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
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
petition so patently
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?