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Volume 9 – Issue 4 – New Poems – Beauty – Scottish Review of Books
by CK Stead

Volume 9 – Issue 4 – New Poems – Beauty

November 26, 2013 | by CK Stead

One: Like a bird (for Kay)

Long ago, remember,

when we lived on the beach

at Takapuna, a Texan

teacher of maths bought a

fisherman’s dizzy wife for

one thousand pounds – a good

price, equal to one year’s

professional salary.

All three – the fisherman,

the Texan maths-man, the wife –

were pleased with the deal and

partied to celebrate.

We were there. I recall

the fact more clearly than

the party. Much wine was drunk,

and so, soon, were the drinkers.

There was a moon on the sea

right out to Rangitoto.

You were beautiful, and I

sang, as I could in those days

all the way home – like a bird.



Two: The telephone


The men he knew when young and worked with

were ten years older, sometimes twenty.

They envied him his beautiful wife and wondered

how he had won her, what was his secret.

He was clever but so were they, he wrote well

but they did too. He could stand on his hands on a table

his body horizontal slowly lifting

until his feet were over his head

but would a woman count that

more than a trick of balance?

And would it affect her choice?

They didn’t think so.

They talked about him, the young buck with the beautiful wife

and joked about it. He was skinny,

and losing his hair. One checked on him in the shower –

no explanation there. Life they concluded

was full of surprises and discrepancies.

It was like a telephone ringing

in an empty house – no one to answer.



Three: Terrible beauty


Yeats prayed his

daughter might be granted

‘Beauty’, but not


so much of it

she would drive suitors

mad, or herself


in the looking-glass.

Seeing her once

where the river


runs out from the

Lake of Innisfree

I thought she might


well have been

the plainest woman

in all of Ireland


who’d lived a long

life with a famous

father’s famous


and foolish

petition so patently

not granted.




Four: Not ever


We knew what we meant

– the lure, the lurch, the catch in the breath,

confusion of yearning and delight –

but couldn’t agree on examples.


‘A morepork in the night,’ she suggested.

‘Yes – but no. Unvarying, repetitious.’

‘Some sunsets?’ I didn’t think so.

I wanted to suggest Strauss’s four last songs

(ravishing!) – but knew she was a fan of Springsteen.


Shelley has a poem declaring his dedication

to an ‘awful Loveliness,’ which seems almost as bad

as Willie’s ‘terrible beauty.’

But Shelley’s instance is a good one –

moonlight on a midnight stream.


Hannah Arendt wrote of ‘the banality of evil’ –

there’s a banality of Beauty too:

Keats for example insisting it was Truth,

and that Truth was Beauty – the two big-name dummies

out-staring one another in a mirror.


There was a woman on a blog so beautiful

I wanted to put her into a poem,

but how would you do that?

She was Australian,

a writer. No Marilyn Monroe,

a hazel-eyed brunette,

long pale face, fine mouth, and eyes

that looked right past me, away into the future

where I will never go, won’t see, not ever.



Five: in Genoa (where the B.V.M. is crowned annually as the city’s Queen)


Here the Mother of Jesus

is painted often as if

by a sceptic soul who works

in secret from a model


or a sentimentalist

whose vision ratifying

faith’s most difficult demand

makes her a pretty Virgin.


Hail holy Queen do you hear

the streets of the city ring

with gratitude and praise for

your promised intercession


while the Ligurian sea

whose beauty came before yours

and will outlast it teaches

only to trust what is so?

From this Issue

Bookselling in Lapland

by Jennie Renton

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