

then I pace around myself & wonder
how this weird batch of organs can exist
remote from the reason for its being

but it’s love itself which gives the answer
that love & the extension of love’s song
are free of the banality of time

16

mottled & arthritic the man heads east
away from the cottage & allotment
away from the family who watch him go
from an upstairs window silent with grief

he’s walking the coast road for the last time
& on his last legs saying goodbye
to a comfort of low dune & salt marsh
from Thornham on through Brancaster to Wells

as day breaks he ends up in Walsingham
to gaze on the face of the Madonna
& dream himself beside her forever

while I scan the faces in the market
& stare at every stranger passing by
for tiny reminders of your presence

17

she ruptured all these flimsy bulkheads
in her own vivid pre-enactment
of the ’53 floods & aftermath
I watched her dislodging my anchors

yet even the memory of seeing her
swing down the prom with a tasar
still makes me smile as I sink
into some new mermaid’s toxic grotto

but in one dry cellar of the brain
I am aware my lucky rabbit’s foot
is bald & tinged with mixy

an awkward yaw & plash turns out to be
my ghost drifting away in a see-through skiff
late for the Norwich-Ipswich derby

18

I turned & returned towards the light
of her quiet numinous beauty
& any fluttering thoughts remaining
fell gently down into these soft ashes

fear this dislocation of the heart
& observe my pilot light diminish
feeling my way along the darkened walls
through these entrances to nowhere

I’m stumbling through daily heart attacks
too slowly to outrun desire
which still sings & fingers my strings

but I make no noise since just one note
or a single word of this long song
could traumatise the county

19

some animals have such amazing sight
that they can outstare the sun without harm
yet others are scared by its mere presence
& will only venture forth at dusk

there are even those attracted to flame
hoping they can glitter into pure light
by dancing to destruction in the fire
an impulse which defines their lives & mine

I am unable to look at her light
nor can I take shelter in the shadows
or wait for the protection of the night

what I know & what I do are unconnected
my destiny & my paraglider
hurtle down towards her fatal lighthouse

20

the first time I saw you startles me
riding the light like a gap in time
rendering everything else sallow:
the world a beige & khaki mural

I wanted to hint at your presence
in at least one finished line of poetry
but the harder I try to evoke you
the more I end up in a boy band

I often open my
but my voice sticks in my throat
as anyone else’s surely would

I often take the top off a pen
but never capture anything better
than this harpooned pickled onion

21

with how many cubic metres of sighs
have I warmed the globe & the milk tray
the dead Q8 chrysanthemums yet still
you find me wanting wanting wanting

& if another woman fancies me
then she’s just wasting her fancies
because I knew for certain long ago
that I could float nobody’s boat but yours

my heart’s not allowed inside anymore
it sleeps underneath the caravan
seeing all but being seen by no-one

mauled by this composition of abuse
it measures out its length on its own grave
& waits for all this weathering to end

 

 


Peter Hughes is the publisher of Oystercatcher Press. An appreciation of the press, by poetry editor Peter Riley, appears in The Fortnightly Review here.

More online: Petrarch’s sonnet sequence “Canzoniere” is available in Italian here and in an English translation by Anthony Kline here.

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