By PETER RILEY.
A sense that there may well be world
but there is probably no future. Earth’s
moisture sucked into the blue sky,
lost rhymes fallen into dry ditches.
Dream songs of perfect stasis, sung
in corners of the Kalahari, where
nothing more is asked of earth than its
changes. The Refugee, parked somewhere,
listens to the total darkness and knows
future is all there can be, to this entire
blackness what can there be but a slow dawn?
The leaves everywhere are a-twitter
with passionate apprehension, summer
heat in April meaning the world is alive
but argumentative. It rattles. Everything:
tongue, toes, teeth, tins they all rattle
society rattles in joy and dole, the lorry
rattles its way across Belgium, crows, water pipes,
windows, Beethoven, they all rattle and shake.
And all this rattling rattles towards us, getting
quieter and faster as it gets nearer until it seems
to enclose us in a gently trembling mist
which is all we know of current world and people.
What we know : Time sets all things right,
and It is all for everyone such as there is of it
and We do not go, we stop. Listen to the music
in the sky while the inspector
examines the seal on the tailgate.
Unnoticed, another love-locked innocent
slides over the edge as soul by soul and silently
they do into nonentity. The last San Bushman
waiting at a corner of perception, the last expert,
the last inspector, an invisible tear
reaching the right lip, and thinking,
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!”
There is no word. The birds have departed,
the trains come and go. We sit in groups
measuring the starry threshold, in search
“… compatible in Skelton’s conception with
magnificentia, a sub-virtue of Fortitude, a virtue
traditionally held to consist of a measured self-
control through which one could withstand
the temptations of both prosperity and adversity.”
Remembering a childhood passed
in grey streets populated by shades.
A shade sells you vegetables, a shade
brings bottles of milk to your doorstep.
A shade dictates mental arithmetic, a shade
works a sausage machine, a shade drills your teeth.
A shade prays. The light passes through them,
they don’t cast shadows and mirrors don’t reflect them.
A group of shades on the other side of the road
stops and calls me and asks what’s my name, what
am I doing here who look so fresh and substantial
and when shall I be on my way.
Mattress on bare boards in the corner.
One of everything: one spoon, one cup,
one bowl, one plate, one ring,
one toothbrush, three Christmas cards.
No heating. Out of the front door at
eight to meet the blaze of snow, returning
at ten with an electric fire, and a branch
of holly in berry. Centuries of mutual
aid open before us, make and mend,
borrow and beg, far from home.
At the back of Rochdale there are
bowers of inebriate geology where streams
pass between grassed humps among small trees.
You can’t take a car any further, enter a farmyard
and apologetically turn round, careful on the mud.
In these hollows is where they gather
and hand touches upper arm gently,
turning to hum in your ear
fortuna desperata or any other
municipal song-sheet. This is where
the troths are plighted, the deals sealed
that will never be broken, dependent
on a courtesy residual in the structure.
The night is increasingly a door
opening to let the chorus in, the land
unfolding from its borders.
Robin, fill your little lungs,
and blow your meaning over the fields
fortissimo for the new year.
Be clear and precise, a clarion call
across the solar wind, prelude
to the mass response.
A chorus of slaves, a chorus of prisoners,
a chorus of refugees, singing down
country roads into the town.
Outside and otherwise there’s nothing,
nothing left, nowhere to go and nothing to be
except the past. Which comes ready sliced.
It’s all been contracted out and dispersed
taking its memory and its pride with it.
I’m talking about Bamako. I’m talking
about Venice. I’m talking about home.
PETER RILEY, the poetry editor of The Fortnightly Review’s New Series, is a former editor of Collection, and the author of fifteen books of poetry (including The Glacial Stairway [Carcanet, 2011]) – and some of prose. He lives in Yorkshire and is the recipient of a 2012 Cholmondeley Award for poetry. His personal website is here.
Peter Riley’s Collected Poems, containing work from 1962 to 2017, was published in two volumes by Shearsman in 2018, followed by Truth, Justice, and the Companionship of Owls from Longbarrow Press in 2019. An earlier book, Due North, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2015. A collection of his early ‘Poetry Notes’ columns was collected in The Fortnightly Reviews: Poetry Notes 2012-2014, and published in 2015 by Odd Volumes, our imprint. A second volume is in the works. An archive of his Fortnightly columns is here.
“Proof…” is a sequence of 20 poems the first seven of which are in Shearsman Magazine no. 133/4, October 2033, with thanks to Kelvin Corcoran.