Poems

In the Garden

Neptune, open-mouthed, discredited,
Spouts from the fountain on our rosy wall.
This August evening air is equable.
I fetch a bottle from our earthy shed
By swags of grapes that hang in green and red,
And from our complex wrought-iron chairs we call
The talkative cat, watch campanile-tall
Hollyhocks nodding to us from their bed
Then pick some berries. How can I begin
To thank you for all you give and understand?
Icebergs have shrunk to icecubes, topped with gin.
House martins sew the sky. A bumblebee
Goes stumbling round the blue hibiscus tree,
Coated in pollen like a boy in sand.

*

In the British Museum

The Mausoleum of Halikarnassos

Among colossal rags of statuary,
A hunk of horse, a head, a bride and groom
Whose thighs are gracefully advancing, we
Skitter like hundreds and thousands or packet seeds,
Or tropical fish about a watery tomb.
We pass by captions of heroic deeds,

Borrowing our bright clothes and warm soft skin,
Viewed over skulls and jewels in misting cases.
A Pharaoh’s lovely daughter traipses in;
A Roman nose, a clear broad Grecian brow
Are each exhibited in passing faces
Of visitors among the statues now.

*

Staying with Mabel

In memory of Mabel Westmorland

Reaching into the bag, sand-soft, dark green,
Meant mystery and risk, a clack of runes,
Though no cruel fates were spelt, but word on word
Like gentle, aunt and love in afternoons
When much was scrupulously kept unseen,
Schisms and losses anciently incurred.

Mabel displayed intent subdued prowess,
Mastering wits and chance. Her scores would spell
Roars of delight. She was the centre star
Loud Euston led us to in Motherwell.
Though customs altered, and I saw her less,
Each year she sent the Scotsman calendar:

Turning the pages of the last, I see
A summer castle, peaks in fine-sieved snow,
Pristine romantic harbours in the Isles,
Light-casting lochs, and grids of days below
Like frames of film unrolling emptily
Or racks of now unlettered Scrabble tiles.

*

(First published respectively in The New Criterion,
The Spectator and The Scotsman)