Author logo Andrew Moore: Selected Poems

A-Z order of titles

Index of first lines

Comments on the poems

Listen to poems


New Poems - 2003

Contrariness

Tiredness Kills

Mummy's Boy

Another Place

By Your Leave

Electricity

European Union

Special Offer

Alive

Joining the Dots

Give Me Your Hands

No Farther Than Here

Wearing the Favours


Short selection

In a Glass Darkly

The End of Innocence

Perchance to Dream

United States - I

United States - II

The Rest is Silence

Old Flames

Home Truths

Change of Heart

Long Division - I

Long Division - II

Long Division - III

Happy Returns - I

Happy Returns - II

Happy Returns - III

Happy Returns - IV

Happy Returns - V

Happy Returns - VI

Beneath Your Station

The House of Portinari

Contrariness

Tiredness Kills

Mummy's Boy

Another Place

By Your Leave

Electricity

European Union

Special Offer

Alive

Joining the Dots

Give Me Your Hands

No Farther Than Here

Wearing the Favours


Longer selection:
order of writing


In a Glass Darkly

The End of Innocence

When Death's Armadas Stretch Your Grave

The First Moon Landing

Stamford Fair:
Carousel Waltz


Three Sonnets

The Drunken Poet

Sonnet

A Prospect of Hell

Perchance to Dream

United States - I

United States - II

The Rest is Silence

Our Fathers

Old Flames

Duet

Change of Address

Going Home

Lip Service

Home Truths

Change of Heart

Disunited States

Killing Time

Long Division - I

Long Division - II

Long Division - III

Happy Returns - I

Happy Returns - II

Happy Returns - III

Happy Returns - IV

Happy Returns - V

Happy Returns - VI

Fait Accompli

The Elephant Man - I

The Elephant Man - II

The Elephant Man - III

Beneath Your Station

One Flesh

The House of Portinari

Contrariness

Tiredness Kills

Mummy's Boy

Another Place

By Your Leave

Electricity

European Union

Special Offer

Alive

Joining the Dots

Give Me Your Hands

No Farther Than Here

Wearing the Favours


A to Z order of titles

Alive

Another Place

A Prospect of Hell

Beneath Your Station

By Your Leave

Change of Address

Change of Heart

Contrariness

Disunited States

Duet

Electricity

European Union

Fait Accompli

Give Me Your Hands Going Home

Happy Returns - I

Happy Returns - II

Happy Returns - III

Happy Returns - IV

Happy Returns - V

Happy Returns - VI

Home Truths

In a Glass Darkly



Joining the Dots Killing Time

Lip Service

Long Division - I

Long Division - II

Long Division - III

Mummy's Boy

No Farther Than Here

Old Flames

One Flesh

Our Fathers

Perchance to Dream

Prospect of Hell, A

Sonnet

Special Offer

Stamford Fair:
Carousel Waltz


The Drunken Poet

The Elephant Man - I

The Elephant Man - II

The Elephant Man - III

The End of Innocence

The First Moon Landing

The House of Portinari

The Rest is Silence

Three Sonnets

Tiredness Kills

United States - I

United States - II

Wearing the Favours

When Death's Armadas Stretch Your Grave

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Foreword

I wrote the poems on this site between 1973 (my first term at university, when I was 18) and the present day. If I were more diligent and had more to say, the selection would be larger. Most of the poems have appeared in print, and some have attracted kind remarks from sympathetic readers. If they give pleasure to one more person then I have not wasted my time in sending them out into the world.

If you wish to copy any of the poems, or use them for any reasonable educational, artistic or creative purpose, you are welcome to do so. Please acknowledge my copyright. Your comments are also very welcome, as are requests to make use of anything on this site. On this page, the poems appear in chronological order of their writing, the oldest (too old for my comfort) first.

Andrew Moore, November 2000; updated March 2003


Listen to the poems

The poems listed below are available as mp3 files (larger, better quality) or Real Audio files (smaller, less good quality). If you do not mind the sound of my voice, click on the links to open or download the poem you want to hear.


     In a Glass Darkly

     (for Marilyn Monroe)

Shortly before her death, Marilyn was filmed in a scene in which she was supposed to appear naked. The censorship of such scenes in the 1960s made it necessary for her to wear a flesh-coloured swimsuit, to give the illusion of nakedness. When filming was finished, she removed the costume and returned to the pool where the sequence had been shot...

Cut. She at once removes the flesh-hued suit
that simulates her nakedness. The act
is blatant, calculated to refute
the public rôle and show the self intact.

Reflected in the starlit pool she saw,
As in a looking-glass, but less distinct,
the attributes that she was noted for.
They were no longer hers. The greater share
had become public property. She blinked
and looked again: the phantom was still there.

The pale, discarnate figure at her feet,
like the projected image on the screen,
depended on an optical deceit,
retained but two dimensions of her three.
Yet, she observed, how little lay between
the object and the mirrored forgery.

A trick: the two were different, though near.
She knew that, should she touch that counterpart,
its insubstantial form would disappear.
Yet, by her death, the counterfeit alone
would be preserved. She saw she stood apart
from a reflection she had ceased to own.

She turns. The image on the water's face
mimics the lithe taut action of each limb.
At length she walks into the vacant place
that waits for her beyond the dark pool's rim.

November 11, 1973
Published in Isis, Oxford, 1976

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     The End of Innocence

     (for Robert Lowell)

Christ's season settles with its snow of gifts
And tinselled tops of fir trees, sawn away
From the great body's sap. So Joseph lifts,
With the strong gentleness of each coarse hand,
Another's Child, on the ordained eighth day,
To the priest's knife. The Patriarch's command
Obeyed in that sharp act: the blood flows fresh
From the first cutting of the Infant's flesh.

Child, you were not made flesh in any act
Of love and darkness and the body's heat,
But One reduced His self to finite fact,
And bodied it in your taut human life.
For death. A stranger kneels at your small feet
With myrrh, and, see, the circumciser's knife
Draws the first blood. Soon all the blood of God
Will drop, like sweat, from Jesse's broken rod.

Now, as it thickens, dark upon the nails,
Your blood absorbs all darkness. The reprieve -
The last reprieve - is total. Yet it fails
To be the last. For other priests maintain
The sacrifices, and their sharp tools leave
The warm earth petalled with her infant Slain.
And still the words fall from the prophet's hand:
"Hear, hear and hear. But do not understand."

December 11, 1973
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1975

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     When Death's Armadas Stretch Your Grave

     (After Dylan Thomas)

When death's armadas stretch your grave of sleep,
Do not unmake the dreaming sloop
That sails your brain across the navied seas
Until the beaconed eye reveals
The gelded youth behind the veils
Who gilds your lover in her dream of sighs.

When death's young servant comes to claim your heat,
Demand of him his coffinned heart
And nail it to the sky to glut the birds,
But glue his beauty to the winds
Who hymn the silence of his wounds
That he might win the kisses of the bards.

When death's good soldiers steal your buried friends
And a green family of fronds
Is fattened by the men beneath the soil,
Let candled weepings douse your wrath
And pawn your limbs to buy a wreath
Because their bloods had spoken to your soul.

When death requires your love for his long home,
Return the choiring sun to him,
And drown among the cinders of its mirth
His man of myth, his bard of waves.
So shroud his ghosted sleep, who weaves
Warm epitaphs to mock your voided mouth.

January 6, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1975

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     The First Moon Landing

Because of which we waited up to see
the relayed shots; blurred images confined
to the screen's smallness, and the one small pace
transformed into a great leap, which mankind
stamped, like a visa, on the lunar sea.
But no wind stirred the flag that marked the place
where they disturbed that sea's tranquillity.

While science-fiction's dreamers, rapt to see
the type of all their visions realized,
could not detach their dream from the event,
the preludes had left most quite unsurprised
by the first footprint in the dusty sea,
who could but counter disillusionment
with the slight thought that this was history.

Some noble words. Well, no doubt we would see
our hero frame his instant platitude
to fire each fresh incursion into space,
though, as the vaunting gesture is renewed,
the great leap printed on that windless sea,
unnoticed, shrinks to one small human pace.
It will not stir the stars' tranquillity.

January 10, 1974/March 19, 1974

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     Stamford Fair: Carousel Waltz

     (for Sally B.)

What he will keep of you he cannot guess,
I know, so draw him to you
close, close your eyes: the act annihilates
the tapestry of artificial light
dancing above this stream that recreates
those patterns with an easy sleight of hand
as colour, sound and feeling coalesce,
and harmonize the fragments of the night -
a fleeting synæsthesia of sense
to hymn the fairground's jaded innocence.
You sift the details and discard
the standard trite attractions of the fair
as vulgar emblems memory can spare.
A chance string of impressions is retained:
the softness of your breast against his breast;
the tipsy, whirling car; your features stained
with melted light; the few blond strands of hair
across your lips. Touch bids him disregard
your whispers, which can only half convey
thoughts that are far more honestly expressed
in silence: smiles and gestures well betray
what language cannot find the nerve to say.
And Time shares your amusement: he stands grinning
by stalls and rides and sideshows, where
he tells wise children why this bright display
needs a new coat of magic. And, aware,
too well aware, how this affair will fare,
he sees your passion's end in its beginning.

March 31, 1974; revised April, 1976
Published (first version) in The Windless Orchard, 1974

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     Three Sonnets

          I

In a dark wood of whispered incantation
he chanced upon the highway to the Grail
and there assumed the duties of his station
before his courage had the time to fail.

He was prepared. Like any true knight-errant,
ready to toy with fate to prove his worth,
he found the weakness of each fresh deterrent
and left such creatures bleeding on the earth.

Meeting the usual crone deep in the wood,
he erred. Afraid his motives were unsound,
he asked for the protection of her charms.

Reaching his goal, he stepped inside and found,
where the expected chalice should have stood,
a red-haired girl who took him in her arms.

April 5, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1974

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          II

Out of his chosen elements of pleasure
he shaped her as a focus of pretence
and set her insubstantial hands to measure
the soft dimensions of his innocence.

He made her chaste. His body's transformation
soon altered his reaction to the fact,
though he maintained the chaste association,
desiring that her love should stay intact.

At length, however, he capitulated.
Yet he was disappointed to discover
the girl in whom he sought it could not match
the fey perfection of the abstract lover
he had created, who could see the catch

but stayed to do what loyalty dictated.

April 5, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1974

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          III

Through his Romantic pretext of a vision
the venture, like a young girl's laughter, beckoned.
He turned upon his axes of decision
towards a task with which he had not reckoned.

Seeing his body as a riddle where
the tactics of the conflict were defined,
and knowing It was vain to fight thin air,
he launched the first attack upon his mind.

At last he saw why his defeat was fixed:
the whole adventure was a tasteless jest
of art. The prize he laboured for consisted
purely in thought, which now dissolved and mixed
with every lie he sought to have resisted.

Being no hero, he resigned the quest.

April, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1974

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     The Drunken Poet

     (for Dylan Thomas)

Mourning his broken sire who gently went
into the shrouding goodness of the night,
he clung to what he held was innocent
and to those themes that others spurned as trite.

He had unlearned it once, but now he taught
the syntax of the stories lads commend,
and with the pigments of capricious thought
covered the canvas where his boasts were penned.

indulging all the whims of words which hide
in dark associations of the mind,
he found a rhetoric which verified
the grammar where his passion was defined.

and stuffed his heart with all his sleep could see.
So while he taught his dreams to disregard
the body's fall, the body learned to be
the murderer who drank to slay the bard.
Who woke to find his words had been set free
In a bright garden where no dreams were barred.

April 12, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1975
Revised May, 1997

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     Sonnet

Seeking some high alternative to Sense,
he matched his love of her against desire,
while love provided him with a defence
against those passions she could not admire,

and as the faculties of sense and Art
discovered all his favourite graces fused
in her, she saw her virtue could impart
new innocence to thoughts he had abused.

When all his native vices had been tamed,
he saw how they had lied: such love was not
as transient as its opponents claimed,
and when his words were dust, her children would
find other ways of reasserting what
is never new, but always understood.

December, 1974
Published in Pelican, Oxford, 1975

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     A Prospect of Hell

A little learning: he would speculate
what happens when the organism dies... -
But meanwhile how was he to regulate
dark thoughts he could but dimly recognise,

and, tell me, would he learn the steps too late,
and see the dance recede, find out what lies
beyond the curtains of the brain's long sleep
is somewhere he has lost the chance to keep,

embracing introspection, say no grace
could ease those thoughts in which he could descry
what paths would lead him to his proper place,
through dreams and convolutions to this centre
where he was lord, his thesis, I am I,
pure as this dream that I alone can enter?

1976

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     Perchance to Dream

The child sat in his bedroom
while night undressed the sky
and opened up the window
through which his dreams would fly.

The stories in his paintbox
sailed on and out of sight.
He took the moon to pieces
and bade the stars goodnight.

The sedative nightwatchman
crept clockwise through his pulse,
chasing the naughty ghosts off.
But he was somewhere else.

The tipsy blobs of colour
diffused, then recombined.
He found a sheet of paper
where they might be defined.

His thought, turned inside out now,
strode through itself, agape,
watching the transposition
of syntax into shape.

Here, in this gentle country,
no thought was contraband,
but music fused with grammar,
and pictures held his hand.

And in each patient landscape,
where speech refused to slur
the vowels his heart was hiding,
he was inventing her:

lost in the mind's penumbra,
and shy to be expressed
in syllables too prudish
to see themselves undressed,

she waited. As he saw her,
his words began to spin,
and tricks his toys had taught him
to shield his sleep from sin

came back in strange declensions,
a lazy paradigm
of some forgotten language
where love grew out of time.

She stepped - a perfect stranger,
perfect, yet not so strange -
from myths of many colours
where time had frozen change.

The light was growing soft now -
sepia monochrome:
an open family-album
welcomed its father home.

The dream dissolved in moonlight.
The child sat up in bed,
and asked his dumbstruck mirror
where all the years had fled,

while features of adulthood,
staled by their sense of sin,
stared back at him in wonder,
masking the child within.

And out of force of habit
he closed his eyes to hide
his fears from the warm person
unconscious at his side.

His arms were safe about her
whose words his heart would keep.
He turned them into windows,
then smiled and fell asleep.

1977/1980
Published in Proof: Anthology 2, 1980

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     United States

           I

The taste of salt on summer nights,
sharp on the tongue as you perspire,
while skin is moistened by a kiss,
and quickened with a human smell,
consonant, almost, with desire,
essential to the tactile rites
of love, a deft catalysis,
sensation matches body's swell,
your love, transposed to carnal act,
dependent on the power of touch,
as muscle murmurs mental fact,
announces passion, passion such
as is the common lot of most,
special to each, delight to all,
special to you, as pulses coast
towards one end, warm lips recall
attention to the long embrace,
quivering as two beings race
to one explosion both will share,
exultant, think your souls laid bare,
happy to breathe the common air,
wrenched by one spasm, you subside,
unconscious soon, see sleep divide,
a little space, until the sun
asks again if your flesh is one.

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          II

Relaxing in love's afterglow,
your senses grow as light as air,
stunned by a sleep he cannot share:
your world dissolves to let you go.

Waving goodbye, bequeath to him
the body you no longer need,
till muted consciousness recede
beyond the present moment's rim.

His faculties, engaged to gauge
what details memory has fixed,
thumb back the hours until the text
falls open at the favourite page:

beginning where tongue touches tongue,
and gentle hands, whose action serves
as catalyst to vibrant nerves,
steady the landscape where you cling

together. Toy with sense of touch,
and take your time, for there is time.
Elaborate the breathless mime:
the stage seems boundless where you clutch,

and join at last, till senses brim
beyond control, and muscles lock
on muscle, and contraction shock
the shiver of response from him -

subsiding now, that he might clasp
closer the one he holds most dear.
There is a small perfection here:
his goal has drawn within his grasp.

And if the heaven you pretend
recede with every step you take
to its horizon, you can make
a love you know will reach its end:

a little dream within your scope,
a centrifuge where sense is whirled,
to turn the centre of your world
into a cradle for your hope.

1980
Published in Poetry Monthly, 1998, 1999

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     The Rest is Silence

This night would not lie still. I could not sleep
either, but watched it open, like a book
of touched-up photographs, where I must look
on every blessing I had failed to keep.

Hunched-up beside me, sticky to the touch,
sweating in some blind nightmare, you fought back
a different fear, where one day you would lack
sufficient straws at which at last to clutch.

I saw, for once, the dark side of existence:
that two could lie so close, so near at hand,
yet trapped in separate selves, compelled to stand
apart. Watching you drift into the distance,

beyond my desperate reach, I could not say
what fears assailed you. In this web of space,
where only one can occupy one place,
I longed to close my mind to keep at bay

the fear that numbs sweet nothings we profess:
we clutch and cling, too timid to be shown
the truth that each of us must walk alone
paths of cross purposes, as love learns less.
In a daft world where none is surely known,
certain of nothing, we may only guess.

1980
Published in Proof, 1980

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      Our Fathers

Childhood, of course, was fun, but above all
it was secure: all harm was held at bay
by men and women who could stand as tall
as any wraith that menaced us at play.

So danger, relegated to our talk,
stalked us through long grass, where our guns were trained
on unseen enemies, or dared to walk
forbidden paths our heroes' blood had stained.

But always at our backs home held the fort,
as safe as houses, undeterred by time
that touched us gently then: no need to start
too soon the terror of the upward climb.

And, when we took to cover, drenched or chilled
by captious elements we could not call
to heel, our elders took the time to build
warm places where no rain could ever fall.

Always they stood above us: though they trod
the ground we trod, we knew we could have faith
in these high beings who conversed with God
and spirits who swapped sixpences for teeth.

Funny, the things that we could swallow then -
to some of which, no doubt, we still assent,
though we have seen our fathers shrink to men,
frail as the hopes in which their lives were spent.

They taught us how to walk; but now, bereft
of their support, we stand on our own feet,
and see that there are no small corners left
into which frightened conscience can retreat.

Life contradicts at every turn the choices
the will makes as it vacillates between
self and the clamour of conflicting voices:

Father, lend me an arm on which to lean.

August 4, 1980

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     Old Flames

Silly, the way the past distils
such sense of loss: only a fool
would think the powers could be withstood
which slowly rub the detail out -
perspectives shift and passions cool,
drift out of view to darkness where
familiar forms are drawn by doubt
from focus, and exhausted wills
give up their ghosts: all gone for good
in the accommodating air.

And where are all those others now
to whom I drew so close? To think
the pledges conjured from the touch
of honest words were in the end
a merely circumstantial link
with all the dead-ends of a past
better forgotten. Best pretend
we have, indeed, forgotten how
we loved, lest we unearth too much:
none of those things was bound to last.

So many friends to love, to lose:
a world that will not be controlled,
where paths divide - to cross again
sometimes, but most to part for good.
And love we made, but could not hold
beyond the interval which spanned
the ignorance by which it stood,
a moment stood and saw us choose
to halve the measure of a pain
neither, alone, deserved to stand.

August 5, 1980
Published in Poetry Monthly, 2000

Listen to this poem as an mp3 file.
Listen to this poem as a Real Audio file.

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     Duet

Back from the Long Vacation; eager, eager
to push our boundless luck, and set alight
an unsuspecting city with the vigour
of summers where the blood stood at its height,
more bashful than we knew, and far more tender
than anyone could tell, we watched with wonder
what mellow dramas passion would excite
from fancies where the veins of love grew tight,
scanning the faces lost in smoky bars
and consequences hanging in the stars.
On to another place, and caught off guard
by sudden beauty, moment almost marred.
Recover poise. Relax. You may begin.

I watched the idle waves of conversation
drift over me, before I ventured in,
made contact, hid my idiot elation
somehow beneath my suffocating skin,
passed you a drink and watched our fingers meet:
a delicate and fugitive sensation,
a shiver which I cannot now recall
with any certainty, a gentle heat
warming the flesh, awaiting its first fall.

Dimmed by the hazy years, I see you stand
in the soft focus of love's hinterland,
following me with your deliberate tread
through each uncensored scene in which I fed
my dreams with your dear image. In a trance,
I watched you whirling with me through the dance,
as still your figure whirls, lost now in smoke,
through the good world where love at first awoke.

1980

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     Change of Address

     (an elegy for Elvis)

This was a lucky break. Now you can quit,
switch off your microphone, and leave the stage
where your spent heart has forced you to admit
that it is time you learned to act your age,

renounce this nation which appointed you
to be the voice of every feeble mind,
and ressurect the little residue
of self your greedy public left behind.

The things that marked you out were not so rare:
no favours from some overwhelming fate
lent substance to the condescending air
your trite refrains contrived to propagate,

mouthing the clichés, every song the same,
idiot syllables you had to croon
through all the poses proper to your fame -
always, of course, to someone else's tune;

a partly human life, where some attendant
would vouch for your beatitudes, and talk
conviction to the fools who grew dependent
on fairytales through which they watched you walk.

One thing, though, puzzles me: that I was stunned
to learn that you were dead. Whose propaganda
framed (with a force a child could comprehend)
the lies to which your pride presumed to pander?

Perhaps it was that you were always there -
our distant relative, or an old friend,
of whom we are at all times half-aware,
despite what ignorance we may pretend.

The footlights fade now, and the safety-curtain
is falling, as you climb back in your truck:
let life, of which you always seemed so certain,
take to the highways of your boundless luck.

Far from the tearful crowds, a fat old man
sees the unwelcome evidence of age
dim in the mirror where success began
to sing that all the world could be his stage.

1980

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     Going Home

     (For Eleni, killed in a car crash in Cyprus)

Four years ago, a vacant evening - planned
for someone else - was half-rewritten, and
pressed with a gambler's grace into your hand:

Lightly you step aboard the boat. Behind
the bank recedes, discarded, as you find -
drawn by each gentle current of your mind -

a fluid world where you can be at ease.
The punt slides down the river, while the trees
take turns to entertain the tipsy breeze.

You watch his lift, an easy measured grace,
the water's drowsy clapping keeping pace,
as the dull fire of sunset lights his face.

An islet where the stream divides, to shake
a sudden downpour from the sky. You take
cover, where condescending branches make

this shelter, right on cue, to set in action
the necessary movement of attraction
as time slows to the measure of perfection,

disturbed at length by speech, as you exchange
words from two private worlds which grow less strange
as each is drawn within the other's range.

Talk of your homeland, where blue harbours burn
with memories of myth, and whispers borne
on sunstruck winds command you to return.

Sifting the dusky detail, you redeem
a past almost reflected, as the stream
flows backward to the far shore of the dream

where you sail home, the substance of intention
clutching at sand, while every strained dimension
strives to subdue the pulse of apprehension.

The island of your birth stands still, delighted,
beyond the homesick void time has created,
calls to the love with which your heart is freighted.

The rain relents, and it is time to start
for home, while daydreams of a different sort
describe the boundary where you must part.

The years drift forward, and your paths divide,
restore you to your native countryside:
the safe land where your hope has longed to hide.

Happy at last. The landscape of your birth
welcomes you home, as wanderer in myth,
overwhelmed by exuberance of mirth.

The road slips out of focus now, and needs
your help to see the scene to which it leads
arrest you, at the end of all your roads.

See the accommodating highway bending
from view, and life, so easy-going, finding
the full stop of the moment of its ending.

A sudden shock. You hold your breath, and change
the set, as stunned sensations rearrange
the detail of the dream beyond life's fringe.

The pain has passed. You wake in a bright land
where you trace myths upon the sunburnt sand,
reclining in the warmth of God's strong hand,

and sink back into silence, into sleep,
while distant thoughts you thought departed creep
back into place; a homeland you can keep.

1980

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     Lip Service

Of course, one always hoped to find
Some counterpoint for love in speech,
as if the tongue could comprehend
that beauty just beyond its reach,
but language never seemed to match
the impulse that could override
all others, as one's grip on things
relaxed before one learned to touch
impossibly the further side
of one's most dear imaginings.

The catch was, one could never know
whether love did, indeed, transcend
the logic that so longed to show
such claims were just a big pretend:
one could not read another's mind,
know what was meant by love professed,
or gauge the character of this,
the bit which could not be declined
in tenses of self-interest,
concupiscence or avarice.

Doubtless one found a working mean,
a sticking-point where common sense
could find the nerve to stand between
the easy answers fools dispense
and logic loaded to distort
all it surveys, and find it base.
Though half the time one missed the mark,
content, as ever, to resort
to any handy commonplace
that kept one's conscience in the dark.

September 5, 1980
Revised 1990

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     Home Truths

Jarred into life at four o'clock,
one heard the unremitting wind
raking the roofs, to shake, to shock
the homes where human hope is pinned
to the firm character of brick
and all the half-truths that withstand
the probings of abrasive air,
feeling for fissures in those walls
wherein we think our lives lie safe
from such disclosure, laying bare
all the philosophies of fools
who hope to buy some hold on life
.

And still the deaf destructive force
plays on the same familiar fears,
cold as our future, to disperse
the rubbish the conniving years
have shored, in their haphazard course,
against one certainty that nears
all of us at all times, but pushed
instinctively towards the edge
of the small honesty we brave.
Pausing for breath, and then unhushed
again, the wind starts up, to lodge
drifts of dry leaves on someone's grave.

Autumn, 1980
Published in Proof, 1982

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     Change of Heart

I thought of you as you are now, and thought
of how you seemed when I was not so quick
to catch malicious fortune in the act
of placing love, the old banana skin,
smack in my path: another sucker caught
by sleight of nothing very much - no slick
invoking of some overwhelming fact
to force the fool's infatuation in.

Well, having had my share of hurt rammed home,
mouthing you live and learn and all that crap,
has helped the heart grow up, to set its store
on safe bets only: no disasters drop
now - from the doubts where disappointments loom -
in loads of self-indulgence in love's lap.
No more surprises: now it knows the score
The heart's adventures end at this full stop.

1981
Published in Proof, 1982

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     Disunited States

Warm as the air within the room
and stirring softly in your sleep,
you lie so close that he must keep
silence awhile, until you slip
beyond the vigour of his heat,
far from the narrow-minded world
in which your waking will is walled,
and from those pleasures which presume
to scatter plenty at your feet.

Seeing you lie thus separate,
he feels again the lonely ache,
the sense that, though you undertake
the duties of the love you make,
its comfort passes with the heat
it draws from you until you part -
the manner of exchange too short
and wordless to authenticate
the doubtful place in which you meet.

And you are drifting out of reach
on the ebb-tide of circumstance,
more distant, as each day's advance
asserts the fatal common-sense
that love spawned in sensation's heat
must be renounced as lives diverge:
let the beloved features merge
to darkness in the dark, that each
may leave the other's life complete.

1981

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     Killing Time

As Time, taking the time we thought to keep,
consigns our vigour to its slow decay -
a little loss of powers from day to day -
we wait the drawing near of our long sleep.

From the calm seas of life's complacent sailing
fear rises, like some half-suspected reef
disclosed by the slow ebbing of belief,
raking the rotting hull of faith, revealing

the perished fabric of our flimsy craft,
and our despair (or folly), who embark
in search of heaven, whistling in the dark
against the whims of circumstance which shift

fugitive life or stop it in its tracks.
Meanwhile we seek some binding guarantee
from God (whom we alone profess to see,
though clouds of incense cannot close the cracks

opening now in our unbending creeds)
for every heaven of our own persuasion,
and myths that pander to our old evasion
of truth that does not meet our home-made needs.

And so we cleave together in the heat
of our one flesh, finding, awhile, in this -
the reciprocity of touch or kiss -
a means for something of two selves to meet;

for conjugation may at least bespeak
some small perfection: heart conjoined with heart,
a local palliative, to ease our hurt
who cannot know the proper heaven we seek.

1984/85

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     Long Division

          I

It must not matter that we lie apart,
constrained by riving circumstance to quit
the common ground where once we could admit
the wordless intercourse of heart and heart.

Where love persists, we have no need to pay
lip-service to coincidence of place;
the fatuous continuum of space
and time is but a trick the senses play.

Though every happiness at length must pass,
memory holds its image, and the sense
of love retained becomes our best defence
against time's idiot destructive force

and gives the lie to space, as we assert -
though distance seem not easy to defy -
there is no separation where we lie:
it must not matter that we lie apart.

          II

I cannot know, at this remove,
how far you are from waking, yet
I probe the vacant air to catch
the dear imagined sibilance
of your respiring, and retrieve
your spent moist breath, who lie beset
by nothing but the glad defence
established in my keeping watch.

           III

Though you lie in a place I do not know,
I know the stillness that attends your sleeping;
though danger stalk your dreams, you do not go
beyond the careful limit of my keeping.

Though you withhold the word that I would hear,
I hear the murmur of your soft exhaling,
beyond the bounds of the confining air
into the darkness where the clouds are sailing.

Though I be far from your familiar sight,
the thoughts I have received at your bequeathing
span the small space between us, till the night
move with the measure of your muted breathing.

September/October, 1984 and September, 1990

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     Happy Returns

           I

In the dead place, where he had least
foreseen her advent, she returned,
still honouring the human flesh
which he had feared forever lost
from his stunned sight, though half-discerned
in every unacknowledged wish
of unofficial love, which blazed
with candour now as she drew near.

And in the stirrings of a heart
which he had thought anaesthetized,
he learned again to speak, as if
the reaffirming of belief
proclaimed the end to the austere
and bitter silence of his art.

September - December, 1990

          II

Catching my breath as love returned,
wholly improbably, I sought
some declaration which defined
the special pleading of the heart,

but found how each ambitious phrase,
eager to speak your excellence,
confined my passion for your praise
in the strait limits of its sense.

No words (it is a platitude,
I know) can tell the sense in which
the niceties of love elude
our imprecisions, though these reach

across deaf space, to where you breathe
softly, still sleeping, as my thought
steals through your dreams, whose breath can soothe
the sickness which my heart has caught.

October, 1990

          III

Puzzled, because I heard a trace
of something hiding in your speech -
which I knew well, yet could not place -
I asked; and was surprised to learn
what I had failed to see: how close
we once had been, upon a time
now lost to both, and one to which
tenacious thoughts still try to turn
from time to time. Yet, all the same,
I could find comfort in your voice.

To hear you seemed like coming home.

October, 1990

          IV

Not until we had parted, could
I see how love transfigures all
the pallor of experience,
irradiating certitude
in a corona of delight
dappled with danger - an intense
and dazzling world, where I could call
each clearly-recollected word
uttered by you, in evidence
of my unspoken care, and prove
whether to conjure you might quell
the heart's unease, and palliate
the ache of absence, which has spurred
these syllables to celebrate
the proper object of my love.

October, 1990
Rewritten 31.12.1990

           V

Here it has rained all day, but where you lie
the snow lies, too, anaesthetizing all
beneath it, as my thoughts, unnoticed, fall
like shooting stars across your frozen sky.

No traffic moves between us, but you draw
my heart across the separating air,
cold as the numb acquaintance we must share
until indifference consent to thaw.

December 8 - 15, 1990

           VI

Of all the clues that congregate
in the small compass of your self
I know so little. Yet I know
that you are sleeping now, replete
with dreams in which the heart is safe
to let the reins of worry go.

Unperturbed by my vigilance,
and held in my unheeded care,
you drift through dreams you cannot keep,
immersed in their impermanence,
while waves of the adoring air
break on your beauty as you sleep.

October, 1990

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     Fait Accompli

There is a watershed in chance
which marks the moment where we lose
the little choice we yet believe
stays in our keeping, as we press
the promissory notes of love
on one whom we affect to choose,
and drive out doubt with the pretence
of constancy which we profess.

Without your knowledge or consent,
the moment - and volition - passed,
before I saw how it would change
the symmetry of all I knew,
how love's perceptions would derange
all sane proportion, and invest
the landscape with that lost content
which I have found again in you.

November, 1990

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     The Elephant Man

          I

There was a crash. I woke to noise
and pain and my own stink, the stunned
attention of the prurient,
and saw no pity in their gaze,
whose vulgar fascination fanned
the furnace of my discontent.

What sin was mine? Unknown to me,
it must be great, to draw such shame
on my uncomprehending head.
Only a devil's energy,
divinely urged, could so deform
the human handiwork of God.

          II

My interest was professional. His case
was opportune. In principle akin
to other cases, its severity
however, was, I saw, sensational:
the twisted spine, the withered arm, the gross
distended cranium, the folds of skin -
an exhibition of deformity
in one man, which would fill my lecture-hall.

I felt, at first, no impropriety
in placing his affliction on display.
I saw no person but a specimen
to be exhibited while it might live.
It seemed improbable that there should be
spirit or reason there. Yet, with each day,
through his pained syllables, I heard the man
tell how he, too, could think and feel and love.

          III

Naked I came into the world
and grew up naked, too. But now
I have the words with which to speak
my comfort: I am warm and walled
with care. I eat, I sleep, and know
nothing will alter when I wake.

Nothing will alter. I am still
misshapen in my outward form.
Though wise, the surgeons cannot heal
my wasting flesh, until I steal
to where I will take new life from
a healer who can make me whole.

January 1, 1991
Published in New Hope International: Poetry Forum #2

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     Beneath Your Station

Leaving this town, the end of the wild time,
perhaps, in which we lived and tried to meet,
I tidy up the details, and recall
banks on which bluebells grow (but no wild thyme)
and primroses (not very primly) sprawl.
I spot the train which disappears, stage right;
I will not see it, or those flowers, again,
but clutch at daft analogy: this train
must run on lines I cannot read between.
It does not travel hopefully, and yet
I have no ground for doubting that it will
most certainly arrive. My single seat
(I have a solitary case, to fill
its fellow for the want of company)
is forward-facing. I pretend to see
where I am headed. And the distance grows,
and yet lends no enchantment to my view,
nor certitude, nor wisdom, nor perspective,
in which to keep things, as one ought to do,
becoming, as the years pile up, reflective,
on what life goes to show, and where it goes
to show it, and to whom.

                                  So I arrange
my bags and life and leave my seat. All change.

April, 1993/August, 1994
Published in Poetry Monthly, September, 1999.

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     One Flesh

How did we waste the years before our meeting
or was there never really such a time?
I walked through a familiar door and came
into a sunlit space where you were waiting.

There was no time to lose: you had been hurt
more than I knew. I offered what I had:
the lightness of a promise. Which you heard
above the hesitation in your heart.

I will not flatter you with false distinction:
there is a better praise that stays unspoken
when language fails, as now, or sense is shaken
by the mute body language of conjunction.

In the lost time that only dreams refresh
You took me, once: for better or for worse.
For better, mostly, as our days disperse
and whisper to us we are still one flesh.

August 7, 1997

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     The House of Portinari

"I say that when she (Beatrice) appeared from any direction, then, in the hope of her wondrous salutation, there was no enemy left to me; rather there smote into me a flame of charity, which made me forgive every person who had ever injured me; and if at that moment anybody had put a question to me about anything whatsoever, my answer would have been simply 'Love', with a countenance clothed in humility."

Dante: La Vita Nuova (The New Life)

When I was eight, my daddy gave
a May Day party. I put on
my red dress. Other children came.
And all the boys were silly. One
was looking at me all the time,
and blushing. I ignored him. When
the servants came to take him home,
he stammered as he took his leave.

One of my friends was married, and
I did not wait too long before
my daddy made a match for me -
a banker. Mother told me that
my duty is to please him. He
is kind to me. We understand
each other well. I can go out
into the town. The other boy,
who blushed, spoke to me one time, but
it was not proper to say more
than recognize his courtesy.
My salutation pleased him, for
he bit his lip to curb his smile,
and I smiled, too. And that was all
our speech. He bowed and left. I try
not to think of him now. They say
he is a writer.

          Soon I mean
to sit and have my likeness made
in paint. In time to come I shall
look and remember how I was -
now I am pretty. I have seen
that people die, that beauty goes
when children come. It makes me sad
sometimes. The painted colours fade
so slowly, that I cannot see
them change, but our old pictures have
gone cracked and dull and grey and brown
like evening. Sunlight rubs away
the details as it picks them out.
It gives and takes. Our life is short
here, as in any other town.
My husband will be pleased to pay
the artist: when I go away
to God, my Father, late or soon
there will be something which will stay.
I would not leave the world unknown
as others have, when life is done.
I must be ready for that day
when it will be my turn to leave
this house, and know at last the love
that lights the stars and fires the sun.

August, 1997/May, 1999

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     Contrariness

The first time that I saw her I was ten
standing in shadow on the platform where
the eastbound train arrived, while over there
she waited for her westward-running train.

She stood in sunlight, in a yellow dress
and hat. I watched as the submissive sun
shone on her now. A signal tripped. A hiss
of brakes. Our train pulled in, and we were gone

A happy family, leaving at the end
of a long golden summer holiday
for a last week of pleasure, that would mend,
for now, the loss I felt, saying goodbye

to this bright girl to whom I never spoke,
whose name I never knew, who left a scar
that closed in time but did not heal - I took
this wounding for a sign of how things were

Sometimes one hoped the chance was there, not taken
because we did not dare to speak the name
of words that missed their cue, and then, unspoken,
dissolved into the doubts from which they came.

Later, there would be speech and something shared,
though still there would be endings, like the close
of childhood summers, once, as we explored
the acts that lead to where you have to choose.

You risk one choice, and do your best to keep
some of the promises you make. Till time
stops sending the reminders, and you hope
that this is right: we marry, make a home -

and numb our disappointments in reflection
upon the truth that life at length has taught:
we did not miss our chance; the train we caught
was always meant to stop at this connection.

January 19th, 2003

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Two poems for my mother

Evelyn Edith Moore, 1919-2002.

     Tiredness Kills

Tiredness Kills, the sign said, as I drove,
to see you for the last time, going back
to what had once been home - you were not there.
Later I sat and touched your hand and hair
and tried at least to cry. The hand was cold,
soft but unmoving. You were somewhere else -
no need for me to stay since you had gone
away. No illness. You were very tired,
you told me when you rang, you thought you were
ready to go. We spoke for a last time
(I did not know it then). You wrote a card,
telling me all was well. You went to sleep
and woke up somewhere else. They flew this home -
a body - to be burned, while we agreed
to let you go, who had already gone
without permission, wilful, it appeared,
as ever. You would not come back to us.

Tiredness Kills, the sign said, Take a Break.
I saw it, leaving you, for what would now
have to be home. Behind me was a house,
yours once, without an owner. Not a home
just rooms that once meant something. Take a break?
You'd taken it for good. You'd done your time -
still helping out with what you had to give,
money or shelter, words and food and love,
and memories of all you hoped to keep
for those who would come after. Time to take
the rest that you had earned, unbroken sleep.

So, this is independence of a sort.
And now I have to be grown up and start
to keep the home for those who have the wit
to be the children now, or luck or what
it takes. I do not feel too tired just yet,
but half of life or more (who knows?) has gone.
We never pay our elders, so our debt
is to the common wealth - we take our turn
and wait to see what happens, as we earn
the grace to know when it is time to leave
these habits of reciprocated love.

January 2003

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     Mummy's Boy

Forgive me, please. Of course I meant to come
and see you more. I thought of it. But stuff
Got in the way. I reckoned there'd be time
later - not yet - there was too much to do,
the common daily pettiness of life.
And now I know that there is time enough
to see the point of what I did not know.

I think of you. I think I ought to phone
to talk to you and tell you how I feel
about your leaving us. You went too soon.
Silly, the way our actions do not die
With those for whom we made them. You have gone
Beyond my reach, but still I want to call
and speak or find another way to fill
the empty silence where we say goodbye.

January 2003

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     Another Place

     (for Rosalind)

     "There's no clock in the forest..."
     As You Like It, Act III, scene ii.

Another Place | By Your Leave | Electricity | European Union
Special Offer | Alive | Joining the Dots

     Another Place

Don't be afraid. This country is not vast.
We take wrong turnings but they soon run out
or bring us back to where we started from.
You are in the right place. You are not lost.
There is a short cut or a scenic route
to anywhere you need to go, and time
to learn the landmarks. Think of it as home.

We have all that we need here. There are trees
and paths that lead to prospects of the sea
and other things. Relax now. Be at ease.
No more alarm. The natives are benign.
They shun the open ground and choose to stay
in the concealing camouflage of green.
Someone is watching. You are not alone.

Time is irrelevant as age. You may
stop either of them now or turn them back
and make new calendars where we can read
the passing of the days that measure joy
and possibility. There is no clock
but there can be true lovers in this wood,
treading new paths. Not knowing where they lead.

April, 2003

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     By Your Leave

I'm sure of some things now, but maybe not
the pronouns. Mine I know, but do not dare
utter what we or you might be or are.
So this is yours to edit. Change the text.
Or leave it. Or delete it. And then hit
the enter key, and see what happens next...

And what of tenses? Are they only past
and perfect or imperfect as you choose.
Open the present. Now. Be gentle lest
the future prove subjunctive to your will
that changes moods with Can and May and Shall.
A wish is a command. I wish to please.

In time there will be time to conjugate
the verbs that now wait silent on the lips
of speech. The thought begets the words that wait
for you to turn them on, that they perhaps
will find some happy purpose they can serve.
If I speak more, I do it by your leave.

March 8th, 2003

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     Electricity

We shared the storm. We let it come to us.
Sparks in the sky. A pause. Far off, the weight
of thunder. We came out to catch our bus
for a short journey through the sudden rain.
We stepped out into darkness and we ran
into the foyer, where you said good night
for the first time. I went back to my room
and closed the door. The curtains were not drawn.
I turned the light off, as the flashes came
falling like judgement on the dazzled town.
And in another room you did the same

We are in separate rooms. Your foggy weather
is not the same as my warm air. A knock
tells me that you are at your desk. We sit
a thousand miles away from one another
like foreigners, connected by a stream
of ones and zeroes. I select your name
and type the truths that travel as I click.
You have my words now. You have me. I wait.
You send your answer and I have you back

March 11th, 2003

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     European Union

You came with me. It was not far to walk.
A fence stood in our way, we doubled back
to where we went obliquely through a park
with birds and trees and water. And we came
into a road which once upon a time
had marked where this state stopped and that began.
A plate glass window showed what might have been
the place where guards would scrutinize each face.
They were long gone, the checkpoint someone's house,
as far as we could tell. We had arrived
somewhere and turned to walk back through the trees
which you would tell me later that you loved.

Crossing an open border, we had moved
into another state. And back again.
We spoke some more. I did not look ahead.
with any expectation. Now we stood
on common ground, neutral, not yours or mine.
The moment was enough. It has not gone.

March 15th, 2003

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     Special Offer

I am not running off to sea or joining
the Foreign Legion, though perhaps I might.
I am not howling at the moon or pining
for lost horizons where we did not meet.

This is a simple statement of intent,
not taking holy orders. All of that
belongs to someone else, but this does not:
yours on approval, take it when you want.

There are and will be meanings we can share
amid the niceties of Mine and Yours
and promissory notes that ought to bear
the plain sense that their outward shape declares.

I wish for much but I can live on less.
What you can spare is more than I require.
The maps are missing something. I am here
and you are here as well. We know our place.

March 26th, 2003

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     Alive

Pain is a proof that we are still alive.
If I felt nothing then I would not love.
You call me and I answer. Then you go.
We do not speak awhile and I feel doubt.
But distance does not separate: I know
its length, but trust that things can still fall out,
impossibly, as they have done so far.
We see what happens and we are still here.

And parting cannot cause us any harm.
We let each other go, and we affirm
our trust that the cartography of chance
will help us find our way. We take our leave,
exchanging unseen favours, and advance
our long negotiation with a wave.
And later, flying home, on buoyant air,
I think of an embrace, a strand of hair

that fell across your face, and episodes
of courtesy enacted in our words -
echoes of things that cannot now be lost.
That strand is fine as silk but will not break.
I brushed it back once; now it holds me fast.
I smile at the conceit, and do not speak
but let it travel at the speed of thought
towards another place where we may meet.

You live in flesh and blood. You are alive.
And if you could not bleed, you could not love.
There must be veins and sinews to connect
the soft stuff of ideas and give some shape
to sentiment, volitions that enact
the choices that you make, and measure hope.
Things can make sense as they have done so far.
We see what happens and we are still here.

April 4th, 2003

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     Joining the Dots

I see love has its proper rhythms, too -
moments of more intensity or less,
uneven as the tides that ebb and flow
between the lands that seem like home to us.

Our idylls come in episodes, but life
directs us to our duties somewhere else.
We never know at last that it is safe
to regulate our actions by this pulse.

Silence defines the spaces that divide,
deceiving us that something is amiss.
Our speech arrives in shapes that coincide,
dispelling doubts that dared to threaten us.

Our words are tentative. We navigate
the niceties. Observing where we are,
and what is proper, we negotiate
the deeper waters, each the other's star.

The tide is running now. The current flows.
And in the hidden places of the earth
the minerals align. Their action draws
my compass point to its magnetic north,
beneath your patient polar star that shows
the open sea connecting fjord and firth.

May 7th, 2003

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     Give Me Your Hands

If I should hold you, I would not know how
to let you go, as I might have to do.
Relinquishing for now is no release.
We give and we receive and something stays,
not memory alone. We recognize
that we surrendered to that movement once -
no whim or impulse but a willed embrace
of many things. The taking of a chance
has led us to the touches we allow:
imagined or remembered, or to be
enacted - when you wish and as we may.
We measure our discretion till we see
what happens next. My hands are open now.

May 26th, 2003

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     No Farther Than Here

We have exchanged endearments, yet there are
some lines we have not tried to speak aloud.
Our speech is muted but it does not hide
the understated truths. They will appear.

We come together slowly in small steps
constant negotiation that must be
hedged with the caveats of courtesy,
which guard the indiscretions of our lips.

Some speak in duels. Our speech is a duet.
We start from here and know we must not break
our proper lives and duties. And we speak
no words that damage or that bring regret.

There will be things that you may wish to know,
as well as guess or read between the lines.
Those captions are capricious and the signs
can tell you only what they dare to show.

There will be an occasion to exchange
the catechisms of a common faith,
a time and place for each to tell the truth:
my perfect stranger is no longer strange.

What of the passwords? They were waiting here
for you to take, at a propitious time
a moment of your choosing. Let them come.
You knew them all already. There they are.

I have no double meanings. Things are clear.
I give you what you know was always yours.
If I kept silence hitherto it was
that I might still have something to declare.

May 26th, 2003

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     Wearing the Favours

Close enough to touch tonight,
near enough to know your breath,
and your beating heart, I wait
for the words that keep the faith

words that bear the weight of love.
Anything is possible.
No more cards are up my sleeve.
No more tricks. You know them all.

Glosses in the gaps between
things we thought but did not say
make our dispositions plain,
lest the tongue should lose its way.

All the secrets are disclosed.
You were waiting as I came
naked, open, undisguised:
what you see is what I am.

What you are is what I hear,
smell and see and touch and taste,
courtesies that can recur,
human flesh against my breast

palpable in pulse and pores,
bone and sinew, blood and breath,
heart that beats as skin transpires,
shining eyes and smiling mouth.

Every filament of hair
I would count, and count again,
Every kindness you can spare
I will keep and claim as mine.

I will wear your favours while
I acquire a different face
sport an unofficial smile
sunlit from another place:

covert meanings not quite spoken
emblems all the world may see,
public sign and private token
advertise this fealty.

I wake with you every morning.
You stay with me through each night,
as the earth insists on turning
till the coming of the light.

Anywhere and everywhere,
in the byways of the blood
and the drawing in of air,
breaking fast and daily bread,

you are constant, keeping faith,
coming to me where I wait,
quickened by your human breath
close enough to touch tonight.

June 30th 2003

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     Index of first lines

A little learning: he would speculate ...
As Time, taking the time we thought to keep...
Back from the Long Vacation; eager, eager...
Because of which we waited up to see...
Catching my breath as love returned...
Childhood, of course, was fun, but above all...
Close enough to touch tonight...
Cut. She at once removes the flesh-hued suit...
Christ's season settles with its snow of gifts...
Don't be afraid. This country is not vast......
Forgive me, please. Of course I meant to come...
Four years ago, a vacant evening - planned...
Here it has rained all day, but where you lie...
How did we waste the years before our meeting...
I am not running off to sea or joining...
I cannot know, at this remove...
If I should hold you, I would not know how...
I'm sure of some things now, but maybe not...
I see love has its proper rhythms, too...
I thought of you as you are now, and thought...
In a dark wood of whispered incantation...
In the dead place, where he had least...
It must not matter that we lie apart...
Jarred into life at four o'clock...
Leaving this town, the end of the wild time...
Mourning his broken sire who gently went...
My interest was professional. His case...
Naked I came into the world...
Not until we had parted, could...
Of all the clues that congregate...
Of course, one always hoped to find...
Out of his chosen elements of pleasure...
Pain is a proof that we are still alive...
Puzzled, because I heard a trace...
Relaxing in love's afterglow...
Seeking some high alternative to sense...
Silly, the way the past distils...
The child sat in his bedroom...
The first time that I saw her I was ten
The taste of salt on summer nights...
There is a watershed in chance...
There was a crash. I woke to noise...
This night would not lie still. I could not sleep...
This was a lucky break. Now you can quit...
Though you lie in a place I do not know...
Through his Romantic pretext of a vision...
Tiredness Kills, the sign said, as I drove...
Warm as the air within the room...
We have exhanged endearments, yet there are...
We shared the storm. We let it come to us...
What he will keep of you he cannot guess...
When death's armadas stretch your grave of sleep...
When I was eight, my daddy gave...
You came with me. It was not far to walk...

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The copyright in all of the poems on this page belongs to Andrew Moore;
© Andrew Moore, 1973-2003.