I strung my noticing eyes on a rosary,
and clicked and confided.
On the island I stuck to the facts;
they were slippery and touchable as blood.
The crater’s lava groaned and sighed
folding itself over itself, like laborious student soup.
The goat died, the cat lived;
the moon had a pulling power I’d never felt at home.
Three gashes, like fish gills, in an old jacket
were a red herring, but I never forgave their extravagance.
The blood was feint, the lurid mustard field
was food only for the eyes.
The blue-green lake had me under surveillance
so I folded my hands in my frosty lap.
I practised being inside the others’ faces,
code-switching my mouth to let them speak.
I kept my eyes peeled. I lived like sea-glass,
hard, clean and opaque.
Sounds grated mildly on my ears.
Most days I was disinclined to be kind.
The old, since they are mad, think all the others mad
And all a good deal older than themselves, though this
Is relative, and most of them are relatives somehow.
Among these old and mad is one convinced by rage
That money knows no owner but herself, and thus
Is in the wrong hands certainly, and must be as it were
Retrieved, with blackmail as the righteous instrument,
According to her old mad lights. Meanwhile
In old mad Hampstead houses and in basement flats
Among the old mad Chelsea bombsites, life goes on
Signifying death in general, while the telephone
Provides a personal inflection when a voice
Adapted for each doomed recipient remarks
Politely: ‘Now remember you must die.’ Can these
Be human voices that awake the old and mad?
The great detective with his weakened heart thinks not.
To say ‘Remember you must die,’ and then ring off
Is not the kind of thing the well-heeled old and mad
Immured in their brown studies at their time of life
Prefer to hear, when there’s still sex or money
To be dwelt on, and a child may visit on his makers
Complex economic loathing, and where all this weighs
Like bags of useless gold upon their injured hearts.
There is a private madhouse where an Irish lawyer
Called O’Brien thinks he’s God, and sees
His starry fields Blaze cold against the velvet black of noon.
So he’s all right. But up in town the slow disintegrating minds
Grind on like almost-immortality, and lights
Switch on and off in random circuits like the stars
Of a capricious heaven, as the servant plots her way
To minted doom, and time is money. Meanwhile death
Is all there is and more. This is a comedy.
A lawyer’s wig. Lipstick. A dressing gown.
The thin man twitching, roped to a chair –
He wrote this in a state of deepest trance.
And what else? Much foaming at the mouth
And all the little beasties floating out
There. Vocation? Excel at what clutches
Your throat, the unseen hand that won’t
Release. Be good at graphology or seizures
Or whatever propels you forth from your bedsit.
Seizure the day! Swearing you penned it entranced
Will crawl along only so far with a jury
Especially the blonde. Marry? Rather creep!
‘What is personality but the effect one has on others?’
– The Public Image
Some have method. Some are blessed
by the god of mirrors. You just exist
while the lens accommodates, records
your only talent; to be unlike the rest,
yet the same. I never listen to the words
that you say, although I get the gist
a few scenes in; no need for a script
when all I want to see is the twist.
You cultivate the tiger in your eyes,
encourage the paradox of abandon
and fidelity, often in a single glance,
recognising that in art there are no lies,
only misinterpretations. You’re branded
like an upscale scent, Essence of Pretence,
distinctive, even through the idiot’s lantern;
the smell of creation, grand finale, goodbye.
Late last night your lawyer served
a superinjunction on this poem,
a writ that can’t be overturned
without revealing what you’re made of,
the untruths you would see preserved.
Meanwhile, on the marciapedi of Rome,
motherland of sensation, they love
your work and will not be deterred.
What you wanted was never made clear,
but maybe this: steadfast husband, child,
extensions of your marque, to illustrate
the way you juggle stage and kitchenette.
Flashbulbs crackle as you step outside
the shuttered appartamento, free to celebrate
yourself at last, conspicuous in an age
where only the famous can truly disappear.
The Public Image
It’s a happy thought, of sorts –
that we are the dead
who do not know we are dead.
It makes some sense of those times
we stand at one of those points –
high up, it must be high –
and feel that the loops of time and place
are meeting, there, beneath our feet.
Or when we look out through the glass
at the boiling world,
or the settled dark,
at that projection of ourselves.
And we know it’s all snatches
of a songline. We know the one
who stands beside us is both solid flesh
and a summoning, brought into being
by hope and desire. We know
what things are shifting uneasily
in the folds and declivities, ready
to hatch in the heat. Because long ago,
when we were strong and bright,
we gathered them up in a fist
and flung them forward into this,
our middle and later lives. They seethe
in a room where the heating is jammed on,
where the sunlight is melting the windows
and our shadows are falling gladly towards it.
The Hothouse by the East River
all characters in God’s dreams
direct our perceptions and dreams
nothing matters but dreams
he wouldn’t dream of; he did dream
all characters in God’s dreams
are real and not real
dreams are insubstantial dreams of God
his own dreams are shadows
he longed in his wish-dream
for dreams, real, frighteningly real
real between dreams and reality
resentful of that dream partly dreamed
the reality from which dream emerged
dream haunts his dreams lost in dreams
that world of dreams and reality
types and shadows, facts and illusions
real, back to reality
I had a dream; I forget my dreams
and Caesar’s wife had dreams
she isn’t real, no, she’s not real
I dreamt in your dream, more of your dream
where dreams are reality and reality is dreams
everything starts from dream
reality and dream
Reality and Dreams
(this poem contains every mention of the words ‘reality’ and ‘dreams’ in the novel.)
All poems are from the anthology Spark: an Anthology of Poetry and Art Inspired by the Novels of Muriel Spark, edited by Rob A. Mackenzie and Louise Peterkin, © Blue Diode Press 2018, www.bluediode.co.uk