Since you’ve gone, I’ve fallen so quiet…
Days, I walk out onto Jesus Green, where the dawning cold
makes a slowing world slur, growing numb, and speechless…
Nights, I write of senseless things.
I speak to senseless things…

On Jesus Green, the dogs are playing
and there’s light on their backs
which runs as they run.
The ground is one flowing, dazzling wave of frost.
Somewhere a girder dully shebangs into another; the sound
reverbs across the open spaces of the common
and fades into the emptiness
which waits, like a gullet, under all sky.

We’re still building: the day goes on and on
into its air, and is shored up
with immaculate details…
A chainsaw grunts and whines in the distance:
I can see the puff of dirty beige smoke as it starts,
and the men around it in their orange dungarees
and dark-blue donkey jackets
by the rusting Council truck
parked on its spellstruck, parallel tracks on the turf…

A Weimeramer bitch with clay blue eyes
lopes, whips and bounces in vapour;
other dogs run, sunshine fluent on their gleaming spines;
the sawdust jets from the crackling tree
as it’s cut to the root;
smoke rises from the battered brazier, moving straight up…
Mist burns on the river…

It’s a Dutch scene: and the still, calm light of the North
bears down on it all
in its cool amplitude —
but not one part of this light
will ever touch you again;
it falls on dogs, on grass, trees, on stones, and posts —
but it won’t touch the side of your raised face
or make you gently flinch with half-closed eyes.

How intimate Babel is.
How thick with the material that comes to hand.
Its foundations in a dog-eared Genesis
in a freezing Sunday School shed
where a boot’s crimped piece of sleet is melting on the dirty floor
to the hiss of a stove, a demon grin of three pink flames.
In the hushed class, snail-like mucous is glistening
and coughs ricochet into the rafters (timber hairy like coconuts):
Eden smells of paraffin, musty leather and wet wool…

How carefully we build: day in, day out.
Nursery books: Potter and Grimm.
A tower of stacked, wooden alphabet blocks
with their A is for Apple
and Z is for Zebra,
a vertical word raised from the crawling floor
of the infant builder, a toddler in pale blue dungarees,
suddenly tumbling here, spilling out in a chunky wave at my feet,
on the hard cold ground of Jesus Green…

And when Babel fell, what did it leave?
A cloud of mortar, and the word for ‘tower’ in Iraq.
A plastic tortoiseshell haircomb on a scuffed pine dresser…
A wedding ring we couldn’t pull from your finger;
slippers and shoes — Singapore high heels — shoes, and shoes…
Whippets and dobermans, alsatians and springers,
with their moist, sirloin tongues lolling out,
running wild on the frosty grass.
And a scent of burning plane trees…

I once said: “Every writer must rebuild Babel”,
and was proud of that little aperçu
standing in my dark-blue, second-hand suit,
a young Mandelstam, a young Master.
I didn’t realise Babel was real.
I didn’t realise it was all for real.
How it would take time to fall, and would take you.
Or how I’d stand on the platform,
waiting to come home,
walking on the air of shock, all my world
suddenly lighter than air…
Caress like a shadow…

Caress like a shadow…
Blond hair under a maroon schoolboy cap:
grey hair at the temples, the head bare.
A raincoat of black gaberdine;
a second-hand jacket of mocha-brown suede…
Light the blue touchpaper; and stand well back…
And suddenly thirty-two Guys have burned
through our Novembers…

Now I’m back down where the towers began
in roots of alphabet,
and your voice speaking, saying
‘A is for Apple,
B is for Bear’…

And somewhere, childhood is running in Size 3 shoes
across a sky-wide field
ploughed and frozen
and grey as pumice
and scratched by crows.

Nothing is so white as these mornings.

October. We drank up the summer through a little straw…
Now it’s dry… At noon,
the season’s tanned like a navvie,
and its skin is slaked with the dust
of getting this far.
You’ve worked hard, but you’ve weakened…
And where to now, that you’ve come so far?…

I want to bring you the rain.

Through the chicken-wire fence and the evergreens
is the swimming pool where all summer I swam with my lover,
closed, and drained, the concrete floor
filling with dry leaves and seeds from the sycamores
like a mind with memories.

For so long, I thought
none of this has anything to do with me —
the frost melting in the sun, sparrows
bubbling in the gutters in spring,
the soft reconnaissance of shadows
fanning out across a clearing in the afternoon:
I thought I could hold on to the hard, clear edge of this sky
in a permanent meridian,
as I could hold on to you,
with a few chosen words, and never let go…

But nothing is so white as these mornings.
Apostles, Stray Dog — wind, wheat and surge;
whirligig seeds where I crawled:
a few chosen words stirring faintly in the stillness;
the stillness drifts… Windmills… Heavens… Dunes…

Nothing is so white as these mornings.
Nothing is so complete. And yet… Cependant… Wait…
Windmills… Heavens… Dunes…
The Works of Shakespeare. Ivanov’s Tower. Symbolists. Imagists:
and yet… mais… cependant… wait…

Nothing is so white as these mornings.
Nothing is so still.
I can feel the nomad years on the move,
taking us with them.
Passing time is a clearing mist.
The sun rising. Then the moon rising.

Now we’re Bedouin with the Bedouin days,
going after them, in their footsteps.
We crowd into the dusk, they have gone.
The night — the night is Egyptian:
it gets stranger and stranger
as we go deeper in
where words give out
and it just howls with stars…

Joists — winches — hammers — nails;
carpenters and arc-light: ropes and chains.
Tackle — gear — stuff: Zeug, Schuzeug.
Acetylene and grout. Waters and shadows.
Hammering. Filing. Planes, shavings. Hammering.
Planks — scaffolding — jigsaws — felt. Hammering.
Electricians, site managers. Pipes. Hammering.
Tacks: cables: plaster: clay. Hammering. Dovetails.

I’m late! I’m late! Oh my tail and whiskers!
I’m late! Late! Late!
Chrysler or Empire State, I don’t mind.
Pacific Ocean blue, dung beetle brown, I don’t mind.

Titanium or alabaster, tungsten or Cambridge White:
I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.
Flare stack or cracking plant, I don’t mind.
Acrylic or gold leaf, egg white or hand wove paper, I don’t mind.

Flatiron, leaning Tower, Eifel or butterfly,
I don’t mind, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.
I write a tower upon the plain
you don’t mind, you don’t mind.

I write a tower upon the plain,
I mind, I don’t mind.
Around the tower is emptiness,
the call of space, the wind and clouds —
you don’t mind, you don’t mind.
I mind, I write, anything, I don’t mind.

Poor little meaning, poor little tower,
anything, space, the wind and clouds, I mind
you don’t mind. I am such
a little man, the emptiness is wheatbelt, Iowa, Ukraine,
the emptiness of the plain, I write
and the words go standing with just a little shadow:
the clouds go over it, and the wind blows through it,
standing isolated upon the plain,
that poor, physical, conspicuous little thing
with the emptiness full of skies around it,
wheatbelt, Iowa, Ukraine —
you don’t mind, you don’t mind, you don’t mind.

Little fields of Iowa, little Kiev, little Jesus Green,
frost on open spaces, a toy Ukraine,
I write what I mean to be,
trouble whirling through the stillness,
a column of dust and a yapping dog,
I write what I mean to be:
the word is full of skies,
and the skies are empty.

Nothing is so white as these mornings.

Now I want to make poems
you can scrape your knuckles on.
I want to make words that are rough, hard,
splintered, cruel and palpable
as the edges of old tea-chests,
or proud as a ragged seam of welding solder —
make them tough, and industrial, out of British Steel,
to use a heavy language of zinc and lead
around a core the whistle of a reed
or a stonechat calling up on Urra Moor…

I want to make poems cast like cold prows
to dip into time’s wave
in our human forever.
I’ll make them 13 Cleveland, close to home,
make them household;
I’ll roll their words in flour,
wrap them in breathing dough;
make them cogent, and as simple
as an almond resting in the silo of its shell…
I want survivors’ poems…

Chrysler or Empire State, a toy rattle, a doe-ray-me:
far beyond the coldness of a Christmas candle,
far into the dark forest of Christmas trees,
I’ll make poems of bullrushes, green cradles
drifting on a voice of waters,
as intimate and internal
as the small
boat of a womb;
and as you wrapped me,
I want to wrap you in my words,
throw their coarse coat upon your shoulders,
wrap you against the whiteness of these mornings,
and the baby, translucent syllables of ice
which seem to say only one word, now — ‘were’.

Nothing is so white as these mornings.
Nothing is so calm.

How calm.
In the stillness, I can feel
language falling
quieter than snowflakes.

And there is a midnight
in love with this stark, sheer blue
which noons the river
and the frost-struck rushes.

Who were you?
Quieter than a midnight snow
a Babel is falling,
and I can sense something great in the air
settling, going down on its side.

The fall seems constant, with a soft roar,
and only an Usher or a Russian might notice it.
It was the term for ‘water’ in Japanese —
the word for ‘telecommunications’ in Urdu —
and the Blue Guides and Ladybird books,
Kierkegaard and the Koran,
crushing and grinding, the whole thing
toppling towards a ground
as strange as Rumpelstiltskin’s eyelashes
or scented like a strand
of Rapunzel’s auric, waterfallen hair.

Once upon a time,
there was a din of shovels barking on the road;
a smell of hot bitumen, mixed with appleblossom.
A was for April; B
for bliss, baroque, Bermuda, before;
C was for cat, cathedral, Captain Scarlet, crumble;
D was for — December, for —  dragonfly, for — for
day — for day. And for day. And day — for another day…
for just one more day…

Once upon a time, in a suit of blue,
un petit maitre, so carefully choosing letters,
I suddenly sensed you close to me, as near
as one voice is to another.

You confused me, and I tried to make
sense of your presence.
I was on Midsummer Common, daydreaming.
I was drifting. I was thinking:
as the highest building casts the longest shadow,
so the highest poem casts the longest silence.

I was naive — of course. I was culpable.
I didn’t know that Language was mortal.
On the iron-and-wooden footbridge across the river,
in my mind, I was vocal, conversant.

To me, the world must come into my words
as into its proper place and structure —
and I was fluent, colossal, a literary giant,
I wore seven-league boots and my path was clear,
the rest was echoes, leftovers; it was hazy, negligible.

Even in the morning, now, it’s warm.
The sun, 80°: azure, cirrus, altocirrus.
You sleepwalk through decades in a fairytale place,
from the emperor of childhood to constructing sonic citadels,
until life rebels against you, and all your works.
Your skin, freckled and honeyed in the sun,
holds you together like a fragile binding, and feels
somehow unreal against your lover’s skin.
And you walk in the shade of chestnuts and limes:
from town, the dainty matins-and-vespers chapel bells
sprinkle slightly unsynchronized noons
across the streets and rooves…

A city made of sound will fade away,
but I never noticed that for years.
I was so busy building, building:
I was making new vocabularies.
I didn’t look up from my books.
Occasionally I stumbled, but I held the path:
and the path ahead seemed always as clear
as my priorities.
I followed the path like a kind of music…
You were daydreaming on Midsummer Common.
You sleepwalk through decades, instants, years.
Then you suddenly wake, and a handful of memory’s
startling, bittersweet yeast leavens the moment —
and you find yourself mixing spirits with cement,
appleblossom with bitumen, now with then,
in the ruins of Babel, untranslatable
among a scent of woodsmoke, of burning planes…

My love, I’m down at the root of my days,
stunned, trying to make sense of sense…
There’s the livid hoot of a moorhen;
a tinsel whine from a walkman;
the sea-bass rumble of ordinary traffic
from across the Green…
I’m trying to plait sense with sense
in this, our dry Serenissima of learning,
which is too ironic to die
or too polite to mention it…
I’m down, kicking through the leaves
of these cultured, empty plains —
the perfect, wide place to see all towers fallen…

I want to say your name to the morning.

Because the sun is so white in these mornings.

Because the river this morning hung between ice and mist.

Because you were the first word between two silences.

Because we hang between the ice and mist.

Because of the desolation,
I want to say your name to the morning.

Because everyone must be forgotten.

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