Open 11am to 8pm
Royal Festival Hall (Level 5), Southbank Centre, LondonOpen Tuesday - Sunday from 11am to 8pm
Poems on the Underground, series 23. 1992.
Twilight: the last ferry leaves Vancouver
for the tiny islands.
Tsawwassen blinks out,
rows of bolted plastic chairs
and old vending machines
gone blurred, crossing over.
Sotto voce, a woman croons
under the water, her hair
spilling luminous and phosphorescent
across the depths. The drowned
love this hour, before the stars
are let down like bait to tempt them,
before the steam moans out
and the captain settles back for a smoke.
The others on the boat
talk, drink coffee, drift upstairs;
two lovers stand at the railing
for the sheer terror of feeling
something might happen.
A moment ago they were sure
they would die for each other.
Then the kiss ended -
she leaned a little away,
his arm fell, everyone
turned towards the islands
they knew were out there,
willing them to appear.
I’d call you Judas, but it’s a cliche,
And not even appropriate -
I was always the disciple,
Flesh-weak, forgiven and following,
And to hear you sneer at me was like...
Finding a maggot squirming,
A discovered liar,
At the core of my wet amber fruit;
Or the time I discovered that at Versailles,
In the fondant rooms,
Beside the taut marble and unnecessary gold,
Aristocrats would squat on the staircases
It was like finding out that your lover
Is taking Imodium.
Don’t you know that since the day you laughed at me,
I haven’t been able to so much as look
At a nectarine, fig biscuits or anything French?
Tasting that is like kissing you.
Your postcard came: a snap of Mediterranean blue
and bright chatter ending: How are you?
How am I? How are you is what I want to know -
last month checked over, stitched up, blasted with chemo
and now adrift, floating through days of slow sun
with one part of life finished, the next not yet begun.
And something else. I want to know too why the hell
last time you came to visit me at home I couldn’t tell
how much better I might have made you feel
(no, ‘loved’, not “better”; “better” is too genteel)
if, instead of slipping out into the garden quietly
to pick apples from our wet-leaved, sagging tree
- you said you felt like sleeping - I had just stayed close
and kept you talking. What came over me? Did I suppose
we’ll always have enough time left for that?
The second I had propped
my ladder gingerly against the tree and crept
inside its brittle globe - hold tight! a child again! -
and started rattling down the apple-rain,
I looked aside and found your watchful face
inside the window like a silhouette of ice
and melting - skin becoming water and then air
before I stretched to pull the apples near,
the apples swelling air and water in their new-made skin.
How am I? I shall tell you then.
I’m wishing you were here and, well, that’s all.
Not thinking how I climbed while you were waiting for the fall.