IN TIME OF PLAGUE
Breaking curfew—the first of our lifetime—
the village shuttered at the hinge of the year,
footfall amplified on the bitter track,
the moon rode high chill empty,
a zenith of judgement
over the bruised planet.
(Earlier, though, at dusk,
she was immense, yellow, companionable,
I could say jocund.)
But in the wee hours when we walked
she had withdrawn,
the great river also hid herself in frost.
The lights are low in the Standard,
the Harcourt is boarded up,
The Broad lies desolate
the Christmas tree forlorn;
at Brasenose the SCR
is a wilderness of powder blue
where I raise a solitary brandy
to the ghost of Christmas past
and the clock resounds
like my heart. Someone comes in,
startled to see me in the deeper shade
and asks, ‘Has the clock struck?
—I’m here to check the mechanism ...’
and I reply
‘Not in these 500 years’.
Peering out of the mullion window
I taste the privilege at its foaming edge:
Hawksmoor’s sweet-drawn lines are tense
under the glacial blue
the Rad Cam glows or glowers.
Somewhere from All Souls within-the-curtilage,
a bell declines the hours.
My students have not heard of Arthur Rimbaud.
GUILTY AS CHARGED
‘Moi, j’ai peur d’une idée qui écrase tout sur son passage.
C’est beau et c’est terrible.’ — Abel Quentin
My accuser has the face
of Bernini’s angel
but I am not Teresa,
and she has the eyes
Her slender hands
once and for all
the crooked timber
starting with this
noisome specimen, this
of privilege, who is
sweating fear. Apologise!
I do. Oh I do. Anything
to avoid those eyes…!
I thought of Chénier
hiding in the twilight
of Versailles, before
the tumbril came for him,
of Blanche de la Force
in the teeth of history,
—à bien d’autres encor!
Close the gate on the garden,
as Gluck the blackbird sings us out;
these deep weeks he sang us in,
his podium the acacia then the cherry.
The monotone see-saw of the great tit
has quieted now he’s mated
and with young … but Gluck sings on
after we have gone.
Now in the flowery field
an English Gluck is singing
where buttercup and bugloss foam,
and when the mist starts wandering
he signals the fall of evening
with the trills of his alarm.
Sporadically, a name appears
In the bookshop’s meagre poetry section,
Between Lord Rochester and Christina Rossetti.
But ephemeral, like malaria or the dengue,
—Unlike Christina and his Lordship’s erection—
It vanishes again for years.