Poetry: Selections from Giles Constable
Strong and Frequent Language From the Outset
This utter cocking fuckery first words
to pop out as the doc broke the news.
Very sorry to tell you blah the tests
blah degenerative blah prognosis
blah death death. He did well enough.
As he’d been taught on the course,
dignified. As if he was the one being brave.
MRI showed the frontal lobes
chock-a-block with elaborate cheese.
Neither one expecting I would lamp him
with the phone. Run off through the halls
screaming christ knows what whilst grabbing
at nurses. Soon taking a quantity of soupy
cider whilst asking a man about the odds.
Sold me something resinous in a wrap.
Which I ingested in a cubicle.
The many hours then tumbling to a void
toward a dank room. Big Susan’s house.
Her carbuncular son with a bat.
Fraught negotiation, me departing in haste
and pursued and trouserless.
I have not endured my changed condition
with fortitude nor dignity nor grace.
My driving appalling and brought the end
to a Chrysler Crossfire and a Honda Jazz.
I have been in the cage of a van,
failed to appear at small claims courts,
warned for contempt. I have killed a goat
And may also have stolen an owl.
A seven hour taxi to the Western Isles.
Turned away from a sky diving course.
Fomented revolt at a women’s cricket match.
Fished twice from the Thames.
Fires set in bandstands.
Cards declined at unlicensed casinos
in a number of county towns.
Thereafter: howling in lay-bys,
a badger chased across a motorway,
I have slept often in woods, stolen pastries,
defecated in the modern poetry aisle
of a notable municipal library.
What little time is left.
I shall challenge the stars,
punch an oak,
brawl with the rising tide,
stop the trains, cancel crows,
dispute the case of a certain fate.
I shall disrupt the gathering dark
and throw a cantaloupe
at the head of a head of state.
I do not sense a presence,
do not feel as I enter the room
a sudden chill, some slight shift
in the weight of air,
a soul moving through and beyond.
Never think, when I wake at four,
that I hear a muffled laugh,
a cry or crockery disturbed
two floors down.
They are gone. Have left no note.
but I think of them,
those who have known the house,
occupied it as fully as I,
could find their way in the dark,
fret over a patch of damp,
stop on the stair having forgotten a glove
or gripped by grief, by love.
Inhabited every moment
as if the present was eternal,
theirs to possess
as much as the mirrors and pans,
the chaise, the scuttle, the house.
Only to find in the end
that we own nothing.
The magnificent construction,
the gorgeous dresses made for parades,
the portraits, the great sequence of todays,
have us immersed
until they do not.
And the years, all the goods they contain,
did not come for free and are not ours to keep.
Seated at a different table in the same room,
we study brochures, write new lists, make other plans.
See us at the windows from passing trains.
We enjoy a summer breeze and the views from the house
that has domesticated us,
the home where we have wept and sung,
decorated the walls a while,
marked upon them a ladder of years
as we wait for the latest tomorrow,
our currency exchanging with time.
Set in Stone
A labour of effort and thought
Has informed the words.
Beloved by all that knew him
A stilling of anger and grief,
A sequence to capture loss,
To hold on to the loved one.
Now safely home
Chiselled into the slab of rock
Planted in the chosen plot to mark
Where the bones are boxed.
My dearest we must part
A claim staked for perpetuity,
Occupation of this piece of land
For good. Forever in our heart
A quiet spot under a yew. Stream close by
A place to visit. Sit quiet
Weep a little. Lay fresh flowers.
Until we meet again
Contemplate the rain and what was good
In the dead. Omit the rest.
Friend to many, stranger to none
The children grow bored.
Hide behind tombs of others
Unknown as, with time,
Their parents become less sad
Always loved, never forgotten
And have other business,
Their own paths to take.
Like an imperishable sun
Funds are stopped to tend the site
And the young ones, grown,
No longer recall where grandpa
Was put. He led a life well-lived
The ivy is curious. The trees spread roots,
At last insist the stones tilt.
I will sleep in peace until you come to me
In time the words set down,
Under the work of the winds and of the rain,
Lose depth, are redacted by lichen.
The monuments become vacant markers,
Your love will light the way
Scented by passing dog and fox,
A perch for robins and intoxicated teens.
Stripped of purpose, unvisited, lost.
Blank stones are scattered,
Mute horde gesturing at the unlabelled dead.
Notching the ground, counter pegs,
Passers by avert their eyes, lean into the breeze,
Head for the train and bus and home.
We leave. All too soon.
And once left, then infinitely gone
The Old People
Just look at them. The old people.
The assumption that is easy to make,
that is almost impossible to avoid
as they stumble around in their antiquity,
in their ghastly elasticated slacks,
the ill-fitting jumble sale of clothing,
in slack cardigans, in cushioned shoes, in beige,
rendering themselves degrees more invisible
to the rest, to the younger, the youth
who pass them by as if they had no more animation
than a wall or wheelie bin, as if their desires
amounted to nothing beyond a wish not to be dead
yet and their capacity to dream or want
long since spent, back when they were happy,
happy because not so unforgivably old.
Easy to assume that they were always like this,
blotched and shambling, hair in the wrong place,
no one giving two fucks what they are doing,
where or when. That, if they had a past,
it has uncoupled from them,
they have trundled on, now marooned,
gawping at fistfuls of coins at the till as eyes are rolled.
Yet even these antique humans, on their scooters,
wrapped in bruised and parchmented skin,
even they wake to each day as a new arrival,
a step on which they have never before stood.
They too have no experience of this unique present,
may find their most recent perch
a cause for bafflement or delight,
invigorated or exhausted from the climb,
the air thinning at the increasing height,
the view below of those who follow on,
heads down, about their inevitable pursuit.
The dense black hair of his forearm,
summer long gone but always tan,
His certain grip on a lofted iron.
Invariably straight the flight
to the heart of the green,
the weight of what he said,
with which he struck the putt.
A man who had the lay of the land.
Wound tight the spring at the end
of each day judiciously
to uncoil in its measured way,
partition time as he would decide.
Busy at tasks that adults do.
And none more grown up than him.
His daily disappearance marked time,
often further afield for weeks,
about vital work, tending to his affairs.
His views beyond debate to a child
waiting on the stairs for his return,
allotting what was right what was not
through the depths of his voice.
Opinions incontrovertible as the tides
made their inundation of the house.
As did the black moods, the repulsive
force of his sulks spanning weeks,
every space laden with his gloom.
He did the best he could to be close
but not one for smaller talk.
What he could not comprehend
mostly dismissed and I do not know
if he was afraid in the weeks
he lay so still and so silent
as I sat reading by the bed,
my invigilation of his end.
The watch I wear now also at his side
as the hours lost their shape and sense,
Not sure why it has come down to me.
I have his grasp round my wrist.
He holds me still but I leave it unwound.
An ornament of him. Look at the face.
He looks back befuddled
at the hands which I leave idle,
his device which I celebrate
with a new permitted purposelessness.
The Fate of Lullabies
Seal the fate of lullabies
banish spinning toys
mark the card of whistling
outlaw idle joys
put a stop to pottering
desecrate a welcome home
cancel childish glee
calumniate a cloudless sky
spell the end of words
humiliate a simile
defame the flight of birds
traumatise a kindly act
swim demons in the sea
denounce the lolloping of dogs
dispute the case for easels
cease laughter by decree
halt all combing of the beach
imprison flair and fancy
decapitate first love
stop the pluming fountain
give giddiness the shove
miss the point of song
shame a gentle frisson
prove mathematics wrong
tear down towers of longing
mock a mother's grief
extinguish sunlight on the leaves
whisper lies about the stars
monger gross deceit
tyrannise the nurseries
meet rapture with defeat
dissolve the bonds of reason
climb fear into each heart
despise the words here written
take us to the dark
There they are, inhabiting their lives,
The fellows who linger on corners,
Walk with a hat and a stick and an air,
Sit atop a horse drawn tram, frown at the man
Who captures them in his box.
Commits them to that spot, there without end,
In the ancient clothes, elaborate facial hair.
They are strolling or in haste, cheery
Or beset. There is a lot to guess.
And here the bright abundant youth at the Lido,
1928, squinting towards the camera, the sun,
Oblivious of all to come, needs must.
Some of the men wear their costume
Off the shoulder, like Tarzan perhaps,
Flexing their biceps, the women
Not obviously impressed. A great amount
Of waving and, so it looks, of delight.
Where have these people gone?
Most now must be strewn below
The great urban sprawl. Enriching the subsoil,
Scattered as we go about getting on,
Lodged up here in our own morsel of time.
Think of all that was said, the confidences,
Wisecracks, promises, the passings of the time of day
Released poolside that summer afternoon,
Words exhaled to the present colour of the Rye,
Folded amongst the laughter and sighs.
All that language flown. Impossible to know
What it did or meant. The talk just an instrument
In the end to move across the days.
They are always rising, always leaving,
Great drifts of words launching away from sense,
Disarticulating, lifting elsewhere what was vital and here,
Our urgent meaning held in its moment
Then released, returning to air.
I am often not brave,
wake deep in the night,
swaddled in grief,
the dark a stone on my chest,
many moments sightless.
I turn to you
and there you are, still.
I tie your breath to mine,
Pulled by your tide.
We fall and rise in time.
You stir and sigh soft birds
which fly from your warm nest,
take to our interior sky.
They rise and twist,
caress space into shapes
impossible and new,
defy care’s gravity,
disperse worry into air
until, as if by command,
they float down as one,
to drift about us, settle,
soft as the kiss you give
when you wake from sleep,
as the brush of a folding wing.
It may fall like a baby grand
from a height. A great weight,
absurd, unforeseen, an assault,
the world rearranged
in the wake of the one who was there
always, as present as touch, as the sky,
as boredom and Tuesday and delight.
Then not. Just that. A full stop.
The beloved excised from life.
We stumble on, not prepared
for the vehemence of the exit,
the definitive gaping trapdoor of it.
So as you are leaving by stages
I find myself grateful I think.
As if lights are being put out
one by one, as if you have breathed
on a window and the breath fades,
as if I see you handed kindly
from the arms of one on to another,
borne towards a gathering distance.
And you are not happy
but you are not unhappy,
holding my eye, allowing it,
being carried slowly and away
until you are somewhere else
and, as it must be in the end,
beyond my reach.
Giles Constable lives and works in London.