Now that Vivienne and Valerie are both dead,
Now that he has been dead for over forty years
And I can hurt no one with this admission,
I will say that I too was fourteen
When I fell in love with Tom:
That Anglo-Catholic parting,
The face chiselled by decades of quiet agony,
The ‘four-piece suit’ … but what did Virginia know of restraint,
That silly, arrogant woman, with her insidious, toxic heritage?
He aged before me, growing more handsome,
His voice more and more tremblingly English:
I too felt I knew him through his verse.
I was that third, that fourth, who walked beside them,
Vivienne, Valerie, and, yes, why not, Vesna…
A step behind, anxious at prejudice, wary of delusion,
And jealous, so jealous, throughout my twenties,
Walking at dusk from my modest office in Kelso Place
To High Street Kensington underground station:
The burnt out end of every day.
My mind, numbed by proofreading, in a shamanic trance
Often recognised that there was no hope,
Yet I spoke to him – Marina to dead Rainer –
And, very occasionally, he spoke back,
Whispering so she could not hear,
Sometimes to urge me to endure,
Mostly to say that I was sorely wrong.
I often saw her in her mansion
Under his portrait on the wall,
Framed by two tall windows, his blue plaque between them,
Bent over sheaves of paper, editing, editing
His letters, his verse, his thought:
A life and life’s purpose for a woman.
I was certain there would be no more poets,
Not that there had been – even then – many like Tom,
Worthy of such pig-headed devotion:
A journey, and such a long journey,
Eight brief years, the tail end,
And decades and decades thereafter.