Two Poems

Peter Redgrove

The Party in the Woods

I

Each fly a little Isis,
A transformer, buzzing;
The trees worried by their wolf,
The wind. The spring of water,
An almost silent work, continuing
Under the threshold of sleep.
The little rivers of gnats.

II

The boy showed us a pleasant trick,
Taking his penny-whistle to the gnatswarm,
Which widened to the low notes like the outline
Of a Russian doll that can never be
Overturned completely, and stretched up,
Whirling faster, like a skinny spindle
To the high scales, and with the music
The sunshine shone through every small
Illuminated body.

III

Sometimes we went the long way round,
By the ferry, just to get on the water
For ten minutes. A little spring
Had overflowed into the road
Making a sheet of mirror our tyres unzipped,
And this was as good to her as a festival,
Anything to do with water, falling water,
Flowing, anything, and the shower.

IV

We were not the first at the party in the wood.
The small dark woman in the great hat
Was sitting by the sheet on which the food was spread,
Waiting. The gnat-boy was one of her eight, the youngest.
Then there was the water-woman already mentioned
Who needed water to keep sane, and was beautifully so,
Who would sometimes walk in her street clothes straight into the shower;
Was, due to her use of water, the wife of her lover
(As he slept in their wooden house, he could hear always
The stream-work playing beneath his senses,
Sharpening them, sharpening them, for her.)

V

After the picnic they made an expedition
To the old salt-cured casino on the railway-line,
Its salons half-drifted knee-deep up to the tables with sand,
Like crowds of players converted in their souls
To diamond dice, and standing on each other’s faces
To follow the exhausted wheels, which was
Their spoil of the game, to be this fractured glass,
And their only speech the rubbing of this harsh talk
Which has so beautifully scoured the wooden house.

VI

Then there was a black man who dropped in when we were playing ghosts;
He put the sheet on in the dusk; and as it was too African a ghost,
Gibbering too much, my wife whisked it off,
But there was nothing underneath. No one saw him leave.
Everyone commented on the whiteness of my shirt,
From a distance they could not tell, they said,
Whether it was radiation or a garment, and my approach
Was not frightening, with a hovering smile, my shirt
Falling like clean sleet from my pleasant laugh.

VII

She sung to us, the mother of eight,
Who has since stopped singing, like the demolition
Of old beloved places; her husband Luke had brought
His new wife, who might have passed for his daughter.
The two women tenderly embraced, the younger
Having brought wine and flowers, while he,
As if in affirmation of his new state,
Had grown his hair long, it was glossy
And black as eagle feathers, while she,
The mother of eight
Seemed thereafter to have no other state, no song.

VIII

Each fly a little Isis, a transformer
Singing its god-name over the picnic.
We fell to, and after, let them have it.
And the spring of water always singing.
I call my nearly invisible ghost to sing,
That which is black on black within, and strong,
Stronger than I am, sitting by the sheet’s hem
Spread on the grass, held by the feast,
Helpless with the love of the party, and of each one
Alive or dead who that day came to it.

Her Shirt Open

The great basolith under the soil.
The line of farms followed the springs
That leapt from the edge of this basolith.
They had built the town
On the remains of the plain
That was the ancient harbour silted up,
The plain of fine grey soil
That is a mixture of tiny shells
And granite dust. Behind the town
Were the great grey granite quays
From which the buildings had been quarried.

You could join the sea-people still, it was said,
By following the salty path.

I felt so active
With these changes in the living places,
With the rain springing up all around me.

She slipped with me into the alley
Which smelt of the good rain,
All the narrow streets of the town
Wound to that alley.
The rocking tides of perfume
That sprang from every slate and stone,
And the mass of static
The sun had piled up by beating
On that old stone, played everywhere
In its patterns like a sunshine from the earth,

Invisible sunshine and upward rain,
From the torrential earth
Its electrics leapt up the rain,
The pylon of rain.
She opens her shirt, which is wet
And heavy with its drink like a superb silk,
And an eerie feeling superimposes
From the stone electricity and that vertical smile,
Like another music, or echoes
Exploring buildings not yet visible,
The metallic echoes of the slate-lined alley
Erotic and holy, as when we watched
The slow-growing sea-drowned grass
And she turned to me again, her shirt open,
And the current changed around us, and in the canal
The underwater forests switched direction
Showing that sluices far away had opened up
New reaches of the waterway, with varying tides.