Three Poems

Andrew Motion

The Vision of that Ancient Man

I was taking a piss
when the dredger rode over our pleasure

like a swan rogering its mate,
and we all sank down-a-down.

The porthole groaned and held ...
the light went sick ...

and eventually something shitty erupted out of the can
and I was a dead man.

But I lived. Unlike my mate
I lived, and without her
I can’t tell one thing from t’other.

First I went north to her house
where ever since everyone died
only a burglar has called –

a rock the size of a cat
crouched by the stinking hearth
in a bitter puddle of glass.

She never told me she lived
a stone’s throw from the river!
At least I suppose the river

made that delectable voice
which kept me company there,
and not her copy of Waverley

gradually splitting its spine,
or her one dress which stayed
to rot in the dripping cupboard,

I lost everyone, everyone –
which makes me a murderer.
I must be a murderer, surely?
I know I wanted to die.

I came to the South Countree
the night of a hurricane,
and hurled across Lulworth Cove
on a grainy bubble of spray.

The last thing I wanted to see
was myself at a breakfast table –
pink menus, the waiters erect,
and outside a sun-scattered sky!

There was someone else
ahead of this
who saw through life
and drowned herself.
Identify! Identify!

A family tie
and not the same
jerked inside out
on a shingle beach
in the morning light

as the one who wore
her best red dress
and matching smalls
the night before.
Identify! Identify!

She’s in my life
like the rock in a hill,
like the pips in a pear,
like the leaf in a bud,
like the heat in the sun,

like the ... fuck it: who cares?

Cut

In a break for ads
I glimpsed the bar
where I used to be young.

A Thirties detective
was quizzing a local
in clouds of tobacco:

flocks of pewter
flew up the wall,
a horse-brass winked,

and there on my tongue
was your darkest secret
like Old Virginia.

What became of the boy
who arrived on the dot

of visiting hour
and found that love

was wrecked in a fit?
Legs which were marble

snapped and high-stepped;
plaster-cast hands

panicked the sheets;
the head of a gorgon

had swallowed its tongue
but was begging to speak.

What became of the boy?
He was hurried away.

A hundred years old
at four in the morning
we clamber and slide
like seals on the ice.
Where am I now?

Somebody’s hand
is squeezing my heart;
somebody’s cry
has called us together
and will not die.

Then the ice-floes collapse
and here comes the sea.
I am dead to the world.
It is all as I thought.
And who might you be?

Close

The afternoon I was killed
I strolled up the beach from the sea
where the big wave had hit me,
helped my wife and kids
pack up their picnic things,
then took my place in the car
for the curving journey home
through almost-empty lanes.

I had never seen the country
looking so beautiful –
furnace red in the poppies
scribbled all over the fields;
a darker red in the rocks
which sheltered the famous caves;
and pink in the western sky
which bode us well for tomorrow.

Nobody spoke about me
or how I was no longer there.
It was odd, but I understood why:
when I had drowned I was only
a matter of yards out to sea
(not too far out – too close),
still able to hear the talk
and have everything safe in view.

My sunburned wife, I noticed,
was trying to change for a swim,
resting her weight on one leg
as if she might suddenly start
to dance, or jump in the air,
but in fact snaking out of her knickers –
as shy as she was undressing
the first time we went to bed.