Resting tenderly, tiny bubbles on the underwater stems of cut flowers, the bouquet bound together by frayed string, in a half-pint milk bottle once belonging to the Co-operative Dairy Society Ltd Guildford. Tenderness and repose: two qualities I treasure, perhaps because I am cold, selfish and ascetic by nature, and my spirit is restless, so that both repose and tenderness are rare in my life, dedicated as it is to the cool greed art has become in this era, at least insofar as I am capable of making it. Lethargy is different to repose: lethargy I possess in abundance, a terrible internal sloth, like a slag heap amassed over centuries of mining, a mountain of black waste that has permanently changed the ratio of earth to sky, and which can’t be shifted — all that can be expected of it is a trivial modulation in topography, a creep and trickle at the edges, the wind blowing dust on the surface, nothing moving at the core. If the women who lay by my side could have sensed this doomed landscape within me, would any have stayed longer than, in the end, they did? Why would you? There are lost causes too lost for a person ever to contemplate even an attempt at futile loyalty to them. Certain kinds of futility may be enjoyable, in an odd way, and some may be beautiful, but remaining loyal to a species of unwitting treachery is just stupid, a pouring away of life. I should know this: it takes us back to that cool greed, takes us back recessively, insidiously and yet, as well, emphatically, in the fashion in which, according to that description by Yeats, a good poem is meant to finish, with the sharp neat click of a closing box. Words and self-regard are never far away. Hence, a cycle of wandering and fear, emptiness and restlessness, Ulysses under the Tennessee pines. Which leads, in turn, to the language of Bedouin and Hottentots, of tumultuous, silent Patagonian clouds, of stooping and kneeling to drink with our bare hands from Arctic streams, the knife-cold waters entering us with an atrocious clarity, worth the sins we committed to get here. But this, as you will have realised, is beside the point. Tenderness, and repose: wonderful in themselves, but together, inexpressibly lovely. The text begins to put off its own references, we are heading out to a place of indifference, like a waking sleep. If it is lonely there, it is lonely because of those hands that may still reach forward, and touch, those lips that have not yet lost their taste for kissing: the space, I mean, is very fine, and renders us, even now, very sensitive. The old war has cleansed the bones, the new war is yet to begin. We can take our time, knowing that death has its own rules, and we have earned our rest, after a long and honourable race against oblivion. Leaving at dawn is endlessly postponed, but the freshness of dawn and of the unknown prepares us, a clearing of decks. Stillness comes. I don’t love you.

 


from Semapolis | City of Signs
(series of poems, unfinished, 2012–present)

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