By KELVIN CORCORAN.
1. The White Road.
IF I WENT back there would I hear her voice
and see those figures again, that side of the family
the other side of time folded in the blue and green hills
of the Slad Valley as evening falls under luminous distance
and they work out their lives, come and go,
turn that field to better use, raise children, stop?
There’s a patch of light in the sky seems to pause
and shed a painterly quality on common nativity
picturing the practical, hard-bitten characters,
raising the fallen as if still walking long-legged
over hedges, brimming ditches, taking the road to town
with the blue green valley at their backs alight.
I see them come tramping over the fields,
catch the rough old songs beating in their hearts.
The boy dreamt of a white road,
night was all around but the white road shone;
he walked along it thinking it was death
and everything said – no invention is allowed.
Poetry was buried in the mud and muck of the ditch,
he forgot its sound and wondered if it ever happened;
the black trees bore the names of the all the girls he’d known
and the spaces between the things making sense enlarged.
I would rather walk in the Atlantic light of Penwith,
the tilting perspective painted by Ben Nicholson
spilling us east and west into the slapping sea
as we teeter on Celtic fields, skate on granite hedges.
Day recalls that village to the left of the lane,
a bridge of sorts over the pell-mell stream and its aria.
In Europe now, in our city garden,
bats jinx the trees as the light goes
and we sit and talk and talk;
there you are, bright one in darkness.
I can lay out memories like a dance
the days the girls were born
you standing there in a lit doorway
and we walked into a new world.
The silver flightpaths flash above us,
arrival departure, arrival departure;
at the end of the garden is the unknown
and there’s no talking there;
only chemistry counts, words fail
walking the damp steps underground.
2. Oitgang, provisional.
FROM THE BEDSIDE by love’s hand
the removal of clothes,
the removal of hair,
the removal of thought.
To surrender the beloved
to the care of bright strangers,
to render the body abstract
a creature of biometrics.
There but not, afloat like a baby
held in a net of catheters and lines,
dreaming a sky of sensors
in the constellation of data.
Poor Baby Blue in no space no time
hauled back shed a galaxy of blood.
Shovelled into a trench, worked on.
Vision dissolved in black blotches.
Nine bright strangers fill the room;
the fabric of thought disintegrates,
a cloth of holes stretched and discarded.
Nine bright strangers fill the room.
Voices call then stop and walk away.
What there is of you, next to nothing,
is entirely in the hands of others.
And I hear one voice – Melanie.
‘The path is through perplexing ways, and when
The goal is gained, we die you know – and then?
What then? I do not know, no more do you,
And so good night.’
Two older nurses work the nightshift,
kind and capable, coaxing in their Flemish.
I think they are familiar, universal aunties,
– Oh yah we are from the same village,
– we have our own language
– you have been a good boy, see the numbers.
I heard them singing in the night
on kitchen chairs in the hospital garden,
taking a break and singing.
– Oh no, you wouldn’t want our singing.
Of course there is no garden,
and there is a garden where apophenia blooms.
3. The Near Distance.
NOW THAT I’VE recovered from the time of flat vision
all things do stack up in a way, for instance the clouds
above the moving trees behind the apartments opposite.
The ambition to make depth from the single plane returns,
unconfined by the immediate intricacy of leaf mosaic,
as if seeing hovers above the wet gardens and engulfed houses.
The vision machine runs in the heart of this civilisation
issues revelations, battlefields, boys in mud arranged in choirs
fly over Maastricht to circle the open city of Cologne.
To have regained the pleasure of layered vision unbound,
to have blood flow to those parts of the brain unrestricted,
means learning to see again out of a blank, blind zero.
There are suburban conifers here receding into the near distance,
closer, a silver birch, then a bank of deciduous trees I can’t name,
staged alongside a raised road of a hedge under an open sky.
Light plays variously, turning the pale underside of leaves
as the wind moves everything together and apart,
the windows of seeing open and close in the shadowed transepts.
Conifers, silver birch, a young ash tree inclined, already there,
the full spectrum cast across the fields of Europe, the circuits of history;
risen light exacting every blade of grass, every recalled name.
Listening to Country Music.
IF YOU ARE a big tree I am a small axe sings Orpheus
his lyre cocked – and carved from the tree addressed,
strings of air stretched and tuned to magical numbers,
a question of long division and sweet intervals.
If I’m what? said the tree, panicking the whole forest,
a single wave of sound crashing mountains, valleys, cities.
The ratio of matter anti-matter means something said Orpheus,
1: 10,000,000,000 for instance means the world’s congealed song.
Ughh, the mass of it, gibbering, unformed, the anti-poem;
that’s why I have to chop some life into it, right into the grain.
It’s not easy, you try it, harvesting by acoustics only;
my voice, my juice right into it, notch by notch, note by note.
There’s a single point of light on the mountain,
the air between here and there is a substance, an intoxication.
I know the village, the steep road, the houses rising in terraces;
there’s music there tonight, two sinuous old men singing
throw the economy on the fire – we all know these songs, always have.
We sing up and the year rolls forward against the odds;
by such means springs erupt, the wind drinks pine tree resin
and the sweep of the valley presents a map of itself.
A boy steps forward to dance before his family,
the faltering 9/4 measure jigs the Zeibekiko bones.
Subterranean the music tilts the calderimi to the sea,
disintegrates the squared stones of the village walls,
breaks our contracts rattling bolts in the night
and makes us beasts clamour and dream,
monosyllabic and simple on the chambered ground.
THERE IS ANOTHER version of Orpheus going to hell for Eurydice. In this other version Orpheus must not say Eurydice’s name because this, rather than turning to see if she is following him, will abandon her to that no place of shadows. He must not even shape the sound of her name.
It could be represented like this:
must not speak
walk she follows
must not speak
you rid he see
you you you rid
rid see sea seed
Eurydice Eurydice Eurydice
her hand on my shoulder
its warmth lighter than
and then turning gone
in song set hell spinning.
It could be represented like this:
I know the name I say in darkness.
A Revision of Jack Spicers’s ‘Helen: A Revision‘
Everything is known about Helen but her voice,
setting fires as a history of conflagration in the culture
even over the icy sea echoing in your ear,
even further north over the white shelf of falling.
For history I went to the North Pole Helen,
the magnetic music sought us out, made us naked;
it was nothing like a vision, just orders from above.
For history I went to the North Pole Helen.
Daddy Zeus President was there, squalling and whining;
he feared Helen was on her way,
he feared he did not exist, blah blah blah;
most of us wished that was the case.
His voice is like that because the sky enfolds him:
the sky, contrails, flight paths, satellites – is boss.
They are not signs but items in the big emporium,
and below he drills holes in the fourth wall for immunity.
I won’t do the ghost walk pelted with soft fruit, he said.
On the battlefield with the real dead of the new old world
you can choose to name the smashed up plants and people
but know there’s a simple opera rolling in the grass.
Finally Helen was in transit, her make-up sent on to Egypt.
There are particular insects in the desert, to be kept from the eyes;
Helen’s eyes brighter than bright dehydrated the heart,
no artifact could do this, her presence runs in the nerves.
In your name my love I break off to write to you,
the space between us a matter of low resistance parabasis.
I can imagine you in Egypt, in Troy but not returning,
after much slaughter, to down-home Sparti.
If we harvest black ghosts starvation follows,
seeds of dust smeared on the faces of friends,
dumb and unable to grasp their own interest;
reckless love 754 miles off, from Sparti to Troy.
You must go there to set the poem aside.
They know everything about Helen there.
Kelvin Corcoran lives in Brussels. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including most recently Facing West (2017), Not Much To Say Really (commissioned by Medicine Unboxed, 2017), and Article 50, 2018. The sequence ‘Helen Mania’ was a Poetry Book Society choice and the poem ‘At the Hospital Doors’ was highly commended by the Forward Prize jury 2017. His work is the subject of a study edited by Professor Andy Brown, The Poetry Occurs as Song (2013). He edited a series of interviews he conducted with Lee Harwood, published as Not the Full Story: Six Interviews with Lee Harwood (2008). In addition, his poetry has been commissioned to accompany travelling Arts Council exhibitions of British modernist art. He has collaborated with various musicians and composers both in performance and recording, producing a CD, A Thesis on the Ballad with The Jack Hues Quartet. His work has been anthologised in the UK and the USA and translated into Greek and Portuguese. He is the guest editor of Shearsman magazine.