Thursday, 28 May 2009

Some new poems

William Lilly foresees the Great Fire of London

It is seldom straightforward—
this oracular plotting of seven stars
criss-cross over parchment.

Tonight, dry Saturn disposes
a combust Mercury; the Moon, antic
and inflamed in the night-house of Mars,

betokens for a man unsuspected foes,
and for a woman, passio hysterica,
suffocation of the Mother. But for a city?

He is not certain. All evening,
through the lattice, smoking clouds
have fallen from the sun,

like an oven door unshut,
spilling sparks onto floury rushes.


Hunt in the Forest
(after Uccello)

Not daylight. Surely after the lightning’s
fork they are counting down the miles
until thunder’s pressure breaks.
The storm-swollen sky bears down

on fan-vaults of bay and terebinth.
This too-mathematical wood screams trap:
the trusting greyhounds chase the stag
into a bluish blacklit nowhere, through

a forest of numbered leaves, where fallen logs
swing like magnets to the vanishing point.
One rider pulls up short, sensing the siren
undertow of the spaces in-between,

refuses to go on. Or could horses, men and dogs
in fact be still as stones in this frozen instant?
Serried, irradiate, walnut and holm-oak
uproot themselves and interchange.



Her eyes focus inward
on a nest of flame.

Her skin is burning linen
under an albumen glair.

Amber flowing in the wood
flushes with blood

the clambering child
yellow as grain

who clutches her hair,
God’s ivory gate

through which he passed.
Mildly she holds him

hushed to her breast,
blazing like wax

in a crib of hot gold.


Charm for a garden at the end of summer

This hop-lapped vessel
a green lion
fiercely prowls.

Man-legged, leaf-shanked one,
hear! Stride bone-shards,

repent your sway
of moss and fern.
Cast off your herb-pelt

and with your roar, shiver
this sealed alembic:
let outside in utterly.

Call pear and apple,
bid them bare their breasts
to the wasp’s bite. Call swallows

to stitch up the wounds
with thread of shadow. Call night,
call winnower, eat ashes

and underglow. Set down
clay too for you, death,
bread’s sunbrowned echo.

Pigeon and blackbird, hush.
Hold the curved silence
you remember from the egg.

O blood, thicken in the vein,
sink down.

O root beneath,
sing for the frost-lode.


Wedding Night

In the ‘Owl Bible’ of 1944, 1 Peter 3:5 read: 'For after this
manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted God,
adorned themselves, being in subjection to their owl husbands.'

Daughter, you must bear it when he comes.
Wear your veil of scarlet linen. And don’t cry out,
even when the wing-beats near. Sweeten your hair

with balm and cassia. Show no fear, but tuck spikenard
into the scented strap beneath your breasts.
Wait with eyes cast down. You’ll hear a rustling music

like the chirr of desert birds outside your tent.
It was the same for me and for all our foremothers:
pure terror bent its polished talons to our necks,

smelling of ice and starlight: the Lord’s
unfathomable decree, that purity bring us bridegrooms
half-owl, half-angel. Be patient. Over time, the great wings

will shrink to silvered stubs, the eyes soften and relent.
One night, you’ll find you kiss your husband as he sleeps,
and stroke the downy feathers on the newly human feet.


Titus said...

I enjoyed these.

Jane Holland said...

Oooh. I can see a day approaching when I have to put some of your poems into Horizon. ;)

Bo said...

Thanks!!! I've caught the bug now. Well and truly.

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally .. John Burnside's next book is titled 'The Hunt in the Forest', after that painting. Saw him read here in Glasgow last night. Described the darkness and shadows of the painting as a child's idea of death: not a hunt by night, but just a dark forest in the day.


Bluejo said...

Owl husbands! I love these. Thank you so much for posting them.

Sovay said...

This is just to say that I discovered your blog last night while looking for something reasonably different (U.A. Fanthorpe's "Rising Damp") and your poetry is extraordinary; I hope some of it has seen print outside the internet. "William Lilly foresees the Great Fire of London" is one of the most beautiful poems I've run across in days.

Bo said...

Thanks so much for your very kind comments!

Steffen said...


I've been following your blog for almost a year now after stumbling upon it by sheer chance, or to paraphrase Pope Innocent III: by happy accident.

I greatly enjoy your wide and eclectic scope and particularly your poetry. This blogpost is the one I return to most often and this is my thank you for many delightful reads. You are one of the main inspirations for my own blog, and I hope you take your time dropping by from time to time.

Kind regards


Bo said...

Thanks Steffen, that is very kind! I will pop over to yours now.


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