Poem: The City Planners by Margaret Atwood

119

 

The City Planners

 

Margaret Atwood

 

 

Cruising these residential Sunday

streets in dry August sunlight:

what offends us is

the sanities:

the houses in pedantic rows, the planted

sanitary trees, assert

levelness of surface like a rebuke

to the dent in our car door.

No shouting here, or

shatter of glass: nothing more abrupt

than the rational whine of a power mower

cutting a straight swath in the discouraged grass.

 

But though the driveways neatly

sidestep hysteria

by being even, the roofs all display

the same slant of avoidance to the hot sky,

certain things:

the smell of spilt oil a faint

sickness lingering in the garages,

a splash of paint on brick surprising as a bruise,

a plastic hose poised in a vicious

coil; even the too-fixed stare of the wide-windows

 

give momentary access to

the landscape behind or under

the future cracks in the plaster

when the houses, capsized, will slide

obliquely into the clay seas, gradual as glaciers

that right now nobody notices.

 

That is where the City Planners

with the insane faces of political conspirators

are scattered over unsurveyed

territories, concealed from each other,

each in his own private blizzard;

 

guessing directions, they sketch

transitory lines rigid as wooden borders

on a wall in the white vanishing air

 

tracing the panic of suburb

order in a bland madness of snows.

Sanities] sanity = the condition of mental health

Swath] track, row

Poem: The Birthday by Cristina Rosetti

116

 

A Birthday

 

Christina Rossetti

 

 

My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a watered shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thickset fruit;

My heart is like a rainbow shell

That paddles in a halcyon sea;

My heart is gladder than all these

Because my love is come to me.

 

Raise me a dais of silk and down;

Hang it with vair and purple dyes;

Carve it in doves and pomegranates,

And peacocks with a hundred eyes;

Work it in gold and silver grapes,

In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;

Because the birthday of my life

Is come, my love is come to me.

 

Halcyon] idyllic, calm

Dais] platform

Down] soft feathers

Vair] squirrel fur

Eyes] ie the circles in a peacock’s tail

Fleurs-de-lys] three-petalled flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: Horses by Edwin Muir

113

 

Horses

 

Edwin Muir

 

 

Those lumbering horses in the steady plough,

On the bare field – I wonder why, just now,

They seemed terrible, so wild and strange,

Like magic power on the stony grange.

 

Perhaps some childish hour has come again,

When I watched fearful, through the blackening rain,

Their hooves like pistons in an ancient mill

Move up and down, yet seem as standing still.

 

Their conquering hooves which trod the stubble down

Were ritual that turned the field to brown,

And their great hulks were seraphim of gold,

Or mute ecstatic monsters on the mould.

 

And oh the rapture, when, one furrow done,

They marched broad-breasted to the sinking sun!

The light flowed off their bossy sides in flakes;

The furrows rolled behind like struggling snakes.

 

But when at dusk with steaming nostrils home

They came, they seemed gigantic in the gloam,

And warm and glowing with mysterious fire

That lit their smouldering bodies in the mire.

 

Their eyes as brilliant and as wide as night

Gleamed with a cruel apocalyptic light,

Their manes the leaping ire of the wind

Lifted with rage invisible and blind.

 

Ah, now it fades! It fades! and I must pine

Again for the dread country crystalline,

Where the blank field and the still-standing tree

Were bright and fearful presences to me.

 

 

 

Grange] farmhouse

Seraphim] angels

Mould] ground

Bossy] swelling

Gloam] dusk

Mire] mud

Crystalline] as if made of crystal

 

 

Poem: Sonnet Compose Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth

123

Sonnet: Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

 

William Wordsworth

 

 

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

 

 

Westminster Bridge] ie across the River Thames in London

Steep] bathe (in light)

Glideth] glides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: Where I Come From by Elizabeth Brewster

122

 

Where I Come From

 

Elizabeth Brewster

 

 

People are made of places. They carry with them

hints of jungles or mountains, a tropic grace

or the cool eyes of sea-gazers. Atmosphere of cities

how different drops from them, like the smell of smog

or the almost-not-smell of tulips in the spring,

nature tidily plotted in little squares

with a fountain in the centre; museum smell,

art so tidily plotted with a guidebook;

or the smell of work, glue factories maybe,

chromium-plated offices; smell of subways

crowded at rush hours.

Where I come from, people

carry woods in their minds, acres of pine woods;

blueberry patches in the burned-out bush;

wooden farmhouses, old, in need of paint,

with yards where hens and chickens circle about,

clucking aimlessly; battered schoolhouses

behind which violets grow. Spring and winter

are the mind’s chief seasons: ice and the breaking of ice.

 

A door in the mind blows open, and there blows

a frosty wind from fields of snow.

Poem: The Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig

121

 

Summer Farm

 

Norman MacCaig

 

 

Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass

And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass

The water in the horse-trough shines.

Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.

 

A hen stares at nothing with one eye,

then picks it up. Out of an empty sky

A swallow falls and, flickering through

The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.

 

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,

Afraid of where a thought might take me – as

This grasshopper with plated face

Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.

 

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand

Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand

Lift the farm like a lid and see

Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.

 

Plated] ie as if comprising sections of a metal plate

Metaphysic] concerned with the nature of abstract or transcendent truth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: The Planners by Boey Kim Cheng

120

 

The Planners

 

Boey Kim Cheng

 

 

They plan. They build. All spaces are gridded,

filled with permutations of possibilities.

The buildings are in alignment with the roads

which meet at desired points

linked by bridges all hang

in the grace of mathematics.

They build and will not stop.

Even the sea draws back

and the skies surrender.

 

They erase the flaws,

the blemishes of the past, knock off

useless blocks with dental dexterity.

All gaps are plugged

with gleaming gold.

The country wears perfect rows

of shining teeth.

Anaesthesia, amnesia, hypnosis.

They have the means.

They have it all so it will not hurt,

so history is new again.

The piling will not stop.

The drilling goes right through

the fossils of last century.

 

But my heart would not bleed

poetry. Not a single drop

to stain the blueprint

of our past’s tomorrow.

 

Piling] building foundations

Blueprint] architectural plan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: The Cockroach by Kevin Halligan

118

 

The Cockroach

 

Kevin Halligan

 

 

I watched a giant cockroach start to pace,

Skirting a ball of dust that rode the floor.

At first he seemed quite satisfied to trace

A path between the wainscot and the door,

But soon he turned to jog in crooked rings,

Circling the rusty table leg and back,

And flipping right over to scratch his wings –

As if the victim of a mild attack

Of restlessness that worsened over time.

After a while, he climbed an open shelf

And stopped. He looked uncertain where to go.

Was this due payment for some vicious crime

A former life had led to? I don’t know,

Except I thought I recognised myself.

 

 

Skirting] avoiding by a detour

Wainscot] panelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POem: The Woodsurge by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

117

 

The Woodspurge

 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

 

The wind flapped loose, the wind was still,

Shaken out dead from tree and hill:

I had walked on at the wind’s will, –

I sat now, for the wind was still.

 

Between my knees my forehead was, –

My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!

My hair was over in the grass,

My naked ears heard the day pass.

 

My eye, wide open, had the run

Of some ten weeds to fix upon;

Among those few, out of the sun,

The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.

 

From perfect grief there need not be

Wisdom or even memory:

One thing then learnt remains to me, –

The woodspurge has a cup of three.

 

At the wind’s will] wherever the wind blew me

Woodspurge] a wild plant, whose flowers form in groups of three from a cup-like stem

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poem: Pike by Ted Hughes

115

 

Pike

 

Ted Hughes

 

 

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold.
Killers from the egg: the malevolent aged grin.
They dance on the surface among the flies.

Or move, stunned by their own grandeur,
Over a bed of emerald, silhouette
Of submarine delicacy and horror.
A hundred feet long in their world.

In ponds, under the heat-struck lily pads –
Gloom of their stillness:
Logged on last year’s black leaves, watching upwards.
Or hung in an amber cavern of weeds

The jaws’ hooked clamp and fangs
Not to be changed at this date:
A life subdued to its instrument;
The gills kneading quietly, and the pectorals.

Three we kept behind glass,
Jungled in weed: three inches, four,
And four and a half: fed fry to them –
Suddenly there were two. Finally one.

With a sag belly and the grin it was born with.
And indeed they spare nobody.
Two, six pounds each, over two feet long
High and dry and dead in the willow-herb –

One jammed past its gills down the other’s gullet:
The outside eye stared: as a vice locks –
The same iron in this eye
Though its film shrank in death.

A pond I fished, fifty years across,

Whose lilies and muscular tench
Had outlasted every visible stone
Of the monastery that planted them –

Stilled legendary depth:
It was as deep as England. It held
Pike too immense to stir, so immense and old
That past nightfall I dared not cast

But silently cast and fished
With the hair frozen on my head
For what might move, for what eye might move.
The still splashes on the dark pond,

Owls hushing the floating woods
Frail on my ear against the dream
Darkness beneath night’s darkness had freed,
That rose slowly toward me, watching.

 

HELP:

Pike] large, predatory freshwater fish

Tigering] ie making stripes like a like a tiger’s skin

Pectorals] lateral fins

Fry] newly hatched fish

Willow-herb] yellow loosestrife, a wild plant

Film] the eye’s surface

Tench] freshwater fish

Cast] flick the line of a fishing rod