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.
How did night come on like that? The sky is full
of birds, wingbeats in darkness becoming indelible.
The Garden in Dream
There it is, the cicatrice of lichen
that tags clean air, and ‘mountain lady’s slipper’,
so rare that everything else must slip and sicken.
Full-length on the lawn, sharing their copy of Homes
and Gardens, her hair brushing his wrist as he turns the page.
Call it love in a mist. Call it Stockholm syndrome.
Blood-cake rolled from the sack and dug well in.
Orchids at their stakes fatten on this:
their pucker-and-pout, their taint, their sense of sin.
There, on the ‘rustic bench’: Dido, Eurydice, the girl
from the cash and carry. Don’t worry at why or whether;
what brings them together is nothing more than guile.
Black cross-tracks in the dew from hedge
to house where something shambled through, then back
from house to hedge: whatever leaves a smudge.
Small fires burn under bramble; imagine a plain
seen from a tower at night; they’ll bring up
the trebuchets and ballistae at dawn.
This flower’s baby blue seems almost bland,
except, when you hold it close, you get the true
depth; and when you look away, you’re blind.
Children’s shadows on the grass: it goes all day,
the right game in the wrong way; and every night
‘Black-contra-Black’ becomes their shadow-play.
The garden’s weather is frost over stone, is small
rain up from the west, is wind-backed snow,
is whatever you need, or else is nothing at all.
A bird on every bough. The whole place cluttered with sunlight.
Something half-heard as the last guest leaves.
Breakage. Spillage. Wreckage of tansy and eyebright.
The Garden in Sunlight
Go by white poppies, white tulips, white flags, go by
the white willow arch, go by the apple tree, its full white crop,
go by the pond where white-eyed fish
slide by deeper each day, then out to the lawn, its trackless white
a mirror image of the trackless sky;
but think now: after you’ve set foot you’re on a wish
and a promise, adrift in white’s slow creep
away and over the edge, though something takes you straight
to those little spoil heaps: bone that breaks to ash
under your hand . . . and you backtrack, hoping for sight
of the house, perhaps, or the garden gate, or the street,
but it’s white-on-white however hard you try,
and a hum in the air, white noise, which could be some rash
report of you: figment, divertimento, little white lie.
A View of the House from the Back of the Garden
In darkness. In rain. Yourself at the very point
where what’s yours bleeds off through the palings
to terra incognita, and the night’s blood-hunt
starts up in the brush: the notion of something smiling
as it slinks in now for the rush and sudden shunt.
A woman is laying a table; the cloth
billows as it settles; a wineglass catches the light.
A basket for bread, spoons and bowls for broth
as you know, just as you know how slight
a hold you have on this: a lit window, the faint
odour of iodine in the rainfall’s push and pull.
Now she looks out, but you’re invisible
as you planned, though maybe it’s a failing
to stand at one remove, to watch, to want
everything stalled and held on an indrawn breath.
The house, the woman, the window, the lamplight falling
short of everything except bare earth –
can you see how it seems, can you tell
why you happen to be just here, where the garden path
runs off to black, still watching
as she turns away, sharply, as if in fright,
while the downpour thickens and her shadow on the wall,
trembling, is given over to the night?
Surely it’s that moment from the myth
in which you look back and everything goes to hell.
Send Letters To:
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN
Please include name, address, and a telephone number.