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Two Poems

David Harsent, 22 June 2006

... Feverish After Yannis Ritsos Small squares on the move, merging, pulling apart, building bricks unbuilding, a city of windows inside a city of windows, everything hanging on two right-angles, free-standing, out of whack but somehow holding, somehow safe you decide at the very moment they crack and start to collapse (in utter silence) all of a heap where three fleabitten dogs set off at an easy lope going first through one small square then another, and etcetera, the scent of the alien dead ripe in their nostrils ...

From ‘At the Window’

David Harsent, 23 September 2021

... How this pale dawn light floods in from the skyline.How it seems almost at times to fail as if it mightfall back to midnight’s deep blue-black: as if it should.I am given over to dreams that say what’s mine is mine.I dreamt I was at this window and here I am:not dreaming, or so I think, though something stays.Dream has its flow, pain its own song to sing ...

Two poems after Yannis Ritsos

David Harsent, 27 September 2012

... from ‘Agamemnon’ The city was still smouldering end to end. We buried the dead, then, at twilight, went down to the beach and set tables for the victory feast. When Helen lifted her glass, the bracelets rattled on her wrist. ‘Listen to that,’ she said, ‘I must be dead.’ At once a piercing white light shone out from her mouth and all within its range was marble and bone ...

The Garden Goddess

David Harsent, 29 January 2009

... Out by the woodpile at 3 a.m., knock-kneed and shitfaced, lost in your own backyard, you pour a libation that comes straight from the dregs and she drinks it. Or you stand at a sinkful of broken this and that wide-eyed and with nary a hint of what’s next, as she goes by with her Tesco bags and a fifth of gin in her pocket. She keeps unholy hours. There’s a chance you’ll see her naked at noon among roses; a fair chance, too, that in bending to cup a bloom, she’ll show you the little widget of her arsehole, damson-sweet and, some say, the very fount of knowledge, though certain dream- images, featuring sweats and the shakes, somehow cause me to doubt it ...

From Loss

David Harsent, 7 March 2019

... XIXThis room now: papers and books: a long drift over tablesover chairs to the floor. She said: ‘You’ll find him hereup to his arse in the tar-pits of poetry: find him lostin some landscape of the mind: the mind’s perfect drearsalt-marsh-as-moonscape-as-snowscape-as-white-over-whitewhich is limitless from skyline to skyline.’ She said: ‘Thereare ghosts here that crowd and jostle: they feed off silencesand wait for nightfall ...

By Sennen

David Harsent, 4 June 1998

... After a painting by Jeremy LeGrice … in London, of course you are, landlocked in your kitchen, but just a step, after all, from the door into the hall, and then just a step from the door into the street where the cabbie is more than happy to wait by the slip-road that takes you out through the wrecked hulks of tower blocks, happy to stop- start-stop in the backed- up traffic, its tide-race of tail-lights, its surf of crap and slop, letting you out with a minute or so to spare for the westbound train, a minute or less, so you scarcely believe you’ve done it, except landing-lights in the bare backs of houses are slipping past too fast for counting, while some sudden, clear, cold wind is shaking the fire-escapes like rigging, and that sky-high blur of dark cloud laid on darkness is the test of where you are, of what you’ll come to next, which is why you fall asleep from fear or habit, which is why you wake up with the ghost of kitchen-whiskey, why the first and last shreds of memory hold only the best and worst of what you first intended, as your fist strikes the window, as your foot slaps the platform, putting you just a step, a step or two, from the cliff path and the path that goes from the cliff to the beach, wind ringing your ears almost as much as the cries of seabirds which fast become the birds themselves, afloat on the massive uprush of air that flows from the root of the cliff and up over its lip, which makes you think, ‘Bird’s-eye view: myself just pate and boot and little salt-white hands,’ while you trample out the pith and bladder of seaweed, setting off the unholy stink from its silky, liverish reds, beyond which lies nothing, lies nothing at all, unless it’s the sea that cheats the eye, the sea that gives endless accounts of itself, running green and green-and-white, and a deeper green beneath; you can hear it, can’t you, that low-in-the-throat, that hysterical hiss; you keep your eye on the fault-line, don’t you, where sea and sky squeeze out a line of light; you’ll stay there, won’t you, fronting the weather, learning it all by rote? – Bird’s-eye view: myself almost out of sight, little salt-white… And that deeper green beneath to prompt you ...

Rota Fortuna

David Harsent, 24 April 2008

... Dawn darkness is a bare blue light and there’s a sound coming at you, most likely brought on the wind from a hillside forest or nicked off the skim of the sea . . . So you’re humming that long, slow note as you broach the day, and the dogs of dawn are all one voice as you step down from your home sweet home, your tour de folie, and before you get to the other side of the gate comes a smash and clatter of wings as a thing takes flight from a point just above your head and has you pinned by joy-in-fear as its lift-off shakes from the Tree of Love and Forgetting something much like a fruit that sits, just so, in the cup of your hand, though it would take a bigger fool than you to bite into that honeyed rump, as if you hadn’t sinned enough, as if you wouldn’t have to pay your share for each day of solitude, each night when your dreams of flight and falling left you stunned ...

Three Poems from ‘Marriage’

David Harsent, 26 November 1998

... But arrive like this: a sudden shadow on the washed-out fleur-de-lis that paper the breakfast room; a form half-hidden by some other form, the angle of a door, perhaps, unless I think to make it a shutter, half-open, by which I leave you a single arm, single eye, single breast, a single link of the scallop- and-anchor motif on your sun-top, except that I can’t quite get it at this point, from just this viewpoint; or else crop up as someone walking away from the terrace in a moment’s downpour, when reflections bring the trees indoors and start you again from your place beside the shutter, setting off bravely from a house of rain, not even half-visible, now, then barely visible at all, then gone ...

Thirteen Poems from ‘Salt’

David Harsent, 20 October 2016

... Her sudden, silent prayer was commonplace: to betray but do no harm, to admix guilt with love and that way get the best of it, to let each salty lie roll on her tongue, to gamble with heartbreak, to give an account of herself that would seem most like herself.   There’s a shadow in from under the door. Can you see it yet: shadow of slow-onset, contagion’s mission-creep ...


David Harsent, 3 July 2014

... Let’s say a gallery. Let’s say ill weather. Let’s say you’ve movedfrom L’Arbre de Fluides to La Fenêtre. Let’s say you’re not Marie,not one of the Corps de Dame. Let’s say you’ve been better loved.Let’s say that one of these, for sure, is what you came to see.*Red and black. Heart and hand. Sand and salt. You make a note.The colours a cross-hatch ...

Fire: a song for Mistress Askew

David Harsent, 19 December 2013

... fythynesse, rust, menstrue, swylle, mannys durt, adders egges, the brede of lyes …                                                                                  Johan Bayle The firebug rises whistling from the fire. Slats laid on the overlap, branches at a pitch, as for Anne Askew wordless under torture, so broken the hangman’s crew carried her to the stake, a seat where she sat astride ...

Four Poems

David Harsent, 12 March 2009

... The Hammock Your book is Summer by Edith Wharton. A smell off the garden of something becoming inedible. Between sleeping and waking, no real difference at all. There’s music in this, there would have to be: a swell of strings and bells becoming inaudible, note by note, before you latch on to it . . . The girl in the story won’t prosper, that’s easy enough to tell ...


David Harsent, 6 October 1994

... The trick was to keep things normal, or so I thought, and what better than this – the sea on one hand, a hillside of fern and furze on the other, the tumulus on Lowland Point as a marker? Everything there was part of the fair-weather future I’d picked out for myself; I could number the gulls and masts, I’d shifted the wind, and just as you might expect I expected a man in a clinker-built skiff taking a catch of fish this side of the headland, and so he was ...

The Queen Bee Canticles

David Harsent, 6 January 2011

... for Christopher Penfold The Queen and the Philosopher Sun on the sea running white, sun on white walls, yes, on the thick shoulders of the fishermen as they fanned their nets, sun as an engine, a trapdoor, a compass, Democritus in his cell the window framing sea and sky, blue climbing on blue, a glaze shaken by the heat, as she drifted in and held heavy in the thickening air ...

The Makers

David Harsent, 19 September 1996

... It was pride and nothing else made me lift my head from the spit and sawdust of The Prospect of Oblivion, on my cheek a dark naevus that married a knobby knot in the planking. How long I’d been down and out was anybody’s guess; I’d guess an hour or more by the state of my suit, a foul rag-bag, by the state of my hair, a patty-cake, of my own ripe keck, unless it was the keck of Sandy Traill or Blind Harry, my friends in drink that night, that aye night, every night, in fact, that I found myself making the first full dip into the cream-and-midnight black of a glass of stout, with a double shot on the side, the very combination that left me wrecked, face down, and holding fast to the spar of a table leg as the room went by, or else the floor was a wheel ...

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